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June 09, 2009


Nice post Terry!

"Someone please tell Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, both big fans of charter schools. "

Ha, I would suggest posting it on the comments section of the Arne Duncan Not Listening Tour Online, but the current thread there is about "raising standards". And again, he isn't listening anyway.

However, we could be posting our concerns on these issues at CHANGE.GOV here:

Hmm...what do you want to bet such comments would be moderated out?

What are your thoughts about online charters? As someone who is dedicated to neighborhood schools but also a parent of a child with a disability and advocate for all this is a much needed resource for some kids. My daughter is included fully in general education but every year I have to worry about them suggesting a behavior room. I have promised myself that I will homeschool before I will ever allow them to segregate my daughter; other parents tell me end of 2nd grade is usually when they drop the placement bomb. Luckily we are at Ockley Green where everyone is pretty accepting of quirks and I might get lucky and not have to worry about it. I could foresee a day however when my daughter might need an online option due to her challenges. There is some controversy currently about shutting down and online charter and many parents of kids with autism are upset about this. What do you think?

Check out these guys, the "Democrats for Education Reform."

Pro-charters all the way; staffed by a host of education idiots claiming allegiance to the Democratic party and neoliberal economic/social policies.


Thanks, Tauna. Nothing terribly original in the post. All the hard work has been done by Caroline Grannan, especially on KIPP.

Stephanie, some districts like Salem Keizer offer a public online option for students who would genuinely benefit from online learning. Charters are a different beast altogether.

Online charters target any student who wants to avoid the public school experience. And many of the online charters are privately run for-profit operations.

You should contact Kris Alman, the almost successful candidate for the Beaverton School Board. She knows a lot more about online charters than I do.

Thanks, you make a good point about a public online option vs. online charter. If a child needs an accommodation such as learning online it should be provided and not depend on the existence of an online charter. Many parents of kids with autism in particular are upset about online charters being questioned but the real question is why would the option go away if the online charter no longer exists?

Charter High Schools seem to be working quite well in my part of the San Francisco Bay Area. While we continue to have heated debate about Charter High Schools and how they are diverting much-needed funds from the established "public" school system, the charter high school my son attends, continues to outperform the traditional high schools in the area, yet its student population is way more ethnically and economically diverse. In fact, in Newsweek's national rankings - which came out yesterday - Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City, CA, was ranked #118 in the country. Not bad for a six year-old school running on almost $3000 per student less that the other district schools. It's an excellent example of educational reform in action, but the school's success has the district administrators cringing in their boots (and rightfully so).

If it sounds too good to be true, Jay, I say it probably is --true, that is.

You can cite all the statistics you want about diversity, but until I see actual data about poverty rates and special needs students, not to mention the hidden demographic of parent involvement, I suspect that Summit Prep (if that's the school your son attends)probably does what every other charter school does --limits enrollment to the most capable and easiest to educate students.

Newsweek rankings aside, schools are typically only as good as the students they serve.

I have been curious about limiting enrollment to certain student profiles and this comes up a lot in discussions with parents of kids with disabilities. The PPS charter audit showed that charter schools are actually representative of other schools in PPS based on their enrollment of students with disabilities (of course if you look at this more closely you will see that some schools have only 4% and others 33% and this correlates somewhat with affluency). It is a rule among empowered parents of kids with disabilities not to play into what we call the "disability hierarchy" which is basically avoiding comparing how hard or not hard are kids have it based on their diagnosis. We are in this together, bottom line. OK, with that said, we do wonder about schools like Trillium that have 14% enrollment of students with disabilities and the question is are these kids who have IEP's based on needing extra help in one subject or kids with high IQ's that have social issues such as high functioning autism exclusively? Do they really have kids that require communication devices, assistance for toileting, feeding tubes, nursing staff? I don't know. Maybe they do, but none of those parents are coming to my meetings. I only know parents of kids with these needs fighting to be in their neighborhood school but typically they are bussed all the way across town and transferred at the whim of the district. Some of these kids are on a bus for 2 hours a day or more total round trip. I hate to make guesses or assume that there is something shady going on but it sure seems like it. It is hard to stay true to our rule of not playing the hierarchy game if we choose to investigate what types of IEP's are represented at charters. This discussion came up on PPS Equity and a Trillium student blasted Rose and I by saying that she had a friend with a physical disability at Trillium and that kids with significant needs are represented at Trillium. I did not want to call the student out on the whole, "I know A person like this at my school so you are wrong about this completely" conundrum. I wonder if data is collected at all on IEP eligibilities?


Of course I cannot speak for all charter schools, but I can assure you that Summit Prep in Redwood City (yes, the school my son attends) is not focused on high-achieving, privileged students. There are many applicants for every 100 freshman seats (this Spring there were 470 applicants for the 110 Freshman spots Fall 2009). More importantly, the Summit student body is selected by an independent, audited lottery and therefore reflects the population of the local community. Drawing from some 42 middle schools, the Summit student body is both diverse and representative of the district as a whole. Summit has a mix of 30 to 40 percent Hispanic students in most classes, and for 2008-09, 52 percent of the freshman class is Hispanic and 34 percent are white.

As for students with special needs, 7% of Summit Prep’s students are qualified for special education (the district average is 10%) and have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). An additional, 8% have diagnosed learning disabilities, but are succeeding using mainstream supports and accommodations.

Privileged vs. Poverty? Some students do come from some more affluent communities, but the majority do not. Statistics show 32 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. About 44 percent of Summit students have parents who did not attend college.

And yes, there is parent involvement — just not hidden. Frankly, I think parent involvement is a good thing and something that has been lost over the years in traditional public schools — perhaps because so many of us today are time constrained as two income families. Because financial resources are 2/3 that of the per-student allocation in district schools, parents are asked to contribute 30 hours of service per year. This ranges from janitorial - to chaperoning dances - to coaching - to serving on school activity boards. It would be great if every parent kept to their hours commitment, but like almost every school (whether public, private or charter), it seems the same small core of families are the most involved.

