Unleashing Charter Schools with False Claims & Lots of Money

Just as the re-election of President Obama or the election Mr. Romney is coming to a head, so is the potential of charter schools being unleashed in several states around the nation.  Georgia and Washington State have very similar laws on the November ballot, and if you live in either of these states, you know that the issue is before you.

I have reported on this blog that the Georgia bill was a model bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right leaning partisan group.  The Georgia bill is ghostwritten copy of the ALEC model charter bill.  And we have reported that the legislators in Georgia who introduced and back the charter amendment are also ALEC members.

To get an idea of extent of the charter school issue across the country, here are some headlines that were extracted from the web recently.  Themes that run through these headlines are central charter authority, for-profit charter management companies, billionaires influencing legislation, lack of facts about charter schools compared to public schools.

The Big Charter School Debate

This weekend, the Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Atlanta Press Club co-sponsored a debate among four panelists.  On the pro-amendment side were Jan Jones (state representative), Kelly McCutchen, founder of Tech High Charter School.  Opposing the amendment were Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools (Georgia’s largest district), and Valarie Wilson, president of the Georgia School Board Association.

This is a link to video of the one-hour debate.

Moderating was Donna Lowry, WXIA-TV, and Maureen Downey, education reporter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Seventeen people were in attendance at the televised debate.

Jan Jones’ name has come up on this blog before.  It turns out that Representative Jones was one of three reps that introduced the amendment to change the Georgia Constitution that would put back in place the Georgia Charter School Commission that would have the power to create its own stream of schools, even without local school district approval.  The more important fact here is that Rep. Jones is a member of ALEC, and one can assume that she used the ALEC model bill to “write” the Georgia bill.

Arguments for the Amendment

Jones argued that we need the bill because some local districts are turning down charter applications.  She claims this means that parents will have no other place to send their kids if the local schools are failing.  She also uses this very powerful statistic:  Because Georgia ranks 47 out of 50 in graduation rates, Jones feels that if more students were enrolled in charter schools Georgia students might move up in the league standings.  Her comments were rife with political-speak, and it was clear she was shielding us from her ties to ALEC.  She was evasive about the content of bill when pressed on whether the bill includes the provision for a state appointed charter commission. It does.  She  said it didn’t, and she wrote the bill.   I think she is wrong and  is not telling the truth.

Kelly McCutchen, founder of a charter school, and president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation ( a conservative group), argued for charter schools because around the state there are some dysfunctional school boards, and by having a state appointed charter commission, parents in these districts could have a “choice” if charters were formed in their dysfunctional district. McCutchen, whose interests are in having the state expand charters, pulls the “parent choice card” when ever he can in the debate.  To him the best option is to  give parents a choice of schooling options,,even though parents already have choices.  He also claims there is plenty of money, and that’s a good thing.  Too bad his facts are wrong.

Arguments Against

Both speakers at the outset said they were not against charter schools, per se.  However…

Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools was vehement in his opposition to removing the power to create schools away from local boards of education.  He also argued that this was another expansion of government, and it would result in two separate school “systems,” one at the local level, and the other at the state level.  It would be costly not to the state, but to local districts who would be fiscally responsible.

He also argued that the language that voters will see on the ballot is misleading.  The question on the ballot is Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?.  Local schools already are allowed to create charters.  And the Georgia Department of Education has the right to approve charters as well.  What this bill really is doing is reinstating the Georgia Charter School Commission, an appointed board with the power to approve its own set of charters.

Valarie Wilson, president of the Georgia School Board Association, a school board member of the Decatur City Schools argued that this bill will cost the state and local districts money.  Wilson also challenged Rep. Jones on the issue of funding, and made it clear that over the past five years, Georgia schools have received fewer funds, not more, and indeed, many school districts are operating in a deficit.

Wilson also challenged McCutcheon claims that some school boards are dysfunctional, and that some schools are failing.  Wilson referenced data from NAEP that shows Georgia schools showing a steady increase in achievement.  She also pointed out that Georgia students rank 13th in AP scores.  As Wilson infers, Georgia schools have shown a steady improvement over many years, and references the NAEP scores in mathematics and science, which we have reported here.

