More on Charter Schools

Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s newsletter (sign up, folks!)…

This week, I’m juggling three or four different articles, which range in quality from really rough to really, really rough. Next week, I’m going to focus on the article that is merely really rough and get it out the door. It’s about high school marching bands, and I’m having a lot of fun with references to Ester Williams musicals and such — references that will be certainly cut by a wise editor down the road, but for now, I’m amusing myself, so don’t judge. 

One topic that I’m not writing about is charter schools. Which is weird, because I’ve been studying charter schools since the mid-1990s. I put myself through my PhD program working at a policy institute at CUNY Grad Center. There, the director (and my dissertation advisor) got some nice sized grants from the Ford Foundation, which she used to employ a small crew of students to travel around the country and find answers.

Looking back on it, we were given an insane amount of responsibility and had some incredible experiences. We traveled in groups of two or three around to the roughest parts of Chicago, Philadelphia, Austin, Boston, and talked to community and education activists. Then we wrote it all up and gave presentations in an modern glass building on the east side of the New York City. If we weren’t so poor and so stressed out about finishing our dissertations, I might have enjoyed it more. 

Anyway, one of the topics that we looked at was charter schools. I talked to everybody about them. Those activists in those rough spots of Philadelphia and Chicago liked them. They also didn’t have very nice things to say about the teachers’ union.

Somewhat simultaneously, I spent two years studying school voucher politics in Ohio and Pennsylvania as part of my dissertation. On one memorable trip, I waddled (I was was eight months pregnant with Ian at the time) around Philadelphia and Harrisburg by myself. And those activists told me that they would happily take vouchers, charter schools, ANYTHING, but their local public schools, which sucked terribly. Their kids didn’t have time to waste in those schools, while reformers spun their wheels. 

****

In early 2018, Cory Booker started thinking about running for presidency, but he had to deal with some skeletons in the Newark closet first. His career so far in the Senate has been short and uneventful. The lion share of his political experience comes from being the mayor of Newark. What was one of the biggest things he did as mayor? He instituted a pretty ambitious education reform, which included a plan to streamline the application process for charter schools in the city. Parents could much more easily apply for a charter school in the city, including the KIPP and Uncommon Schools.

Those two charter schools have hit it out of the ballpark with getting kids into college and then getting them through it. They do some super incredible stuff, like placing staff on college campuses to help get those very vulnerable first generation kids through college. Those programs cannot be scaled up and only help a handful, but their successes are amazing just the same. And the parents in Newark all know it. That’s why 1/3 of the parents in Newark choose to send their kids to a charter school. 

Now, you would think that this would be something to brag about. A feather in his cap, right? But no. There was a book that came out about five years ago that pointed to problems in Newark’s reform effort. The author said that the community wasn’t involved enough and that outside consultants squandered money. When the book came out, Booker didn’t address the controversy, but when he started thinking about running for office in early 2018, he needed to deal with it.

He brought me down to Newark and told me about it. And then I wrote about it. In our conversations, Booker said pretty clearly that he was agnostic about the forms of school — public or charter — he just wanted schools that worked for kids. Which was basically the same message that activists had told me back in my grad school years. At that time, Booker was mostly concerned about pointing out that Newark reform was a success. We didn’t talk THAT much about charter schools, because they didn’t feel that controversial at that time.

But then, just a few months later, the mood around charter schools changed. Around the same time as the Democratic Primary began — it sure feels like twenty years ago, doesn’t it? — education reporters who spent a year covering teacher strikes heard nothing but bad things about charter schools, and published articles to that effect. Suddenly, charter schools became toxic. Booker was on the defense about them for months in Iowa. Nobody cared whether Newark was a success or not. They only wanted to talk to him about charter schools. 

But then things changed again. 

There was a great article in the NYT by Erica Green and Eliza Shapiro last week about how the large base of support among African Americans for charter schools. You know who is “meh” about charter schools? Suburbanites. You know why? Their schools are decent. I wrote a quick article in The Atlantic about that awhile back. The NYT article put charter school critics on the defense. 

Then there was a lot of chatter about how voters were looking for a more moderate candidate than Warren and Sanders. So, Booker wrote an op-ed in the NYT showing his support for charter schools

Meanwhile, Warren, who had taken a very strong stance against charter schools, is now taking some major hits. Turns out she sent her own kid to a private school and then wasn’t entirely super open about that fact. And just the other day, she gave an interview with the NEA that said that parents should do something about their broken and crumbling schools. Charter school advocates said she was blaming the victim. 