By no means am I claiming it’s a perfect educational institution, but for 400, very diverse families, it’s the best, tax-supported recipe for achieving the “no kid left behind” scenario that I’ve found to be true for about 70% of the kids who are being rubber-stamped through our districts high schools (including my and my two daughters alma mater). All students at Summit take the same classes (all AP), assuring they get the college preparatory curriculum they need to meet UC entrance standards. While not all do attend college upon graduating (for many reasons), the past three years, 96 percent of the school’s graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges.

Perhaps you’re right when you say, “schools are typically only as good as the students they serve”. But you know, there’s no teaching without learning. It really helps when a school creates an atmosphere that motivates kids to want to learn. Regardless of ethnic, economic, mental or physical challenges, “wanting to learn” is a characteristic students at Summit Preparatory Charter share. Newsweek rankings aside, I guess students at Summit Preparatory Charter High School are privileged.

You make a good point about the stats re: including disabled students. Only looking at IEP rate does not show the true picture of students with disabilities in the school.

For the record, Jay, I'm all in favor of parent involvement. I also think that the charter idea --less red tape, more innovation-- should be extended to all public schools. That way we'd be absolutely certain that no public school student is left behind.

But here's the problem. The application process required for enrollment in charter schools, as I wrote in my post, automatically limits enrollment to students with involved parents, parents with the time, the awareness and motivation to fill out the application. That's the "hidden demographic" I referred to.

On top of that is the requirement of parent volunteer time (and probably mandatory organizational meetings.) It's little wonder that Summit attracts students who are willing and eager to learn, at least to a much greater degree than those enrolled in traditional public schools.

So again I say that the quality of the school is largely determined by the quality of its students --and the willingness of their parents to get involved.

Otherwise there would have to be other "magic" factors that allow a school to run AP classes for all its students while spending $3000 less per student than other other district schools.

If so, I'd like to heat about them.

Jay, did you get the feeling that your reasonable, cogent points in support of charter schools just were not getting through? I thought you did a nice job of pushing Terry further and further out onto the limb without seeming contentious. So, what's the deal? Well, on this blog when it comes to schools, its all about "what's best for the teacher's union." Sometimes the teacher's union's interests are aligned with students and sometimes those interest run counter to each other. So what's the beef with charter schools? They can and do hire non-union teachers. That's all it takes on this blog to make charter schools the enemy; there is no reasonable point you can make that will counter that entrenched self-interest.

I would refer readers to the commentaries Sharon Higgins and I posted on to explain how the charter school creaming process works (even with no pro-active creaming by the charter school), if that hadn't already been done.

Summit Prep has significantly more white students and fewer Latino students than its district overall (numbers of African-American and Asian students are small for both; Summit has fewer AA and more Asian students than the district does).

Summit also has far fewer English-language learners (3.5% at Summit, 18.5% for the Sequoia Union High School District).

California's education funding is so byzantine that no normal mortal can actually figure out how much funding any school is getting. Charter school advocates perennially claim that their schools get less funding than others, and those claims are made loudly even when it's demonstrably not true.

This was the former situation: State law required districts to provide charters with a set minimum amount of funding per student. Districts provided their own schools with a varying amount based on what the district could bear, but the charter requirement was inflexible. In some districts, including mine (San Francisco Unified), that meant that charter high schools got about $800 per student per year MORE than non-charter public high schools -- at the expense of students in non-charter high schools, of course.

That situation was changed a few years ago after a state senator, responding to requests from my district and suburban Novato Unified (which also had to provide its charter high school with $800 more per student per year than it could provide its two non-charter public high schools), authored a bill remedying the inequity. The bill passed and Gov. Schwarzenegger signed it based on the argument that the inequity was discouraging districts from approving charter schools.

The point in bringing this up is that the charter lobbyists and publicists were claiming just as loudly back then that their schools got less than publics, when that was demonstrably not true (and all this was little-known, being too arcane for our simplistic education press). It's a PR line. Now that inequity is indeed rectified, but it's still not credible that charter schools get less. For one thing, many of them receive vast amounts of private funding.

Of course it's fine if charter parents like their schools, but it's really not OK to disseminate false claims about them. There IS a major creaming process going on, and in addition, charters are largely unaccountable and are free to pick, choose and kick out students if they see fit. The traditional public school down the street takes in the dumpees, while the charter proclaims itself superior. This is often why there's friction between charter schools and their chartering districts, as there most definitely is in Summit's case.

Thanks Caroline. That should set the record straight. It's difficult for me, living in Oregon, to access demographic data on charter schools in Redwood City, CA (where I actually lived for a short period many many years ago.)

Wonder if Jay has a response.

As for Charter School Fan's contention that "this blog is all about what's best for teacher's unions", note that I rarely bring up the issue of non-union hiring at charter schools.

In fact, in this post, you'll find no mention of unions at all. My primary objection to the charter model is not that charters are union busters, but that they simply don't serve the same students that traditional public schools are obligated to serve.

A newsflash re the less evil choice (Would McCain, John Kerry's first choice for VP, have been worse?):


* Education Secretary Arne Duncan Pushes to Aggressively Expand Charter Schools While Admitting Problems *

The Obama administration has made opening more charter schools one of its top priorities in its plans to improve the nation's education system. On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the annual gathering of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Washington, DC. His address came on the heels of a new Stanford University report that found that, on average, students in charter schools were not faring as well as students in traditional public schools.


You have to admire Obama's guts in taking on the powerful teacher's union, with its proven track record of throwing students under the bus to protect its hegemony.

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