Arguments Left Out of the Debate

The charter ballot issue is about money and power.  The panelists did talk about money, but not the money that private for-profit charters would make if the amendment passes.   The power to set up charters will be in the hands of an unaccountable charter commission appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House.   Most of the money to support passage of the amendment has come from out-of-state from power groups, and billionaires, and the appointees will be political appointees.  These two issues were not discussed by the panel.

Another argument left out of the debate is what role did ALEC play in the amendment.  Although we know the answer, it was not part of the actual debate.  During the panel’s debate, Maureen Downey was interacting via the Internet with viewers, and one question asked was this one from Jeff:

Can Jan Jones explain what relationship, if any, ALEC has with this issue. Also, why is so much money from outside of Georgia being spent to push for this amendment?

Unfortunately the influence of ALEC was not discussed, nor was it mentioned that Rep. Jones is a member of ALEC, and one of the Georgia legislators who introduced the bill.

Also left out of the debate was the effectiveness of charter schools and the unintended consequences of charter schools. It should have been mentioned that charter schools are not so hot when compared to public schools.  An interesting graphic that could have been used in the debate is one from Dr. Michael Marder’s research which shows the relationship between SAT scores and poverty comparing charters and regular public schools.  Representative like Jan Jones continue to ignore data that show that public schools are by far much more successful, academically and in many other areas of school life.

Figure 1. This graph might be disappointing to advocates of charter schools. The graph shows the percentage of high school graduates meeting SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted against the concentration of poverty. Each disc is a high school; the red dots are charter schools, the grey are public schools. In general, charter schools simply to do not compare favorably to public schools, regardless of poverty concentration.

Here some other facts that the proponents of charter schools failed to mention that were based on a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford.

  • Of the 2403 charter schools investigated, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools.

They also might have mentioned that the majority of students attending charter schools would have fared better if they are gone to a public school. And in the case of Georgia (one of the 15 states in the study), the results were mixed, or no differences were found between the charter schools in Georgia and the public schools.

False Claims

If you listen to the politician and the owner of a charter school, public schools do not know how to meet the divergent needs of Georgia students.  As one of them said, “one size does not fit all.”  Professional educators know this instinctively.  Furthermore, teachers in public schools (and independent schools, by the way) have worked with researchers who are on the cutting edge of the learning sciences.  This two-way interaction between teachers who have experiential knowledge of the classroom and students, and researchers who take themselves out of the ivory tower to work with teachers to seek answers to questions about how students learn.

The supporters of the charter amendment do not have the interests of parents or students in mind.  They make the false claim that charters will put schooling back into the hands of parents, when in fact the charter school movement has led to putting taxpayer money in the accounts and hands of charter management companies.  Parents and students are being used to secure this end.

The politician and charter owner lost this debate.  Who would know?  Only 17 people were in attendance.

The vote for the passage of the charter amendment will be very close, as it will be for the re-election of President Obama.

The Charter School Euphemism

Using individualism in its extreme, American schools are becoming more and more un-democratic.  Using the euphemism of school choice, American citizens have been told over and over that public schools are a failure, and parents should have a choice in deciding schools for their children.  Charter schools are sweeping the country as the solution to the failing public schools, even though the research indicates that charters do not do as well as public school counterparts.

Henry Giroux writes that economic policies have led to a society which promotes:

the virtues of an unbridled individualism that is almost pathological in its disdain for community, social responsibility, public values and the public good. As the welfare state is dismantled and spending is cut to the point where government becomes unrecognizable – except to promote policies that benefit the rich, corporations and the defense industry – the already weakened federal and state governments are increasingly replaced by the harsh realities of the punishing state and what João Biehl has called proliferating “zones of social abandonment” and “terminal exclusion.”  (Follow this link for full article by Giroux.)

In her recent book, Dr. Lisa Delpit suggests that the original idea of charter school has been corrupted.  She explains that originally, charter schools were designed to be “beacons” for educational excellence.  Charter schools were to be designed to develop new approaches to teaching, especially for the most challenging populations of children.  Their results were to be shared with other public schools.

