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How Good Are Charter Schools For the Public School System? 715

Posted by samzenpus
from the on-a-scale-1-10 dept.
theodp writes "'You go to these charters,' gushed Bill Gates in 2010, 'and you sit and talk to these kids about how engaged they are with adults and how much they read and what they think about and how they do projects together.' Four years later, Gates is tapping his Foundation to bring charter schools to Washington State, doling out grants that included $4.25 million for HP CEO Meg Whitman's Summit Public Schools. So what's not to like? Plenty, according to Salon's The Truth About Charter Schools, in which Jeff Bryant delves into the dark side of the charter movement, including allegations of abuse, corruption, lousy instruction, and worse results. Also troubling Bryant is that the children of the charter world's biggest cheerleaders seem never to attend these schools ('A family like mine should not use up the inner-city capacity of these great schools,' was Bill Gates' excuse). Bryant also cites Rethinking Schools' Stan Karp, who argues that Charter Schools Are Undermining the Future of Public Education, functioning more like deregulated 'enterprise zones' than models of reform, providing subsidized spaces for a few at the expense of the many. 'Our country has already had more than enough experience with separate and unequal school systems,' Karp writes. 'The counterfeit claim that charter privatization is part of a new 'civil rights movement', addressing the deep and historic inequality that surrounds our schools, is belied by the real impact of rapid charter growth in cities across the country. At the level of state and federal education policy, charters are providing a reform cover for eroding the public school system and an investment opportunity for those who see education as a business rather than a fundamental institution of democratic civic life. It's time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.'"
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How Good Are Charter Schools For the Public School System?

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  • by DarkFencer (260473) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:44AM (#45939045)

    If charter schools are allowed to operate, then they shouldn't benefit from special privileges that public schools don't have. They should have to accept any students in the area (regardless of academic level, just like the public schools). They also should be required to have all students take the standardized tests (instead of finding reasons to exclude children who they know won't do as well, so the school looks better ranked in comparison).

    If charter schools aren't cheating and they are showing an improvement that is one thing. But too often they are cheating to make themselves look better compared to public schools.

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:48AM (#45939091) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, like the present public school system is a shining beacon of success.

    Yep, we're just churning out bright, qualified students one right after the other.

    Geez, our present system is an utter failure in most of the US. I would posit that pretty much anything is worth trying, in an effort to start trying to reign in cost, and get more results from our efforts.

    There is one thing, however, which I don't know how we can fix, at least not from a legislative or policy standpoint, and that is the lack of parental participation.

    So many parents think of the schools as a dumping ground for their progeny for day long child care. They don't participate except to raise hell with the administrators they their little Bobby or LaTonya is accused of mis-behavior (MY child would never...), or if they need to be held back due to lack of progress.

    Do they even hold kids back anymore?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:50AM (#45939101)

    The big difference is that Charter Schools are not compelled to accept a student. The standard public schools cannot turn away a student who is disruptive or below the curve academically. Charter Schools can. This allows them to select the best students and avoid the ones which would drag down the school and the other students. This has positive and negative implications, but it does mean that statistically the Charter Schools are going to show higher grade point averages.

  • by unitron (5733) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:52AM (#45939115) Homepage Journal

    ...to be involved in charter schools as there are people involved, some more laudable than others.

    But I don't see much upside for public schools.

    Years ago Lester Maddox said that if you want better prison systems you need better prisoners.

    Naturally everyone had a cow, but he had a point.

    If charter schools bleed off all of the kids from homes where learning and education are prized, whose parents are going to be involved, and all that's left in the public school are the kids rounded up by the truancy officer, it's not going to go well.

  • If charter schools bleed off all of the kids from homes where learning and education are prized, whose parents are going to be involved, and all that's left in the public school are the kids rounded up by the truancy officer, it's not going to go well.

    Since we're talking about public schools here, the question has to be one of balance of benefit to society. Can those parents make a significant difference in a sea of indifference, or would everyone be better served if they at least made sure their children were well-educated instead of being dragged down by the public school system?

  • by chriscappuccio (80696) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:55AM (#45939149) Homepage

    In my experience, charter schools in Oregon have only one prequalification: you have to get in early enough before the classes are full. Otherwise, the main difference is that the schools are not closely managed by their local school district, because they receive federal funding and not state/district funding. And in our situations, this has been a generally positive experience.

