Without a Paddle

Without a Paddle
Venice, California, USA
May 10
This boat still floats! -------------------------------------------------------- Black & White Photos Copyright © Jeffrey Stanton 1996

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AUGUST 21, 2009 8:29PM

LA to Give 50 Schools Away to be Run by Charters--Opinions?

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I'm curious... What do OSer's think of charter schools?

Tomorrow the LAUSD's board will vote on whether or not it will make fifty new school campuses available for operation by charters.  (The entire agenda is linked here-this resolution is on page 5 of the pdf)  

There are mixed reviews on charters. Some feel that the encroachment of the private sector into what has been a public service will destroy public education.  Some say it's a union busting mechanism (but charters were partially initiated by the American Federation of Teachers.)  Some consider the charter movement an opportunity to give parents and teachers local control.

Does anyone out there have experience with charters?  






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Please leave a comment. I'm curious as to what people outside of the teaching community think.
What do OSer's think of charter schools?

I think that the thing to do, for starters, is to read research on the effectiveness of charter schools in different states, and it happens that there's a June, 2009, report from a center at Stanford on just that topic.
Are the charter schols allowed to be selective? Do they have accomodations for special needs kids? Are they allowed to teach religious nonsense like 'creationism'? Do they have wood shop and metal shop and other vocational training for non college bound kids?
It saddens me when people give up on public schools. You could say the public schools in America are the purest fom of democracy in action. The hiring, contracts, budgets, curriculum, etc, etc are all dictated by the school boards. and the school boards are all directly elected by the people living in the school districts. It doesn't get ny more democratic than that. If your local school is failing- you own part of the failure. The fact that people are giving up on public school is a sign that democracy has failed them. Or they have failed democracy.
Now you want to throw all that away and give it away to some faceless corporation answerable to noone but the almight dollar? This is horrendous. How did we come to tihs point where we give up on democracy? An informed citizenry actively seeks to run its own affairs. An uninformed citizenry finds the first opportunity to pawn that responsibility off to some knight-in-shining-armor.
I think that charter schools are the answer until we bring public education up to snuff. They have more freedom to do what works, provided that they are staffed with people who are committed to making a difference through teaching.

Public education needs performance-based pay increases and benefits for teachers and administrators. And seriously, there has to be some kind of limit to both. Yes, teaching can be a tough job. So can being a nurse or a policeman, and those salaries and benefits aren't spiraling out of control, and they don't get nearly as much pay or time off. Maybe some type of location stipend.

For the love of all that is holy, stop sending home half a forest worth of paper in my kid's backpack every night! Save the trees and save money by cutting the printed information to what we need to know or see. Try using transparencies and dry-erase markers for schoolwork. Innovate!

Cut or reassign positions. If our public schools need more special ed teachers because so many kids are in special ed, maybe we need to take a look at the criteria to qualify for special ed, the learning standards and the curriculums.

Cut or redirect special ed funding. My oldest son has a learning disability. Upon reaching the 6th grade, I discovered that the extent of his special education consists of a study hall supervised by a special ed aide (the "resource room"), who tells my son to do his homework. He does not receive extra assistance, but the school receives extra money. Despite the Individual Education Plan requirement for every special ed student, the school has a "one-size-fits-all" approach that helps no one. Cutting funding for special ed won't hurt him or any kid attending a school that seems to view these kids as cash cows. Redirecting special ed funds to charter school vouchers would do a lot more, or even redirecting cash to parents so they can afford to pay for tutors.

Spend more on textbooks and materials. Use the savings from limiting salaries and cutting positions. By accepting that kids have different learning styles, we can present lessons in different ways; lectures, workbooks, via computer, audio CD, video DVD. Hands-on kids will do better in an interactive classroom, or with interactive materials. And this would allow teachers more time to work with kids who need it, rather than slapping a special ed label on the kids who can't absorb lectures.

Send a contingent of excellent teachers, administrators, kids and parents to countries who excel in education. See what works (like teaching a few concepts per year rather than every concept every year and advancing concepts past the abilities of many) and why from each different viewpoint, then adapt those methods to reform public education.