As Dr. Delpit explains, the initial charter school concept has been corrupted.  She explains:

Now, because of the insertion of the “market model,” charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. Special education students, students with behavioral issues, and students who need any kind of special assistance are excluded in a multiplicity of ways because they reduce the bottom line—they lower test scores and take more time to educate properly. Charter schools have any number of ways of “counseling” such students out of their programs. I have been told by parents that many charter schools accuse students of a series of often trivial rule infractions, then tell parents that the students will not be suspended if the parents voluntarily transfer them to another school. Parents of a student with special needs are told that the charter is not prepared to meet their child’s needs adequately and that he or she would be much better served at the regular public school around the corner. (Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People“: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.)

We have reported on this blog that two major research studies show that charter schools do not do nearly as well as traditional public schools.

In a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford, hundreds of charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia were studied to find out what was the impact of these charter schools on student learning.

Here are some of their findings from the CREDO study:

  • Of the 2403 charter schools reflected on the curve, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools instead.

Dr. Michael Marder, at the University of Texas has studied not only Texas charter schools, but charter schools in other states including Florida, New Jersey, New York, and California.  He has found that most charter schools do not do as well as the traditional public schools.

On the Schlechty Center website, the author wonders whether charter schools are a good idea run amok.  The author explains it didn’t take long before “the idea of the charter school was co-opted by those bent on introducing more choice and more competition into the American system of education-and, ironically, also as a tool to bring teacher unions “under control.”

And Schlechty asks, like others, “If it is the regulations that are impeding performance, why not change policies and program restrictions for all schools and for all students, not just the lucky few who enroll in this or that charter school?”

Schleckty also says that policymakers must renounce idea that these schools are primarily a means of providing parents and students choice.  Then he suggests:

If one assumes, as I do, that what is needed are schools that encourage continuous innovation and the disciplined exploration of alternative solutions to persistent problems, charter schools such as those now being developed will do little to help us meet the challenges we must meet to ensure that every child will be provided a high-quality education.

Charter Legislation a Dangerous Path

On October 16, Georgia citizens can begin early voting for the November election.  On the ballot is an amendment to the constitution that will let the State of Georgia (not the Department of Education) to establish its own pipeline of charter schools.  A commission will be composed of appointees made by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house. Not very democratic!  Not accountable.

The Georgia bill, which was passed by the Georgia Legislature and signed by the Governor is based on a “model” bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right leaning partisan group.  Media Matters dot Org investigated the Georgia bill, and found that all of the specifications in the Georgia bill are exact copies of ALEC’s model charter bill. And its no surprise that the legislators that introduced the bill, Jan Jones and Edward Linsey, are ALEC education task force members.  Each has received financial support from ALEC.

The question on the ballot is cleverly worded.  The official ballot text reads as follows:[5]

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?

( ) YES
( ) NO

What is missing are the details which will allow the commission to approve its own charter schools without local district approval.  Also missing is the reality that the money will come from the state and local districts, and as soom legislators have pointed out, education in the Georgia has been underfunded by about $4 billion over the past several years.

Local districts already have the right to create charter schools.  So does the Georgia Department of Education.  This amendment, which will be found unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court, is a sham being pulled on the citizens of Georgia.  Its a sham funded by outside charter school management groups, not by parents and teachers in Georgia.  School boards around the state have passed resolutions against the amendment.

Georgia State Senator Doug Stoner, District 6 suggests, we are setting up a dangerous system when we enable the state to expand and approve charter schools without approval by local schools.  He puts it this way:

To change the Constitution in order to create a charter school or any “special school” favored by current or future state bureaucrats, and forcing local school districts to accept such schools would set up a very dangerous system that clearly violates the concept of local control. I cannot support such a state government mandate, especially when the legislative majority has slashed local school funding by more than $1 billion in recent years.

Locally elected school board members across the state have spoken out against HR 1162, which comes as no surprise. It is certainly reasonable to ask why the state is creating a new funding stream for charter schools while reducing financial support for other schools, forcing reduced education calendars, elimination of programs and teacher furloughs.

Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students.  Its kind of like a 19th century elixir, or remedy that will  serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools.  Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools.

Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come.  Charter schools have not done this.  In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.

Yet, it is quite obvious that policymakers have ignored the research that has been conducted by university-based researchers, rather than “partisan think-tanks.”  Instead they are enacting laws around the country that will enable for-profit charter management companies to swoop in and establish charter schools, almost at will.  These laws further destabilize public schools, and remove the locus of control of local schools, and put it into the hands of unelected bureaucrats (political appointees).