  • by alen (225700) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:56AM (#45939151)

    the point is to take students who's parents care from bad schools and put them in an environment where they can get a decent education. the rest will end up in their crappy neighborhood school where the parents don't care about checking their homework and will be passed and graduated just to get rid of them. if their parents don't care there is nothing the school can do

    the good public schools already attract parents who want the best for their kids

  • by fredprado (2569351) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:57AM (#45939171)
    So what? They don't need to "make it look" they are better. They are better.

    And regarding your problems with selective acceptance, in the absence of resources to attend everybody better schools the best resources should be used to teach those that have the greatest potential.
  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:01AM (#45939207)

    ...sacrifice the lives of their children, send them for a poor education merely to prove a social "point"?

    The point is people who have a stake in the public school system are motivated to maintain a quality public school system. People who don't often have other motives.

  • by DarkFencer (260473) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:06AM (#45939269)

    the point is to take students who's parents care from bad schools and put them in an environment where they can get a decent education.

    Its not always about level of care the parents are providing but what they can provide. How much care towards education can a low-income single parent working two full time jobs provide?

    What is the parent doesn't have a great education themselves and aren't able to help their child academically (and only motivationally)?

    Should that child suffer, not only because of that, but because of dwindling resources in the public school system that are being drained by the charter schools?

    The students who are struggling are the ones who need the best resources/teaching/etc. If charter schools are as great as they are made out to be - they should be VOLUNTEERING to take students who are struggling academically, not shunning them like lepers.

  • by plopez (54068) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:14AM (#45939361) Journal

    As long as charter schools are publicly funded privately run institutions that is all it is. Not unlike the private prison movement that has turned into a disaster.

  • Re:Test scores (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:15AM (#45939373)

    What else is there to grade schools on?

    Having standardized tests is useful, as long as you don't take the results of those tests as the be all and end all. To use test results as the only way of judging schools is to fall prey to the MBA mentality - if there isn't a simplistic metric then it doesn't exist. Think of how that mentality has affected so many businesses.

    Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

  • by thedonger (1317951) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:17AM (#45939383)

    The "ghetto" culture will never change because they by-and-large believe themselves to be victims of a system gamed against them, and their only hope for change must come from some external force (the government, Al Sharpton, etc.). Their victim mentality is reflected not only in the poor quality of their schools, but also in the poor quality of the neighborhoods, their homes, and their parenting.

    I was raised poor relative to many of the people around me, but my parents told me I could accomplish anything I put my mind to, they continually improved the living environment for my siblings and I, and they never once implied that our problems were anyone's doing other than our own. That is what creates success; not white skin.

    The government can't stop those with the mind to provide a better education to their children from finding a way. Close the inner-city schools and force so-called "desegregation" on charter schools, and while the inner-city kids fuck up new schools, those with the means will move on. And then repeat. Always repeat.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:18AM (#45939397)

    I work for a public school. I won't say where, hence anonymous, but I agree 100% with you. Not only can charter schools cherry pick their kids but at least my state the people backing them have already been indicted for corruption by letting some of the richer ones fudge their test scores.

    Charters are the flavor of the money in education and many if not most are worse than public schools. Some whole states who advocated for them have gone back to public schools (Virginia comes to mind).

    Too many people not involved in education are making decisions. Then there are the predatory corporations looking for a cut of everything. The entire thing is a disaster and all you need to do, as always, is follow the money. Qui Bono?

    CAPTCHA: unguided

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:32AM (#45939597)

    Its not always about level of care the parents are providing but what they can provide. How much care towards education can a low-income single parent working two full time jobs provide?

    And here we have the reason that no amount of funding or reform will "fix" the public school system. Too many people think the school system is supposed to care for their child, all they need to do is produce one and then drop them off at the school (or have them picked up)... The school is not there to provide care for your child, they are there to educate your child! If you can not care for your child, you should not have a child. If you do have a child that you can not or are unwilling to care for, you are the one putting them at a disadvantage and it is not my responsibility to make up the difference.

    What is the parent doesn't have a great education themselves and aren't able to help their child academically (and only motivationally)?

    Now it makes sense, you have this all backwards! See, the school is here to educate your child, and you are here to care for your child. Makes a lot more sense, right? You don't need to know calculus, that's what the teachers are for, you just need to know how to care for and motivate your child.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:32AM (#45939605) Journal

    The fact is that our education system in the US is outdated and terrible (as Sir Ken Robinson has brilliantly and repeatedly explained - example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U [youtube.com]). It needs improvement in many, many ways.

