10 Concerns about Charter Schools

12 Nov

What We Don’t Want for Washington

“(…) unfortunately, we have far too many mediocre charters and we have far too many charter schools that are absolutely low performing.” — Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, address to the National Charter Schools Conference, July 1, 2010

An $11 million political campaign by a small group of wealthy individuals, many from out of state, placed charter schools on the ballot in Washington this year and promoted it with television ads.

After rejecting charters three times already in the past 16 years, I-1240 appears to have passed in Washington this November by a razor-thin margin of 50-49%.

I-1240 is an extremely flawed and alarming (and unconstitutional) proposal, full of troubling loopholes and opportunities for private enterprises to profit from public funds and no genuine public oversight. It also allows for a simple majority of 51 percent of parents or teachers to stage a takeover of an existing school and convert it into a charter — with no recourse for the remaining 49 percents of parents or teachers who may oppose this “conversion.”

Clearly charter schools remain a divisive, controversial and unpopular concept in Washington State.

The election may be over, but our concerns have not gone away.

  1. The odds are not good. Most charters do not perform better than genuinely public schools. As many as 83 percent of charters perform no better – or perform worse – than regular public schools (per Stanford University’s 2009 CREDO study, the most comprehensive peer reviewed study of charter schools to date.) Will Washington charters schools be better than existing public schools? If not, why have them?
  2. Charters divert resources from regular public schools. In some cases they even take over buildings. Washington State already ranks near the bottom of per-pupil funding. Our state Supreme Court declared earlier this year that we have failed in our “paramount duty” to fund our schools (McCleary v. State, Jan. 5, 2012). We need to invest in our existing public schools, not divert precious resources to charters which have less than a 20 percent chance of being better than current schools and to serve only a few students. Will these charter schools drain resources from existing public schools? Will public money be diverted to private enterprises?
  3. No public oversight, limited accountability, no oversight granted to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, making I-1240 unconstitutional. Charter schools do not answer to a school board or a superintendent or voters. There is little oversight or accountability. Although a failing charter is supposed to lose its charter and close, very few do.  Who will be accountable for charter schools in Washington?
  4. Segregation. Charters are re-segregating our nation’s schools. The NAACP oppose this development (see:  Choice Without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards) . The KKK supports them (Segregated Charter Schools Evoke Separate but Equal Era in U.S. ). Will charter schools in Washington segregate our children?
  5. Skimming & trimming. Charters cherrypick and omit certain students. They have been criticized for not serving Special Ed children – children with disabilities, or English Language Learners  are generally not served by charters. (Public schools must accept all kids.) These children are underrepresented or in some cases, forced out of charter schools. Will charter schools in Washington admit and serve children with special needs and English language learners?
  6. High attrition rates. As many as 60 percent of students have been known to leave KIPP Inc, charter schools. Will charter schools in Washington maintain their enrollment or will they also have high attrition rates?
  7. They are not necessary. Our city and state has the resources to do it ourselves. We don’t need to outsource our schools to private operators with little to no accountability. We are able to innovate without importing charter management companies from California to run our schools. Seattle already has alternative schools, schools that are able to use stronger math curricula than the district’s required text. The Seattle School District has the Creative Approach option that allows creative autonomy already. In what way will charter schools prove themselves necessary to our state?
  8. High teacher turnover and reliance on inexperienced, underqualified trainees from Teach for America, Inc. who have only had 5 weeks of training and no in-class student teaching experience. TFA are only obliged to commit to their teaching job for 2 years. Most leave by the third year. Will charter schools in Washington primarily hire Teach for America or nonunion teachers and will there be high turnover rates?
  9. Extra bureaucracy & cost. I-1240 requires the establishment of a new Charter Commission comprised of unelected appointees with no accountability to the public. This commission would cost an estimated $3 million. How much will this commission actually cost? Who will be on it? Are there any conflicts of interest? To whom is this commission accountable?
  10. The initiative as written is very troubling and risky in its lack of public oversight and accountability, the costs involved, and the “trigger” aspect, which would allow as few as 51 percent of parents or teachers to convert a school — even a healthy, successful one — into some kind of charter of their choosing. –With no recourse for the remaining 49 percent. How will this trigger mechanism be used? Who is going to pull this trigger?  How can it be fair to all members of an existing school? Will some families be forced to leave their school? Will there be transparency or will it be done without general community knowledge?



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