The Georgia charter amendment, if passed, will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of  multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state.  Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold in these states.  Firms will come in a purchase land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA.  Boston worked out a deal in the interests of corporate investors.

If you are a Georgia Citizen, how will you vote?  Do you see the amendment as a means to improve education, or a way for some to make a lot of money on the tax payers dime?

Charter Schools: In Whose Interests?

Is choosing a school like choosing a brand of milk in the grocery store?  According to one politician, giving parents a choice in selecting  schools is no different than giving them a choice in buying milk.  Here is what the former Governor of Florida said about milk and charter schools:

Everywhere in our lives, we get a chance to choose. Go down in the supermarket aisle and you will find an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, buttermilk, 2 percent milk, low-fat milk, or skim milk, organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk: chocolate, strawberry or vanilla. And it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who cannot drink milk. So, my question to you is, shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools that best meets the needs of their students?

Bush is one of Eugene Robinson’s brie-and-chablis reformers who is a patron of the idea that most teachers in the inner city are incompetent, and that most in the “upper crust” schools are, in Robinson’s words “paragons of pedagogical virtue.”

In this post I will argue that school choice is code for the opposition to desegregation and advocacy for charter schools (note: vouchers would also fit here, but I want to restrict this article to charter schools).  In a research article entitled The Rhetoric of Choice: Segregation, Desegregation, and Charter Schools, Ansley T. Erickson, assistant professor of history and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, suggests that:

A common thread runs through opposition to desegregation and advocacy for charter schools: the rhetoric of choice. This rhetoric emphasizes the power of individual action and decision-making and veils the deep influences of policy and politics. Examining the gap between the rhetoric and the reality clarifies the history of desegregation and contributes to a respectfully critical look at school “choice” in practice today.

The rhetoric of choice and de facto segregation renders invisible the policies that fostered residential segregation and those that linked segregated schools to segregated neighborhoods. Such invisibility contributes to color-blind suburban innocence, as University of Michigan historian Matthew Lassiter phrases it, through which white suburbanites exempt themselves from culpability for segregation and inequality. Embracing the rhetoric of choice, these suburbanites imagine their own success as the product of autonomous hard work, skillfully overlooking their reliance on extensive and effective government subsidy in housing and beyond.

School Choice

“School choice” is not a simple matter of choosing a good school for one’s child to attend.  School choice, as it is now inferred, does not result in better schools, or better learning for most students, but in fact increases segregation for students of color, and provides a less than effective school learning environment.  On this blog we have shown that in refereed research studies, public schools in a very wide margin, out perform charter schools across the country.  Yes, there are some effective charter schools, but from the research we can conclude that it would have better for students to go to a public school and not the charter school in which they enrolled.
As Professor Erickson suggests, a careful examination of the history of choice should call for an inquisitive attitude with regard to the current push across the country for charter schools.  She writes:

The powerful language of “choice” over- whelmed another reality in desegregation as well. How courts and school districts implemented desegregation continued many forms of inequality. Careful to document the many manifestations of white, middle-class resistance to desegregation, historians long neglected to consider what desegregation meant to black families and communities, how it was experienced by black children. In the 1950s and 1960s, desegregation often brought the closure of black schools, on the racist premise that white students could not be well educated in these venues but in fact, they were attempts to accommodate white parental choice, to make it less likely that white, middle-class families would leave desegregating public school districts. The policy-smoothed route to the suburbs gave middle-class white families a stranglehold on city and metropolitan education policy. By threatening to withdraw, these families could turn desegregation plans to their benefit and away from equitable implementation.

 Charter schools in the year 2012 do not contribute to the desegregation of American schools, nor do they offer a rich and varied pedagogical palate that exists in nearby wealthier school districts.  Instead, as Dr. Erickson reports:
most charter schools offer much less than “free choice.” For most families, and particularly for poor families, charter schools in their best form have brought the mean- ingful, but more restricted, possibility of attending better or similarly performing schools in their neighborhood or nearby, with similarly or more segregated student populations. But considering the growing power of urban-focused, consciously branded charter networks, charters are rarely vehicles of desegregation or jurisdictional boundary- crossing, and common measurement on narrow test-score matrices limits pedagogical variation.

