"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Can Charter Schools Compete On A Level Playing Field?

Well, In the Philadelphia School District we are going to be opening MORE charter schools. This decision by Dr. Ackerman comes during the same week that we have learned that six or seven Philadelphia Charters are under federal investigation for "financial irregularities". Three of the charters even hired a super accountant who (according to her) works between 400-600 days per year! (http://www.philly.com/inquirer/home_top_stories/20100331_City_Controller_questions_payments_to_charter-school_accountant.html). Even during all this turmoil, the powers that be have decided that most of the "Renaissance Schools" (schools that are deemed persistently troubled) will be given over to charter operators. Nine schools will be converted to charters, and Ackerman is keeping six for herself and her cronies--those will be turned into "Promise Academies". The interesting, little discussed part of all of this is that the charter operators will have to deal with a new twist: SUPPOSEDLY, they will be obligated to keep all the students already in the school. This is a complete game changer for charter schools. Anyone who is at all familiar with charter schools knows that they specialize in turfing out any kind of problematic student. The "problems" might consist of a mild to severe discipline problem, an attendance problem, little to no parental involvement, or a child who desperately needs an IEP that the school simply does not want to deal with. For years charters have sent these sorts of students back to their neighborhood public schools with nary a second thought. One of my students lasted exactly 10 DAYS in her charter school, another was given the cliche "the school is not a good fit for you" before they sent him packing. This is classic charter school speak--it is the school equivalent of "it's not you, it's me." The issue for regular neighborhood public schools is that we are open equally to all comers--bad attitude, bad attendance, uninvolved parents, the works. Of course, that is the stated and sacred mission of public education--so we do not really mind. What we DO mind is being compared to schools that get to select students. We also mind entities that spend public tax dollars being exempt from the rules of public schools. However, if you can believe the School District (and I'm not betting the farm on their veracity), the charters that take over the Renaissance Schools will have no choice but to deal with all the students in the catchment area. So, it will be quite interesting to see how this plays out: How many students will be "encouraged" to apply for a voluntary transfer or an extenuating circumstances transfer? What will charter operators do when parents refuse to show up for meetings, or tell their kids it is a good idea to get involved in fights? How will charters deal with the myriad problems that already exist in the schools they are taking over? The charter school toolkit for dealing with difficult students is not really very large--it mostly consists of saying "see ya" to the problems. How will they be able to cope when the difficult students are theirs for keeps? OR, will the district--in a desperate attempt to prove that their initiative is a success--manipulate the students and the numbers and quietly allow charters to conduct business as usual (getting rid of the students that are hard to work with)?? It will be very compelling to see how it all plays out, and I (as well as many other teachers I know) will be watching closely to see what happens.


  1. Please join us in a national action to defend public education!!! (See below and for more info see www.bamn.com)
    National Conference Call to Plan March on Washington to Defend Public Education Pre-K - College

    Join us on Saturday, April 3rd at 1:00pm (Eastern Time) to discuss plans for the April 10th March on Washington to Defend Public Education. Conference call agenda will include an introductory statement by BAMN National Chair Shanta Driver on WHY this event is critical to the future of education in America, its historic character in being the FIRST public action to oppose Arne Duncan's education scheme and why YOU should organize a contingent from your school or community to attend. There will also be discussion on publicity and outreach, logistical questions, etc.

    Conference Dial-in Number: (712) 775-7400

    Host Access Code: 141550*

    Participant Access Code: 141550#



    Demand that Arne Duncan Stop Toying with Our Students' Lives!
    End the "Race to the Top" Scheme Now
    Release All Federal Education Funds to the States Based on Need
    Provide Massive Federal Aid With No Strings Attached to Maintain Public Higher Education!

    SATURDAY, APRIL 10, 2010, NOON
    U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave. SW (Washington DC)

    End the Attacks against Teachers, Black, Latina/o, and Poor,
    Working-Class and Middle-Class Students of All Races

    No Privatization of Public Education
    No Tuition/Fee Hikes - No Program Cuts in Higher Education
    No Layoffs/No Furloughs

    No More Separate and Unequal

    Restore Dr. King's Vision for America

  2. It will be interesting to see how specific charter schools respond. Talking about charter schools as a group is like talking about pizza makers as a group. I love pizza, but there are pizzas that I don't like as all. There are some that are outstanding.

    Charter schools are still young. As a charter school supporter, I think charter schools are necessary, but not because all of them are good.

    I, like you, will be interested to see which charter schools develop great models of education and which do not. I will also be interested to see if traditional public schools have the guts to adopt practices of charter schools who implement successful strategies.

    To address Donna, charter schools are part of our public education. They are changing the face of public education, not destroying it. If you want to use the term destroyed, then that's not always bad. Sometimes things have to be destroyed for their to be change. Charter schools are a very small percentage of the public education landscape. You can hardly say that they've destroyed or are even on a path to destroy traditional public education at this point.

    There is no attack on teachers. Layoffs and furloughs, etc. are necessary because there is NO money. No one has it. The states don't have it. The federal government doesn't have it. We are already spending money we don't have. The current number of layoffs will hurt teachers more than kids.

  3. Kristin
    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I blogged on related topic. It's hit or miss with charter schools. http://www.thenotebook.org/blog/102072/charter-schools-social-innovation-hit-or-miss

  4. Many good points, Doug, but "traditional public schools" have NOT BEEN ALLOWED to implement the same strategies that charters use. Therefore, we are a little bit hamstrung.... It will be interesting to see how it plays out.