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.