These issues are rarely discussed in the context of the charter school movement.  Opposition to charters is usually along the lines of money, or taking local decision-making away from school boards.  Those in favor of charters use Governor Bush’s “milk buying option” reasoning that in a democratic society parents should have choice in determining what schools their children attend.

Because of the nation’s test-based perversion, schools limit the nature of learning to test-preparation.  Many of the teachers who work in charters, especially in the inner city, are inexperienced and un-certified.  Many of these teachers leave the profession in the first two or three years.  Would you “choose” a school with inexperienced staff to spend your child?

In Whose Interest?

In whose interest is it to promote charter schools?  Unfortunately it is not the parents or students who attend these schools.  Many parents are seduced into thinking that charter schools are a real choice for them, when in fact, beneath the surface are charter management companies, investors, real estate developers, and wealthy businessmen who have ordained themselves as saviors of public education.  Their plan is to privatize schools, and regulate the teaching profession by eliminating real teacher education, and in its place use the boot camp mentality of Teach for America.

The concept of a charter school was an innovative idea when it was formulated historically (in the late 1980s by the American Federation of Teachers!).  Albert Shanker, head of the AFT, proposed the idea of charters, and Richard Kahlenberg recounts its origins:

In Shanker’s vision, small groups of teachers and parents would submit research-based proposals outlining plans to educate kids in innovative ways. A panel consisting of the local school board and teachers’ union officials would review proposals. Once given a “charter,” a term first used by the Massachusetts educator Ray Budde, a school would be left alone for a period of five to 10 years. Schools would be freed from certain collective bargaining provisions; for example, class-size limitations might be waived to merge two classes and allow team-teaching. Shanker’s core notion was to tap into teacher expertise to try new things. Building on the practices at the Saturn auto plant in Nashville, Tenn., he envisioned teams of teachers making suggestions on how best to accomplish the job at hand. Part of the appeal of charter schools to Shanker and many Democrats was that they offered a publicly run alternative to private-school-voucher proposals, which they feared would undermine teacher collective bargaining rights and Balkanize students by race, religion, and economic status.

As Lisa Delpit reminds us, the first iteration of charter schools were to be beacons of what public schools could do.  Teachers were at the center of charter schools, and they would collaborate to design new models of teaching for the most challenging populations.  Dr. Delpit, in her recently published book, Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, says charter schools:

were intended to develop models for working with the most challenging populations. What they discovered was to be shared and reproduced in other public school classrooms. Now, because of the insertion of the “market model,” charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. Special education students, students with behavioral issues, and students who need any kind of special assistance are excluded in a multiplicity of ways because they reduce the bottom line—they lower test scores and take more time to educate properly. Charter schools have any number of ways of “counseling” such students out of their programs.

Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

The charter school movement is a dangerous path for us to follow.  Although charter schools are public, and use tax payer funds, they resemble private schooling in the sense that they are not accountable in the same ways that public schools are evaluated.  Charter schools have boards that are not elected, and often the managing organization is an out-of-state enterprise that swoops in and sets up shop.

As Dr. Delpit puts it, public schools, that were once the beacon of democracy,

have been overrun by the antidemocratic forces of extreme wealth. Educational policy for the past decade has largely been determined by the financial contributions of several very large corporate foundations. Among a few others, the Broad, Gates, and Walton (Walmart) foundations have dictated various “reforms” by flooding the educational enterprise with capital. The ideas of privatization, charter schools, Teach for America, the extremes of the accountability movement, merit pay, increased standardized testing, free market competition—all are promulgated and financially supported by corporate foundations, which indeed have those funds because they can avoid paying the taxes that the rest of us must foot. Thus, educational policy has been virtually hijacked by the wealthiest citizens, whom no one elected and who are unlikely ever to have had a child in the public schools.

Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

The charter school movement is in the interests of these foundations, and charter management organizations that control much of the charter school market.

Choosing a charter school for your student is not the same as choosing a glass of milk for your family.  It’s more like making a wrong turn into a dead-end street.

What is your opinion of charter schools?  In whose interests are charter schools?

8 Myths About Charter Schools

Empowered Georgia has identified 8 myths as reasons to oppose a charter school law that might go into effect in November. Is your state next in line to follow the chartered school path in Georgia at the expense of public schools–it’s parents, students, and teachers?

