Saturday, June 06, 2009

Duking it Out on Charter Schools

Caroline comments on charter schools at Gotham Schools

It seems like I’ve previously made the same points to Kitchen Sink that I’m about to make again.

Aside from the near-parodic degree of bias here (snip below), I have to say that I almost never criticize a charter school for its actual characteristics. Rather than pro-actively attacking or criticizing, pretty much 100% of my comments about charter schools are refutations of their own dishonest and misleading boasts/claims.

Kitchen Sink’s words:
***Charter supporters: “Not all charters are the same. Some are miraculous, some are mediocre, some are terrible. The charter law allows the miraculous ones to operate, and the terrible ones to close.”

Charter skeptics: “Bash, bash, bash.”

Yet, Kitchen Sink, right away you contradict your charge that all charter critics do it bash, bash, bash.

*** You’re right to ask for more transparency in charter school practices, and to question results that just don’t square with common sense.***

For the zillionth time, if there is harmful, detrimental, needless bureaucracy hampering public schools, it should be eliminated for all schools, not just a special class of privileged, cosseted schools that then proclaim themselves superior, bash the schools that are still bogged down by bureaucracy, and attract vast amounts of support, acclaim and money by doing so.

So that’s one of my suggestions.

***We have the autonomy to make those dreams come true, which district public schools just don’t have due to the endless layers of bureaucracy and autocracy that have been caked on for decades and decades.***

Do I really have to go, again, into how charter schools cream — inherently, because of the application process, or pro-actively?

We have this discussion over and over.

Charter skeptic: Charter schools have a huge advantage because they cream for students who are likely to be higher-functioning.
Charter advocate: They do not.
Charter skeptic: (explains how charter schools cream.)
Charter advocate: What’s wrong with creaming?

It’s dizzying.

*** And to the extent that [creaming] is happening, is it happening at a higher rate in charters than in district schools? ***

This again too? OK, wearily, again:

First, the charter school process creams because every child in a charter had a family who knew enough and cared enough to seek out the charter and apply. Children who don’t have families who take an interest in their education — who are likely to be the biggest burden on the public education system — go to district schools, by default, by definition.

(The charter advocates’ dishonest “gotcha!” response is always “oh, so only kids whose parents don’t care go to district schools?” No. ALL kids whose parents don’t care go to district schools, but not ONLY kids whose parents don’t care go to district schools.)

Kitchen Sink says: ***I know one charter parent (actually a grandma raising two grandchildren) who complained that a well-regarded district school principal told her, “Take him somewhere else. I don’t have time for him and his learning disability!” Where did she take him? To a charter school. To the extent that this “pushing out” is happening, it works both ways, friends.***

Glad you found one example, but if true, it’s obviously an anomaly. For one thing, statistics resoundingly show that charter schools accept fewer disabled children than public schools — and the ones they do accept have less severe disabilities. One exception, if it’s true, doesn’t change that. And further, once again: Charter schools only enroll kids whose families cared enough to ask. Plus at least in my state, they get basically no oversight, so they can screen as much as their hearts desire in their enrollment processes. The kids whose families don’t take an interest in their education by definition end up in non-charter public schools.

*** Do you really think hordes of parents whose children are doing WELL in the district schools are going to take their kids away from their friends and teachers and bring them to a school with NO track record? Do you think a desparate family with no real success happening in school will do so?***

You’re correct there. But once again, those are families who care. They are motivated enough to take their kids away from their families and teachers and etc. etc. The kids who are doing poorly and have families who don’t give a rat’s a** (if any families at all) are the real challenge to public education. Those kids will remain in the publics, while the charters get the students with the motivated families.

Here’s a lesson that I do think we’re learning from charter schools: In at least some cases, when low-income, at-risk students who have families motivated enough to take an interest in their kids’ education are removed into a setting where all their classmates have the same advantage — and away from the most troubled kids from the most messed-up families — they overall seem to do better.

But is there something special about charter schools that makes this happen, or is it simply being removed from their most-troubled peers? Would the same thing happen in a public school if the same kids were removed from their most-troubled peers into a setting of entirely kids from more-motivated families? Since this entire situation is shrouded in denial (and, let’s be blunt, lies), it hasn’t been studied and we simply don’t know.

Some steps.

1. Everybody stop denying this and look at it clearly. Charter folks, own up, be honest and stop claiming it doesn’t happen. Press, researchers, observers, etc., wake up and pay attention.
2. Do some pilot projects replicating the situation — simply regular, non-charter public schools that no one gets into unless they request it. Add some hoops to jump through, like the contract-signing sessions KIPP does that weed out less-committed families. Do nothing else differently. Track student achievement and outcomes.
3. If this is a success, set up a public, non-charter system that’s frankly going to be two-tiered, justifying this on the basis that it’s helping some at-risk kids toward success. This system would offer every family a school that’s entirely by request (maybe with a few hoops to jump through) and provide a default school for those who don’t make the request. The difference would be that it would be an open and honest system, and the by-request school wouldn’t be able to claim to be superior to the default school, because the situation would be clear to all.

For added benefit, do some honest and thorough accounting of how much the more successful charter schools spend per student, counting the private philanthropy. Give that much to those pilot schools.