So, in an election that is growing increasingly pointless and depressing, suddenly there’s a small skirmish about charter schools. But I’m writing about marching bands instead. Don’t ask. I can’t explain it. 

22 thoughts on “More on Charter Schools

  1. “Meanwhile, Warren, who had taken a very strong stance against charter schools, is now taking some major hits. Turns out she sent her own kid to a private school and then wasn’t entirely super open about that fact. ”
    Well, right-leaning Chester Finn says “On at least one high-profile issue, namely charter schools, Senator Warren (like several fellow candidates, notoriously including Senator Cory Booker) is also reversing herself. Indeed, she’s gone further leftward—union kissing, charter hating—than any of the other major candidates, and has done so in vivid contrast to her past praise of Boston’s charters for their impressive education achievements, achievements that likely would not have happened had they been denied the federal start-up funds she wants to bar from future charters, and surely would not have happened had they depended on the Boston school system to authorize them, as she wants. (Since states set their own rules for charter authorizing, it’s not clear—yet—how a president would go about constraining them.)”

    I am inclined to see this as cravenness on Warren’s part, and a calculus that the teachers’ unions can do her more good and more harm than minority parents who are actually trying to make things work for their kids.
    The Dem stance on charters has been suggested – again by rightists – as a contributing factor to Gillum doing less well among AfAm voters relative to DeSantis than might have been expected, and to Trump polling better than expected. (WSJ “Believe it or not, Republican Ron DeSantis owes his victory in the Florida gubernatorial election to about 100,000 African-American women who unexpectedly chose him over the black Democratic candidate, Andrew Gillum.”) – 18 per cent of black women voting in Fla voted for DeSantis.
    If we get Trump because our candidates are whoring for the teachers’ unions, we will deserve our fate.

    Like

  2. This is a complex issue, to be sure. There are both successes and failures in charter schools. Half of the charter schools that have opened under the auspices of St Louis public schools and their individual school sponsors have closed over the last 10 years. 40% of the students in St Louis city schools of all types have changed schools during the past year, almost entirely because parents move from one poor neighborhood to another. That, coupled with the many charter closures, have exacerbated the educational issues these students face. Yes, we have some high performing schools (KIPP), but even that comes at a cost–students are dropped from the program when parents cannot satisfy the school participation requirements, in part because those parents are working multiple jobs or have health issues that keep them from meeting the school requirements. Special education students, those with IEPs, tend not to be accepted at all charter schools, while the other public schools must take everyone. Bashing teachers’ unions for problems located in poverty seems a pretty cheap shot, from my perspective.

    Like

    1. That’s pretty much the liberal response to every instance of public sector incompetence and nonfeasance, isn’t it: nothing can be done, because society is to blame.

      Like

      1. It’s not that “society” is to blame, it’s that poverty is to blame, so the focus should be on anti-poverty programs rather than bashing teachers’ unions. The conservative response to every situation in which poverty creates or exacerbates a problem is that nothing can be done, because the individual is to blame.

        One of my students took an hour and a half on two buses and a train to get to his charter school. It wasn’t that the school was good (I think this was the one he said was a scam); it was just better for him to be out of his neighborhood. The problem there is clearly not just about the school.

        That said, teachers’ unions are a mixed bag too. They fight for both themselves (and that’s fine – if you have the terrible job of teaching at a run-down inner-city school, it’s appropriate to fight for pay and working conditions that are as good as your counterpart at the lovely suburban school a half hour away) and for the students. Some do more of one and some do more of the other. Like all unions, they protect both the best and the worst of their members.

        Charter schools are a mixed bag, because the idea that lack of regulation makes for an awesome school depends entirely on the competence and morality of the people who run it. Just like the teachers in the unions, some of these teachers and administrators are incompetent and/or unethical.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. “Special education students, those with IEPs, tend not to be accepted at all charter schools, while the other public schools must take everyone.”

      …but also get more funding.

      http://www.in-perspective.org/pages/finances

      There are a lot of differences between states and this is somewhat old data, but still interesting:

      “Using 2006–07 data from traditional public schools nationwide and from charter schools in 21 states and Washington, D.C., Miron and Urschel estimated that on average, charter schools receive only 77 percent of the revenue from state, federal and local sources that traditional public schools receive, or $2,980 less revenue on average per pupil.”