Georgia will decide on November 6 to change the constitution permitting an appointed Commission to create and fund charter schools throughout the state without local school approval.  Two years ago, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in the case Gwinnett County School District v. Cox that only local schools have the authority to set up schools. As a retaliation, the Georgia legislature passed  a law to reactivate the authority of the appointed Commission to create its own charter schools.  However, in order for the law to take effect, the citizens of Georgia must approve the law.

As the Georgia Supreme court noted in its ruling in Gwinnett County School District v. Cox,

It is thus for this Court alone to decide whether legislation enacted by the General Assembly is inconsistent with the Constitution and where, as here, such an inconsistency has been determined to exist, it is irrelevant whether any rational basis exists for the legislation.

Further the Court recognized that the Commission to create charter schools is appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, and are not accountable in any way either to the parents or the taxpayers.  On the other hand, local school boards consist of members who live in their schools’ districts and are elected to their positions by the parents and taxpayers residing in the areas from which the students are drawn and the local schools taxes are raised.

When politicians talk about charter schools they always pull the choice card.  In their words, charter schools give parents a choice in determining their child’s education.  Even the National Parent Teacher Association has joined in with many politicians by arguing that giving entities (read Georgia Commission on Charter Schools) other than local school boards the right to approve charter schools and therefore supports the

But wait, charter schools run on a set of myths that when analyzed shows that public schools are a better choice for  parents.  But you’d never know that by listening to the Georgia Republican party.

Following is research conducted by Empowered Georgia, an organization of parents and educators, that identified 8 myths about charter schools.  If you follow this link, you will find more details about the myths identified by Empowered Georgia. Here we’ve only identified the myth, and one fact that repudiates or questions charters.

Myths about Georgia’s Charter Amendment

  1. Myth: The State Does Not Have the Power to Approve Charter Schools That Were Denied by Local Boards  Fact: The Georgia Department of Education currently has the authority to review and approve state charter applications.
  2. Myth: Charter Schools Are More Innovative and Flexible  Fact: Charters are allowed to “kick out” students for behavior or academic reasons.
  3. Myth: State Charter Schools Will Not Take  Funds Away from Traditional Public Schools Fact: If the proposed charter amendment passes, charter schools authorized by the Commission will be 100% funded by the state. 
  4. Myth: Charter Schools Are Public Schools Fact: There are many elements of charter schools that make them appear more private than public.
  5. Myth: Charters Serve All Students Fact: Many charter schools use lotteries to avoid qualifying for AYP testing, making it difficult to compare their success to public schools. 
  6. Myth: Charters Seek to Put the Interests of Families and Students First Fact: Proponents of the proposed charter amendment wave the banner of  families and children, while advocating the interests of business interests over students’ interests.
  7. Myth: Charter Schools Increase Student Achievement Fact: Multiple Studies and Reports Call Into Question the Effectiveness of  Charter Schools.
  8. Charters Will Expand Choice and Create Competition Fact: Passage of the charter amendment does not guarantee that charters would be added to areas that have chronically underperforming schools.

One of the consequences, if the charter amendment passes, is the loss of local control of some educational policies. If the amendment is approved, then the state commission will run a parallel school system that will take more than $400 million from the already stretched education budget in the state. Money and decision-making are at the heart of the charter school issue in Georgia, not the improvement of education or options for parents and students.

If the Georgia charter amendment is approved it will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state. Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold here. Firms will come in to buy land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA. Boston recently worked out a deal in the interests of corporate investors.

And finally, we’d add a comment made by the Georgia School Superintendent, John Barge, who changed his mind and now opposes the amendment.  Here’s why:

that until all public school students are in school for 180 days, until essential services such as student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not direct one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts – much less an additional $430 million in state funds, the cost of adding seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years.

What do you think about the Georgia charter Amendment?  Do you think citizens of Georgia should approve or reject the Amendment?

 

Charter Schools: Education’s 21st Century Philospher’s Stone?

Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It kind of like a philosopher’s stone, or a 19th century elixir, to serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools.

Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come. Charter schools have not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.

Yet, it is quite obvious that policymakers have ignored the research that has been conducted by university-based researchers, rather than “partisan think-tanks.” Instead they are enacting laws around the country that will enable for-profit charter management companies to swoop in and establish charter schools, almost at will. These laws further destabilize public schools, and remove the locus of control of local schools, and put it into the hands of unelected bureaucrats (political appointees).

