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

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 alen ( 225700 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:58AM (#45939179)

    not really
    lots of towns in the northeast with public schools that are better than almost private school in the USA. of course these towns have property taxes which in some cases cost more than a lot of people earn in a year.

    if you look at the newsweek or us news annual high school rankings, a big percentage are in NY, NJ and Connecticut. California has a lot and a few other liberal areas are represented as well. the red states with their low tax ideals have very few good schools

  • by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:58AM (#45939183)

    They're called enterprise schools in my district, but the one that I was involved in was a big success. We had a plan, which was to bring E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum to middle school students, to prepare them for high school and beyond. We wanted the entire school to be an honors school. Students had to have a B average to get in. The school district went along with the plan, and we opened the school in 1998, and my daughter was in the first class. The NAACP warned us that they would be watching us closely because they suspected that we were creating the school only for middle class white kids. What happened surprised them and us. Middle class white kids ended up being a minority in the school. The biggest ethnic group came from lower class hispanic families who saw the school as an opportunity for their children with good grades to get ahead. We also had a number of black and asian kids from poorer neighborhoods. The district was more than happy to bus the kids from all over the city to the school. The NAACP quietly shuffled off. I think they were actually disappointed.

    The school was a success, but it required the interest of parents, administrators and teachers who agreed with the vision, diligent oversight, and a district that entusiastically cooperated. If any of the above elements are missing you have a potential disaster on your hands.

  • by ebno-10db ( 1459097 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:08AM (#45939291)

    They don't need to "make it look" they are better. They are better.

    Obviously something schools aren't teaching well is the scientific method and intellectual skepticism. "They are because I say they are" is not an argument.

  • by mjr167 ( 2477430 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:12AM (#45939337)

    I attended a charter school when I was in high school.

    We had to take all the standardized tests and meet all the state requirements to graduate. I ended up having to take American History from the local university because I could not fit the required course into the art curriculum I has elected to pursue.

    We also had admission requirements. We had admission requirements because in 9th grade we were expected to take Algebra. If you did not have the math background to succeed in Algebra, you were not going to do well. It was a college prep school and you were expected to be able to handle the curriculum upon admittance. This school expected it's students to graduate with gobs of AP credits and to test out of a lot of freshmen college classes. I started college with almost 30 credits from AP tests. Admitting someone who could not read or add numbers would have done no one any favors. It does not help the students who are prepared and ready for the advanced curriculum if they have to be held back for students who aren't. It does not help the students who aren't ready to throw them into a curriculum they are not prepared for.

    My brother did not attend the same high school. Instead, he attended the public high school down the street from our house because he always struggled with school work and would not have done well in the high pressure environment.

    This idea that every child should get exactly the same education is ludicrous. Not everyone can do calculus in high school. Not everyone wants to play football. Not everyone wants to study art. There is a difference between opportunity and forcing everyone into cookie cutter education. My brother could have also attended the college prep charter school I went to, but it was not an environment he would have succeeded in so he didn't.

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

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:37AM (#45939685)

    The problem is way too complicated for just simple test scores.
    Education Success is spread out across these factors. I think prioritized in this order.
    Involvement of the parents - Parents are largest aspect to a child's education. If the parent doesn't care about the child education he will most likely not bother with education.
    Overall Environment - how safe the child feels. Does the environment encourage learning. Or is it about who is the toughest.
    Child's genetic traits - Now almost everyone has some sort of learning disability, this isn't about that, but for children with higher level that can prevent learning.
    Child's own ambition - Now if the kid doesn't want to learn he won't
    Quality of the school and teachers - Granted extreme incompetence will make things worse, but with the most middle rung teacher, who is teaching because they are afraid to taking more math classes in College, and doesn't know what else to do with their life. Still won't do too much harm if they do their jobs.

    Charter Schools/Private look impressive because it gets the students with parent who care enough to get them into charter schools, and creates a better environment for them to learn, not because of the school, but because the kid is in a school with other kids who want to learn.

    Other then focusing on schools, we need to change the focus.
    1. Reduce Crime and Crack Down HARD on Gang activities. Big cities and small towns, needs to be sure the child is in an environment where they feel safe and doesn't need to join a group of people just for protection.
    2. Media campaign targeted at parents, showing them that even though they got by chances are your kids won't.
    3. Encourage the media to show educated people in a good light, not the anti-social nerds.

    After that then we can focus on what the teachers and schools are doing.

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:39AM (#45939703) Journal

    This school expected it's students to graduate

    I'd like to have a word with your English instructors.

  • Re:In California (Score:4, Informative)

    by jythie ( 914043 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:42AM (#45939761)
    Generally teachers are paid whatever is a bit lower then the average tax payer for their area. Voters get surprisingly upset when teachers make more then they do.
  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:55AM (#45939925)

    Run on sentence, inappropriate ellipses, and some quotation marks would have improved readability.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 13, 2014 @11:56AM (#45939943)

    Exactly. My kids are in a charter school and it's *much* better than the local school district. Not only is the education better, but the environment is much better - the kids wear uniforms (no it's not like a military school) and there's a strong emphasis on respect and courtesy. Test scores are consistently better than the public schools. The kids in the charter school are easily two years ahead of the public school kids.

    All we hear around here is that the charter schools are "stealing money" from the public school district, but from my point of view I pay my taxes and I want the best education for my kids. The school has open enrollment and is available to anyone.