      Like

  3. My impression from my wife who worked in a few charter schools in the SF Bay Area is that they are a mixed bag. Some like the KIPP schools are awesome and some are a mess. The biggest issue is lack of oversight. The school she was at outright lied about how all their teachers were credentialed. My wife, who had a MA in Journalism no credentials was assigned to teach AP history. That said, the school was not a bad place if a student was motivated.
    I am friends with a teacher in the Oakland district. She says she understands parents’ frustration with the teachers union because there’s really not much the district does to get good teachers to stay. It treats them pretty badly in fact. When equipment breaks and the district does not fix it they can’t say anything about it to the parents if the parents come to them to complain. My friend would step out at the end of the school day and go into the nearby bodega to run into parents where when they complained about lack of heat for example she would tell them to call the local news. If she was caught on campus discussing the lack of heat she’d be in trouble. Who will put up with that? So the union ends up working for a lot of not so great teachers. She has stayed at her middle school for so long because she had a great principal. Parents love her. But the district was under the state control after a big embezzlement and the only concern was to control the budget. Maybe things are different in Oakland now.

    Like

  4. My impression is that charter schools are basically able to skim off the kids most likely to succeed by creating a whole bunch of hoops that parents have to jump through.

    For example: no bus service provided, school lets out at noon on Fridays, no before or after school care provided, parents need to attend meetings in the middle of the day or the kid is asked to leave.

    In essence, the charter schools are able to get the parents who care most about their kids’ education, which gives them an enormous leg up on the public schools. Starting with the fact that to get into the charter school the parents have to be attentive enough to schooling issues to actually submit the application in a timely manner and correctly filled out.

    But I’m totally bitter about all public schools, including, but not limited to, charter schools. My youngest has some medical special needs and was not allowed to enroll in our public kindergarten.

    The school system made it clear that, while they would allow her to attend 1st grade if she qualified for a 504 plan (she doesn’t meet the requirements for an IEP), they would prefer not to have her attend. So I’m spending $$$ on private school.

    And, yes, I could force the local public school to take her, but only at a huge financial and emotional cost. So I always roll my eyes when people say that public schools “have to educate all kids.” Actually, they’re really good at getting families like mine to opt out.

    Like

    1. Mallory said,

      “For example: no bus service provided, school lets out at noon on Fridays, no before or after school care provided, parents need to attend meetings in the middle of the day or the kid is asked to leave.”

      KIPP is famous for extended day (I believe typically at least 7:30-4 and sometimes longer) and their website mentions a short summer session, too.

      Like

  5. Like Mallory, my views of public schools have been influenced by their inability to properly educate my special needs kids. I’m in a high performing school district, but it’s set up for the high flyers. They ship out kids like mine to other public school districts. Charter schools, for the most part, don’t take kids like mine either, but there are a handful that do specialize in different kids. So, it’s hard to make blanket statements about charter schools v. public schools in terms of quality special education.

    And yes to most of what has been said above. Some charter schools are excellent, some aren’t. Some do incredible work with a certain type of student, who have a certain type of parent. But maybe that’s okay. The parents who live in those communities want those schools, and I think we should listen to them. There’s something not cool about white families in suburbs making decisions about charter schools in urban areas, that urban parents want.

    The main criticism that those activists in urban areas had with the teachers unions is that they protect bad teachers. They don’t distinguish between good teachers and bad teachers. They protect them all. And yes, there are bad teachers who should not be in a classroom. Let’s just admit that.

    Like

    1. ” The parents who live in those communities want those schools, and I think we should listen to them. There’s something not cool about white families in suburbs making decisions about charter schools in urban areas, that urban parents want.”
      Yes! And I am particularly unhappy with Presidential candidates who once understood this and who have now retracted and genuflect to the teachers’ unions. It’s sort of like the ones who go to Iowa and are born again as ethanol advocates…

      Like

  6. Oh, there’s no doubt that there are crappy charter schools out there that need oversight/should be shutdown. I don’t think there’s too much disagreement about that fact, except from some very diehard choice types.

    But there’s also some successes. And it matters how you define success. If you consider parental happiness with their child’s education, then lots of charter school parents are happy. I do think we need to set the bar higher of course. How many kids in charter schools are getting a better education than their peers in the same neighborhood?