    HOWEVER, just throwing more, and more, and even more money at the system (as endorsed by teachers' unions and government bureaucrats everywhere) hasn't solved anything. The city of Minneapolis spends nearly $21,000 per student per year (http://www.better-ed.org/20911-minneapolis-public-schools-avg-spending-student). With an average class size of 26 (actually pretty good), that's $546,000/year/classroom*....which is rather obscene, particularly when you consider their abysmal graduation rates.

    So yes, I might agree that charter schools are not individually the solution, but we have to try SOMETHING different, and accomplishing change in small charter school 'hothouses' (where the parents are essentially volunteering their kids for an experience that is HOPEFULLY better than the norm) is far more possible than in the shitty public school system that is overwhelmed and ossified with bureaucracy, teachers' unions, and a cultural aversion to substantive change. The hope is that these changes, if they're successful, might actually percolate back into the stultified public schools.

    And no, I don't think schools should be held to the same standards as a commercial business - they are intrinsically and substantively different. But there is an analogy to a refining company: schools are processing raw materials (our children) in an effort to make them finished products (fundamentally-educated adults). The difference is that schools can't simply throw out the dross, but are compelled to reprocess and reprocess until there's something useful there, fighting the 80/20 rule all the way to the bottom of Zeno's dichotomy paradox.

    *let's dissect that, shall we?
    Let's pay the teacher ~$120,000 year - so their total cost is ~$146,000/year - that rounds out our numbers, and I don't think any teacher would argue with that salary. So $400k/year left.
    Lease rates for commercial, furnished offices in Minneapolis: let's use high-end, as we want our schools to be nicer than most office places: $304/psqft/year. We'll use a generous 40x40 room for the 'classroom' to account for other, shared spaces like gymnasium, cafeteria, etc., and ignore that - as the building builders and owners, the actual triple-net cost should be far less than half that (note, they don't pay property taxes, either...) - $50,000/year; $350k per year left.
    Let's spend $100k PER YEAR PER CLASSROOM on 'stuff' - materials, dvd rentals, books, shared costs of projectors, smartboards. $250k per year left.
    So in waste/bureaucracy, you could hand each student nearly $10,000 PER YEAR.

  • Re: Test scores (Score:4, Insightful)

    by liquidpele (663430) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:35AM (#45939655) Journal
    ... because their passion is mostly in playing video games and eating pizza?
  • by superwiz (655733) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:36AM (#45939663) Journal
    What does it do to the public school system? Who cares? The only question is what does it do to the students. Schools exist for the benefit of the students -- not for the benefit of the school system.
  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:52AM (#45939881) Homepage Journal

    Discussions of racial issues on Slashdot always say more about the people making the comments than they do about the issues themselves.

    Always.

  • Re: Test scores (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday January 13, 2014 @12:07PM (#45940079) Homepage

    You've managed to teach yourself some some subjects - good for you. Now, what about the rest of the students?

    For the relatively SMALL subset of moderately intelligent students who are self organized AND self motivated AND who have living situations with enough stability and support to allow the student to thrive in an independent academic environment this is all that's needed.

    For everyone else, not so much.

  • by Oligonicella (659917) on Monday January 13, 2014 @12:21PM (#45940241)
    Parents remove their kids from crappy schools, schools don't become crappy after they leave. Your entire point seems to be that parents who care about their child's future should just "man up" and let the crapfest of a local school destroy their child's future under the long disproved assumption that the dollars they drag along in fed support will improve the crap they study under.

    Base line: force the parents to stay so we can keep bucks instead of improve ourselves so they want to stay.

    Oh, by the way, public schools rarely, if ever, have shop and specialized voc classes any more. Long, long gone - and at the behest of teacher's unions.
  • by Immerman (2627577) on Monday January 13, 2014 @12:34PM (#45940377)

    Of course you run into a bit of a problem when a group really is being "held down" by outside forces. Yes, those dark-skinned ghetto-raised individuals could work hard and improve their situation, but they have to work a lot harder than their fair-skinned neighbors to see the same benefits. Add in government benefits that tend to evaporate as soon as you actually try to do for yourself - so that you're probably looking at years of working your ass off and being less well off than your lazy neighbors, and you've got a recipe for a really vicious cycle.

  • Re:Test scores (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday January 13, 2014 @12:36PM (#45940405)

    What else is there to grade schools on?