I had to homeschool my youngest son (ADHD & learning disabilities) because he was learning absolutely nothing in school. Through an inexpensive and fun computer program that presented lessons as interactive games, he completed two full grades in a single year. We're sending him back to public school this year, but we'll still be doing the computer program at home.
Best of all they won't be hamstrung by the unions.
"Yes, teaching can be a tough job. So can being a nurse or a policeman, and those salaries and benefits aren't spiraling out of control, and they don't get nearly as much pay or time off."

uh, I don't think so. From the SJ Mercury: "...former Assistant Police Chief Charles "Tuck" Younis, who retired in 2007 and now holds a $160,000 job as police chief in Los Altos, draws a San Jose pension that will total $177,985 this year." That's a pension that is 90% of his pay at time of retirement. Entry level pay for a cop is $70K. I don't know a single teacher who ever had it that good from start to finish. Most the teachers I know are overworked, underpaid and incredibly stressed out and they don't get as much time off as you think. They work more than 8 hours a day, more than 5 days a week.
I have worked for charter schools for the last four years and am currently doing primary research on one in particular. The body of research on charters may surprise you--there is way too much to say in this little space at this late hour, but "mixed reviews" is about accurate. Asking people whether they like charter schools is like asking people whether they like restaurants. They're just that different. A large study out of Indiana shows that the "skimming the cream off the top" notion--charters attracting the best students from the already-struggling urban schools--is a myth; in fact, charters have students who are higher risk in every category than their urban counterparts, including academic, ethnicity, socioeconomic, and IEPs. The elephant in the room, as far as I'm concerned, lies with the fact that most charters aren't unionized. Teachers are not paid what they're worth. Btw, I am a substitute and am not affected by this issue--I am paid the same in both public and charter schools for my work and I am not certified by the state and therefore can't have my own classroom in either place. I consider myself an objective observer of the system and frankly gained employment in the charters specifically to find out what they're about.
In a quick perusal of comments, both icemilkcoffee and sickofstupid have some misconceptions about charters. The rules governing them vary from state to state, of course, but in many states they are required to be nonprofit, so the business about corporations is not true. In Ohio, for example, they MUST be nonprofit although they can hire educational management firms that are either for-profit or nonprofit. There is currently a push to limit any management firm to be nonprofit as well. They are certainly not connected with any religion, as they are public schools. That is true in all states. Charter schools are publicly funded, privately run. In some places, charters are actually more progressive, like Montessori-type places.

As far as the "freedom" that sickofstupid mentions, they are not as free as you might think. My beef with charters, at least in Ohio, is that they are not different enough from public schools. They seem to have all the flaws of the district schools with the added problem of inexperienced teachers who work harder (almost always urban and/or disadvantaged students; longer hours, including lunch and recess duties) for considerably less pay.

As far as the population of families who choose charters, my own anecdotal observation is that they attract an eclectic mix of "problem" students and "good" students. (I mean to say "really bad" and "really good" if you will allow me to be reductive). The former are kids who get bus and bully reports and their parents pull them out when the schools try to set up IEP meetings, etc., thinking their kids are getting "hassled"--opting instead for the free school down the street that, from the outside, seems like a private school because they wear uniforms and may have a special little twist like "arts focus" or "character development" listed in their marketing brochures. These kids are the ones who have ADHD, at-home problems, or other issues that would eventually be addressed by any school. (And they are addressed by charters eventually too, although charters are probably slower on the uptake b/c they don't have the resources of the district schools). The latter group--the "good" ones--are the "cream" that everybody says are being pulled away from the urban schools. And we're talking about their families/parents as well. These are the ones most likely to volunteer in the classroom and run PTA, etc. Like I said, the overall finding is that the population of charters is disadvantaged, but I DO see these "good" students in the schools as well, the ones who clearly would be fighting to keep their district school on track if they didn't have an option.

It's just really, really complicated--much more so than most mainstream media has represented. A grad student from Yale did a whole paper on how the charter issue has fallen into a left/right political frame when it needn't have and indeed shouldn't have. He discovered--this was his dissertation--that the research on charters was credible and not infected with the same kind of political spin that their supporters and detractors engage in publicly.

gotta run--thanks for the interesting post. Anyone who wants to see a boots-on-the-ground perspective of actually working in a charter school can look at my posts about subbing--Middle School Substitute, Lincoln and Leprechauns, and Kit Kats and Bullies. You won't come away with a positive view, I suppose, but I'm not at all sure the problems I refer to aren't problems in all urban schools.
Rob: Thanks for the link to the 57-page document that I can now not in good conscience read and include in my bibliography. &^%$!

:) !
Rob, icemilkcoffee, sickofstupid, Blackflon, Umbrellakinesis, marcelleqb and Lainey, thank for stopping by. I appreciate the comments. I'l slogging through the Stanford study. (I'd like to look the paper for Yale too.)

Thanks again!

I've never worked at a charter. I subbed at a private school once. My kids go to public school. I suspect they can't be THAT different in terms of the kids' experience (they still fall under the education codes of the states and federal regulations.) The union issue is an issue--but not necessarily pay (I found an article on a NY charter that was considering offering $150k a year to a teacher.

Well...a group of teachers and parents will sit around in the school library Monday and talk about it. People are up in arms. (That's what bothers me more than anything.) So we'll see. I think LAUSD has hundreds of schools--but fifty schools! That's a lot! I'll keep you posted on what happens next!