Posted in Charters, Privatization, Public Ed

2015 Medley #26: Charters

Privatization: Charters

CHARTERS

Charter Schools Are… [Public? Private? Neither? Both?]

Disclaimer: Not all charter schools are bad. There are some good charters, run by non-profits (which aren’t fronts for for-profits), which work hard to accept all students, even the hard to educate.

However, the charter industry on the whole, is poorly regulated and generally lacking in public oversight — unlike real public schools.

The reason I use the term real public schools when referring to what other folks call traditional schools is because charter schools are not public schools in any way other than their funding. When faced with public accountability for the money they’ve received, or public regulations, charters often claim that they are private entities and thus are not bound by the same laws that real public schools are bound by. Bruce Baker explains it clearly in this article from 2012.

…these legal debates over whether charter schools are state actors or private entities only come about because, when an issue is raised regarding open records or meetings, or employee or student rights, it is the lawyers for the charter school that invoke the claim that they are private entities. Like here! or here! I surely hope those invoking their private status when legally convenient are not among those proclaiming their public status when politically convenient. You just can’t have it both ways.

Public or Private: Are RI Charter Schools Trying to Have it Both Ways?

Expansion of charters is a concern for many in Rhode Island and some of the discussion has centered on the “public” status of charter schools.

Officially, charters are considered public schools by the Rhode Island Department of Education, according to spokesman Elliot Krieger. “They are entirely public schools; they are not private or nonpublic schools in any respect. We generally refer to them as ‘charter public schools,’” Krieger said yesterday.

But others say it’s not as black-and-white as that.

State Sen. James Sheehan prefers to call them “quasi-public schools.” “They like to pretend they are a new form of traditional public education. In reality, they are not,” said Sheehan, a North Kingstown Democrat who is a history teacher at Tollgate High School in Warwick.

“I characterize charter schools as privately operated but publicly funded schools,” said Jim Parisi, an organizer for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.

Arguing for charters is Justin Katz, the research director for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity (RICFP). RICFP is a free-market think-tank with ties to ALEC.

And by “free-market” I mean those who believe “government is bad unless I can get some tax money for my personal use” and “everything which is run privately and subject to market-pressures is better than anything run by public bureaucrats (unless I can get public money as welfare for my huge, multinational, energy [or other] -sector corporation).”

Katz applauds charters for putting the competitive pressure on districts. But he questions whether they are the best way of doing that.

“For the benefit of our children, the public school system is crying out for competition. The problem with doing it by means of charter schools is that it creates waste by building whole new schools to free them from problems of district schools, rather than just tackling the problems of the district schools,” Katz said.

Katz is wrong. Competition doesn’t work in education. See here…

If we REALLY encourage competition in education — if we really ARE committed to letting private companies drive our public school systems — businessmen will bring…profit-making practices to our communities. Tapping into an affluent marketplace with a ton of disposable cash to burn, some entrepreneurs will develop Subzero schools with all the bells and whistles. There will be small class sizes, highly skilled teachers, and a heaping cheese-load of resources spilling out of every classroom storage closet.

But make no mistake about it: The entrepreneurs developing schools for “those people in the poor section of town” will take Joe’s approach to making a buck. Their buildings will be stocked with cheap supplies and unqualified teachers. The only thing spilling out of their classrooms will be kids. Like the good businessmen that they are, they’ll stick worn out Kenmores into poor communities — cutting their expenses to the quick regardless of the quality of the product they are producing because they know full well that the marketplace they are serving can’t afford anything better.

and here.

Competition, which simply means that one person can succeed only if others fail, is one of those things [which is inherently destructive]. It’s always unnecessary and inappropriate at school, at play, and at home.

Think for a moment about the goals you have for your children. Chances are you want them to develop healthy self-esteem, to accept themselves as basically good people. You want them to become successful, to achieve the excellence of which they’re capable. You want them to have loving and supportive relationships. And you want them to enjoy themselves.

These are fine goals. But competition not only isn’t necessary for reaching them — it actually undermines them.

Competition is damaging to the children in public schools. Those of us who support real public schools don’t want winners and losers. We want full support for all schools in the public school system run for the betterment of everyone. We want public oversight and public accountability for the legislators who pass laws about schools, and the school board which runs the schools, as well as the teachers and students.

In one respect, Katz was right. We need to improve our public schools…not close them and farm our children out to for-profit edupreneurs.

More Loans for Charter Schools

Not having learned anything from the past, Indiana has offered more charter schools cheap loans. Our tax money which should be going support real public schools is being diverted to private companies with little or no public oversight.

$140 million here, $140 million there, and pretty soon we’re talking about real money. Let’s invest in our public schools…

…there is still the possibility that, like the $90 million loan that came before, this new $50 million loan will be forgiven by the State…

Green Woods Charter School And Others In Philadelphia Boast Questionable Application Processes

Some charters find ways of getting around the public requirement requiring them to accept all students…

…Green Woods made its application available only one day each year. Even then, the application was only given to families who attended the school’s open house – which most recently has been held at a private golf club in the Philadelphia suburbs.

No Accountability? 30 Percent of Detroit’s Charter Schools Have Closed

The writer of the following article, Tom Gantert, likes the fact that nearly two dozen charter schools have closed in Detroit because they couldn’t make it either academically or financially. He believes that’s good because the schools failed…and unlike the neighborhood public schools’ “semi-monopoly,” the almighty market has spoken and poor products (the bad charters) are not being supported by the customers.

Gantert is wrong. Public education is not a monopoly or even a semi-monopoly. There are private schools which, if parents choose to pay for, children can attend.

Someone who is wealthy might build their house on acres and acres of land, hire gardeners and landscape architects to beautify the grounds, and spend their days walking through beautiful gardens. The rest of us, though, take advantage of public parks build by local, state and national, governments with public funds. The parks are maintained at public expense for everyone…

Wealthy folks might want to purchase and collect huge numbers of books and resource materials. The rest of us have the benefit of public libraries…built and maintained at public expense.

Public schools are the same and they are no more a monopoly (or semi-) than public parks or public libraries.

Furthermore children need stable public schools. Closing schools because they have “failed” is poor education policy. See here and here to learn why closing schools frequently is not good for children. Instead, real public schools, supported by the community, which have stability, should be improved if there are problems, not abandoned.

[Note: The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, mentioned below, is a right-wing think tank (the largest state-level think tank in the nation) supported by the Koch Brothers and with close ties to ALEC.]

Unlike conventional public schools, charters have no semi-monopoly on educating children who live within a certain ZIP code. Instead, they must build their enrollment by appealing to parents who want something better for their children than what the local conventional public school provides. If a charter school fails to deliver, then parents are free to send their children somewhere else. If enough parents at a charter school do this, the school may be forced to close.

Also, if a charter school fails to meet the standards and conditions stipulated by the institution that chartered it — usually a state university — the school can lose its charter, and must then close.

“Unfortunately, there is a myth that charter schools don’t close in Detroit,” said Audrey Spalding, the director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “But it’s not true. A large number — 22 — of Detroit charter schools have closed for academic or financial reasons.”

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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.