    The people that criticize standardized testing are usually opposed to any accountability whatsoever. We are not going to fix our schools until we can fix the politics. Public schools are more politicized than any other institution in America. Teachers unions are the single biggest donors to the Democratic party, and 20% of the delegates to the last Democratic Convention were members. Democrats will do anything to support the unions, and the Republicans will do anything to oppose them. Neither party is concerned about actually educating the kids. Charter schools are just a pawn in the game. Democratic politicians generally oppose them, and Republican politicians generally support them. Neither cares about any actual evidence about whether they are effective or not.

  • by towermac (752159) on Monday January 13, 2014 @12:37PM (#45940413)

    "I was lucky to escape the environment, ..."

    What you just described wasn't luck.

    What you just described, was hard work on the part of yourself and your parents.

  • Re:Skewed stats (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cfulmer (3166) on Monday January 13, 2014 @01:25PM (#45940955) Homepage Journal

    In contrast, traditional public schools which fail students do not close and are allowed to fail students year after year after year. Closing a charter school is a feature, not a bug.

  • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday January 13, 2014 @02:00PM (#45941457) Journal

    Exactly!

    It required a LOT of motivation and dedication on my parents part.

    THIS is the magic bullet that fixes things most of the time. I work in education, and we have both "rich schools" (that get less funding) and "poor schools" (which get more funding) in the same small community, and the results are always the same. It isn't about school funding, it is about parenting. Many lower educated people are lower income people, who don't value education, and this produces a cycle of poverty.

    I'd bet, that the #1 indicator of poverty is not poverty, but values instilled by parents. I look at the recent video of a three year old boy being disrespectful and using vulgar language, raised by a 16 year old mother and a grandmother who is a convicted felon and I think, "there is no way this is going to be good for the kid". However, I've been trained not to mention any of this because people who don't know me will cry "racism" (now you know the race). How can we have a discussion on poverty when people who see the problems are called names because it doesn't fit the politically correct theory of the day?

  • Re:Test scores (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday January 13, 2014 @02:00PM (#45941467)

    How the hell are kids in Japan/China/whereever "beating" our children in school?

    Oh right, rigorous testing.

    China? Who knows. They only give international test results from Shanghai, and given the accuracy of statistics from the Chinese government, I wouldn't particularly trust those.

    Japan? They do pretty well, but not as well as Finland. So let's look at some Finnish practices.

    Finland does not give their kids standardized tests.
    It is not mandatory to give students grades until they are in the 8th grade.
    Finland has no private schools.
    Finnish schools don't assign homework, because it is assumed that mastery is attained in the classroom.
    Compulsory school in Finland doesn't begin until children are 7 years old.

  • by Taxman415a (863020) on Monday January 13, 2014 @04:12PM (#45943467) Homepage Journal

    THIS is the magic bullet that fixes things most of the time. I work in education, and we have both "rich schools" (that get less funding) and "poor schools" (which get more funding) in the same small community, and the results are always the same. It isn't about school funding, it is about parenting. Many lower educated people are lower income people, who don't value education, and this produces a cycle of poverty.

    Yes same in the districts near me. The "poor schools" get as much as 1.5 times as much funding as the "rich schools". Admittedly because of the poverty issues from the students they serve they do have higher costs. There are higher incidences of untreated ADHD, behavioral disorders, hungry kids, violence, etc. But that doesn't change the point that you're right, it's about the parents.

    I'd bet, that the #1 indicator of poverty is not poverty, but values instilled by parents. I look at the recent video of a three year old boy being disrespectful and using vulgar language, raised by a 16 year old mother and a grandmother who is a convicted felon and I think, "there is no way this is going to be good for the kid". However, I've been trained not to mention any of this because people who don't know me will cry "racism" (now you know the race).

    It's pretty independent of race. I see examples similar to what you point out from a variety of races. Poverty doesn't care about race.

    How can we have a discussion on poverty when people who see the problems are called names because it doesn't fit the politically correct theory of the day?

    Very carefully and with more understanding of the causes of racial tension than you have displayed. It's fairly clear you are from a privileged race and don't have much understanding of what it would be like to not be. A good book for starters is Lisa Delpit's "Other People's Children". It'll make you mad and she beats the point home, but eventually it will sink in and you'll get a glimpse of how different it is to be part of the dominant race vs not. It subtly affects a large number of seemingly small things that you don't need to notice when you're on the dominant side of it.

The sooner you fall behind, the more time you have to catch up.

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