Beacons for Excellence

In her new book, Dr. Lisa Delpit suggests that the original idea of charter school has been corrupted. She explains that originally, charter schools were designed to be “beacons” for educational excellence. Charter schools were to be designed to develop new approaches to teaching, especially for the most challenging populations of children. Their results were to be shared with other public schools.

As Dr. Delpit explains, the initial concept has been corrupted. She explains:

Now, because of the insertion of the “market model,” charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. Special education students, students with behavioral issues, and students who need any kind of special assistance are excluded in a multiplicity of ways because they reduce the bottom line—they lower test scores and take more time to educate properly. Charter schools have any number of ways of “counseling” such students out of their programs. I have been told by parents that many charter schools accuse students of a series of often trivial rule infractions, then tell parents that the students will not be suspended if the parents voluntarily transfer them to another school. Parents of a student with special needs are told that the charter is not prepared to meet their child’s needs adequately and that he or she would be much better served at the regular public school around the corner.

Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People“: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Some of the charter bills that have been passed will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state. Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold in these states. Firms will come in a purchase land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA. Boston worked out a deal in the interests of corporate investors.

In today’s Education Week, Ember Reichgott Junge, one of the authors of Minnesota’s 1991 charter bill, discusses the history of the charter school movement.  One of the points she makes that resonates with Dr. Delpit’s message is that charters were given prominence when Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, “challenged attendees at an education reform conference in Minnesota in 1988 to imagine how teachers might partner with the public education “system” to encourage risk-taking and change.”  His suggestion was to create charter schools as a way to professionalize teaching.  Unfortunately, the charter school idea has been marketed as a business opportunity for entrepreneurs.  The author of the Education Week article appears, however, to have a conflict of interest with the initial conception of charters in that she is vice chair of corporation that helps finance charter school facilities.

Charters in Georgia: Audits & Constitutional Amendments!

Charter schools have been an issue in Georgia, especially this year.  The most important issue is that Georgia is moving very close to enabling the creation of charter schools across the state without local school board approval.  On the November ballot, Georgia citizens will be asked to vote to support an amendment to the education code in Georgia by modifying the state constitution.

At the same time, there are growing concerns about the financial improprieties of some charter schools: case in point—the Fulton Science Middle School Academy.

The Fulton Science Middle Academy, a math and science charter school in Alpharetta was audited by the school district after questions were raised about financial decisions made by leaders of the school.  The Fulton County School superintendent said that the results of the audit represented the most “egregious” problem he had ever encountered in his career.  In an Atlanta Journal/Constitution article, Maureen Downey reports that the audit revealed financial misconducts including lack of competitive bidding, conflicts of interest, co-mingling of funds, hiring of Turkish citizens for teaching positions, payment of visas for staff members and their families, and payment of airline tickets to Turkey for summer visits.  Fulton Science Middle is one of three charter schools that are run by Grace Institute which includes Fulton Sunshine Academy, an elementary school and the Fulton Science Academy High School.  The superintendent intends to audit the remaining schools.

All three schools are high performing academic charter schools founded by Turkish entrepreneurs with ties to the Gulen movement.

The issue for me is not the specific affiliation of these three schools in Alpharetta, Georgia to the Gullen movement per se, but how Georgia charter advocates have lobbied the legislature, and the governor to set up a move that will overrule a Supreme Court decision last year. To corporate reformers, charter schools are seen as the magic bullet that will save our schools from the incompetence that they lay at the feet of public school teachers, principals, and parents. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  • In May 2011, the Supreme Court of Georgia in the case Gwinnett County School District v. Cox, ruled that charter schools must be approved by local school boards of education.  Many legislators and charter school lobbyists were not pleased by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision to neuter the state commission on charters, and submitted legislation in this year’s legislative session to circumvent the court’s decision by making an amendment to the State’s constitution.
  • In March, 2012,  the Georgia legislature passed a bill (HR 1162) that amends the Georgia State Constitution by establishing state-wide policy that will enable the Georgia General Assembly to establish special schools that will include charter schools without the approval of local schools.
  • On May 3, 2012, the governor of Georgia signed a bill that will restore the state’s power to approve and finance charter schools without local school district approval. The legislation, however, needs voter approval in November because this bill is a constitutional amendment.