    All of which may explain why the school has a loooong waiting list.

  • by Jhon ( 241832 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @12:11PM (#45940119) Homepage Journal

    " 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."

    This isn't entirely accurate but I understand your bias.

    There are two problems with public schools (more in fact, but lets look at these two): Teachers and students. It is virtually impossible in most large cities to get rid of bad teachers *OR* disruptive students. With that, I welcome charter schools. If a student is disruptive or violates code, they are out. If a teacher doesn't perform well, they will be replaced. These qualities ATTRACT parents who are involved and want their children to do well in school so they will bend over backwards to get them out of the public school system leaving the parents who either cant or wont care.

    If we want that feedback loop to change, we've got a LOT of work ahead of us. Work that not only includes defeating some of the strongest political unions in the nation, changing the notion that having children out of wedlock is acceptable and shameless (yes, we need SHAME -- its an important social tool in any civilization -- think we don't use shame STILL? Just look at the Duck Dynasty claptrap recently), and we need to FORCE parents to be involved at some level with schools (yes -- force. The school my children attend require 40 hours of volunteer work each year -- otherwise your child goes back in to the lottery).

    It's a statistical truth that just having a FATHER in the house reduces the risk of living in poverty. Further, *NOT* having a child before your 20s improves a MOTHERS changes of not living in poverty (and by extension, her child(ren)). The statistics are available -- look them up. They're easy to find. Easier to ignore.

  • by quetwo ( 1203948 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @12:11PM (#45940121) Homepage

    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)?

    I'm a first generation American, so my parents were not well educated. My dad was always gone at work (out of state) and my mom worked two jobs. While my mom wasn't able to help me with my homework the key was that she made sure I did it and got me the resources when I needed them. Those resourced didn't cost the family a dime -- they were a combination of after-school programs, but more often they were friends and co-workers who helped me out. She would take a shift for a co-worker while they would tutor me on things like Shakespeare.

    It required a LOT of motivation and dedication on my parents part. It wasn't the school that helped me a long -- I came from a failing school, in a failing district that had no resources outside what it was legally required to provide. Hell, sports were "pay-to-play" which precluded about 3/4 of the school from participating. When you go to a school that had 61% of the kids on the hot-lunch-program and a graduation rate that was less than 50%, you know what you are dealing with. I was lucky to escape the environment, graduating HS and attending a University and getting an awesome job out the gate.

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

    by funwithBSD ( 245349 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @01:09PM (#45940761)

    I have found that what makes a good school here in a California school district is the PRINCIPAL.

    Everything rolls down hill. Get good Principals and let them do something with the staff.
    Union Lifers who don't care are a problem at the school, but most of the teachers want to do their best and the Principal makes that happen.

    My wife is the attendance clerk, our son attended, and it is amazing the transformation some kids who were "problem kids" at other schools turn around at our school. 2/3rds of the students have PERFECT attendance at mid year, and usually 1/3 to 1/2 maintain that year long. Far and beyond the average in the school district.

    It is a high achieving school:
    President Blue Ribbon
    Title 1 distinguished school
    (NCUST) “Excellence in Education Award” 1 of 12 schools nationwide)
    many more that I am not listing for space.

    despite being in a relatively poor area, there are kids that run the range in socio-economic and a broad multicultural background as well, roughly 50% of the kids are on some sort of assistance, 70% on WIC or similar program.

    The only difference is the Principal, and yet there is never any focus on Principals

  • Re:In California (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kozar_The_Malignant ( 738483 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @02:48PM (#45942273)

    Your statement that California pends over 10k/student is incorrect. Most schools are funded on what is called the revenue limit. It varies by school district from nearly 10k to about half of that. A very few school districts are funded on what is called basic aid and are considerably richer and spend 13 to 15k per student. Teacher salaries vary widely from roughly 32k to 90k+ depending on the district. Salary is only part of the cost to the district to hire a teacher. Districts also pay benefits, retirement, workers' compensation insurance, medicare, social security (district option - some are in; some not), state and federal payroll taxes, etc.

    Other costs that the district must bear are facility costs, which are always considerably higher for high schools than elementary schools; transportation costs, property and liability insurance, utilities, etc.

    Since the implementation of class size reduction funding, class sizes are generally 22-24, not the 30 you allege.

    Now to your list:

    1. In my experience this is simply not true. Public schools generally have much better computer equipment that charter schools. I have never seen a charter high school with any decent laboratory science teachers, labs, or materials.

    The rest of your list of items 2-10 are individual subject areas that the district board of trustees can fund to a greater or lesser levels depending on that amount of money they have and their priorities. However, they must provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for ALL of their students. That means that the district must pay for athletic equipment, uniforms, including cheerleader uniforms, field trips, books, and all of the other things you list, without charging the students and their families. If they tell your daughter or son that she or he must pay for cheerleader or athletic uniforms, they are in violation of California law and you should contact your local ACLU chapter, as they are very active in seeing that FAPE is enforced.

    Another huge cost that public schools incur that charter schools largely dodge by one means or another is special education. California schools are required to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education to even the most profoundly developmentally disabled student through age 22. One child can cost a district as much as $250,000 per year, not counting legal costs if the parents are litigious, which many special ed parents are.

    As to your last question, school district budgets are public documents. Most districts post them on their websites. Inaddition, each district is required by law to have an annual, independent financial audit, which is also a public document. If you want to know where the money goes, it is easy to find out.

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