    There is some evidence that kids who attend KIPP schools graduate from college at higher rate than other low income kids. Those numbers are still depressing though. Only 9 percent of low income kids who start college finish school. Which should make everyone weep. Graduate from KIPP schools graduate at a rate of 38 percent, which is still awfully depressing. https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2018/04/30/kipp-schools-find-success-using-counseling-high-school-admissions-and

    Like

  7. Laura featured part of this twitter thread in her twitter, and it’s a barn-burner.

    He points out that charter schools are how you cut the gordian knot of expensive home = nice schools.

    Like

    1. “He points out that charter schools are how you cut the gordian knot of expensive home = nice schools.”
      Before she started whoring for the teachers’ unions, Elizabeth Warren was advocating vouchers as the Gordian knot-cutters. Also a good mechanism.

      Like

  8. vouchers as the Gordian knot-cutters. Also a good mechanism.

    Vouchers are nothing but a device for Betsy DeVos types who want to blow up public education.

    Like

    1. Can I characterize your view, Jay, as that the children of the poor should be a conscript army to attend failure factory schools? If not, what is a better way to describe your views?

      Like

      1. Can I characterize your view, Jay, as that the children of the poor should be a conscript army to attend failure factory schools? If not, what is a better way to describe your views?

        You can, if you are shallow and intellectually dishonest.

        Otherwise, you can characterize them as follows: There is nothing that charter schools and vouchers can do and have done that can’t be done and hasn’t been done on a larger scale in public schools. Vouchers are nothing but a giveaway to parochial schools and wealthy parents who should be subsidizing their kids’ private educations themselves and every isolated success in charter schools has been replicated in public education on a larger scale. (I.e, for “charter school” substitute “selective magnet school.”)

        Furthermore, the problem with public education is most certainly not teachers unions. If it were, the states with the weakest teachers unions (hello, southern and some midwestern states) would have the best education outcomes and I don’t think even you would assert that. Rather, the problem with education is concentration of poverty. The best solution would be to do things like eliminating district boundaries and allowing more open enrollment and equal allocation of resources statewide (or even nationwide, but that is even more of a pipe dream). Part of what is preventing that from happening is wealthy suburban people who would rather complain about unionized teachers, but not the highly professionalized ones at their high performing schools but rather the other ones, teaching the students that they would not dream of allowing to attend the same schools as their own kids.

        And yes, I live in a suburb and I like my schools. And yes, I will make the best decisions I can for the welfare of my kids. I just don’t think that the system should be rigged so that I can so easily game it. I’m not going to unilaterally send my kids to underperforming schools because altruism, but if the rules are tilted so that they *and everyone else* have to compete on an even playing field then OK, game on.

        Like

      2. “You can, if you are shallow and intellectually dishonest.” Well, praise from Caesar is praise indeed! I’ll take it!
        ” teaching the students that they would not dream of allowing to attend the same schools as their own kids.” Do note, Jay, that a large part of the point of vouchers would be to allow students from areas with schools parents don’t like to go to schools which parents like better.

        Like

      3. The statistically strongest link explaining (as it were) educational results is the correlation between educational results and proximity to Canada. So statistical evidence is a weak guide when it comes to evaluating the effects of teachers’ unions or vouchers or charter schools or most other issues.

        Like

      4. Jay wrote,

        “every isolated success in charter schools has been replicated in public education on a larger scale. (I.e, for “charter school” substitute “selective magnet school.”)”

        I don’t think that charter schools are even intended to be the equivalent of selective magnet schools.

        https://www.kipp.org/faq/

        The KIPP FAQ says, “There are no admissions requirements. KIPP schools are tuition-free, public schools open to all students, including English Language Learners and students with special education needs. 17 percent of KIPP students are designated ELL and 11 percent receive special education services.”

        “What happens if there are not enough available spaces to admit all students that apply?
        When parent demand exceeds enrollment capacity at the school, students are admitted based upon on a lottery. Lotteries are typically held in the late winter or early spring.”

        “If students apply after the date of the lottery, they will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis, as spaces become available.”

        So, no, it doesn’t make much sense to unfavorably compare the outcomes of a school lottery-based admission program to a school with selective admissions program.

        Also, if selective magnets are a success story, who is speaking up for them and calling for their expansion?

        If I’m reading this correctly, the Trump administration is, but I haven’t heard people on the national level talk positively about magnets in years.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s