To rub it in, the governor signed the bill at Cherokee Charter Academy, in Canton, Georgia.

Without the approval of local districts, Georgia will open its educational system to a stampede of charter school corporations and real estate brokers who see this bill as a cash cow.

Georgia State Senator Doug Stoner, District 6, who voted against HR 1162, believes that the Charter schools amendment would set up a dangerous system. He wrote this in his newsletter:

To change the Constitution in order to create a charter school or any “special school” favored by current or future state bureaucrats, and forcing local school districts to accept such schools would set up a very dangerous system that clearly violates the concept of local control. I cannot support such a state government mandate, especially when the legislative majority has slashed local school funding by more than $1 billion in recent years.

Locally elected school board members across the state have spoken out against HR 1162, which comes as no surprise. It is certainly reasonable to ask why the state is creating a new funding stream for charter schools while reducing financial support for other schools, forcing reduced education calendars, elimination of programs and teacher furloughs.

These are decisions that should be made by school districts at the local level, not from a high-rise office tower in downtown Atlanta. The sponsors of HR 1162 say it is necessary to overturn a Georgia Supreme Court ruling against state-mandated charter schools. But common sense says the court got it right. That’s why I will oppose HR 1162 if it comes to a vote in the Senate this week.

Effects of the Georgia Amendment

If the Georgia Constitution is amended as set forth in HR 1162 it will result in the following kinds of events in the state over the foreseeable future.

  • The Georgia Charter School Commission will be able to create its own network of charter schools throughout the state in direct violation of Georgia law.
  • The Georgia Charter School Commission will supersede the authority of local boards of education by authorizing new charter schools, that in the end will be paid for by the taxpayers. According to the Supreme Court of Georgia, “no other government entity can compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-1 2 schools. And it further states that local boards of education have the exclusive authority to fulfill one of the primary obligations of the State of Georgia, namely “the provision of an adequate public education for all citizens” (Art. VIII, Sec. I, Par. I.).”
  • The destabilization of public schools. Charter schools established through state commission will use local funds (along with grants from the state), thereby further damaging the financial state of local public schools.
  • Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold in Georgia. This firms will come in a purchase land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA. This is big business in Florida. Two-thirds of the charter schools in Florida are run by for-profit companies, who exist on the backs of the taxpayers of Florida. The management companies charge fees that sometime exceed $1 million per year per school.
  • Increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in Georgia.
It’s in the voters hands–In November, the voters in Georgia will vote on the amendment.

Philospher’s Stone?

In a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, “charter schools are touted as the reform model that will boost student achievement by allowing schools to be innovative and by having parents, teachers, and the community more a part of the decision-making.” But as I have shown elsewhere on this blog, charter schools simply do not do as well as their public school counterparts, and indeed, students would be better off going to public schools.

We have reported on this blog that two major research studies indicate that charter schools do not perform nearly as well as traditional public schools. In a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford, hundreds of charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia were studied to find out what was the impact of these charter schools on student learning.

Here are some of their findings from the CREDO study:

  • Of the 2403 charter schools reflected on the curve, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools instead.

 

Used with permission of Dr. Michael Marder

Dr. Michael Marder, at the University of Texas has studied not only Texas charter schools, but charter schools in other states including Florida, New Jersey, New York, and California. He has found that most charter schools do not do as well as the traditional public schools. Follow this linkto his analyses of charter school data presented as easy to understand visualizations.  The link will take you to a movie in which Dr. Marder walks us through a very large data set that he presents as visualizations.  He analyses the relationship between poverty concentration vs. achievement, and compares regular public schools and charter schools, as well ethnicity.  The image on the left shows every Texas school (regular public and charters) as circles of varying sizes (number of graduates) and color ( fraction of non-white students).  As you can see, and as Dr. Marder has concluded, the there a strong relationship between poverty concentration and achievement.

It turns out that charter schools do not increase student performance on academic tests. In fact, charter schools tend to turn away English language learners, and special needs learners. Most charter schools have created segregated environments, which in the words of The Civil Rights Project, has been a civil rights failure.

Enabling the state to establish charter school is not only a big mistake, its not educational sound, and probably is unconstitutional.

What are your views on the value of charter schools?  Should the state have the authority to create schools without local school board approval?