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What is a Charter School?

The basic difference between a traditional public school and a privately run charter school is that with a charter school there is complete control of the school by a private enterprise within a public school district. Although taxpayer-funded, charters operate without the same degree of public and district oversight of a standard public school. Most charter schools do not hire union teachers which means that they can demand the teacher work longer hours including weekends at the school site and pay less than union wages. Charter schools take the school district’s allotment of money provided for each student within the public schools system and use it to develop their programs. In many systems, they receive that allotment without having to pay for other costs such as transportation for students to and from the school. Some states, such as Minnesota, actually allocate more than what is granted to public school students.

The money that is allocated for each student by the school district, stays with the charter school whether the student remains in that school for the entire school year or returns to a public school.

A charter school can expel any student that it doesn’t believe fits within its standards or meets its level of expectation in terms of test scores. Because it is a charter school, parents and students do not benefit from the regulations and oversight that would protect them in a public school.

The reason for the emphasis on test scores is because when a state agrees to provide a charter, there are requirements for that charter school to meet or exceed a certain level of performance in terms of test scores. Therefore, charter schools establish unspoken policies in terms of the admission of ELL or IEP students as well as students who the charter school doesn’t believe will meet the state standard.

Also, according to a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), charter schools do not necessarily perform any better than public schools. In fact, 37 percent performed worse. Forty-six percent demonstrated “no significant difference” from public schools. Only 17 percent of charter schools performed better than public schools.

Charter School Myths

To follow are charter school myths that reverberate throughout the media and among the proponents of charter schools but have no basis in fact.

Myth #1: Charter schools have this incredible and truly unbelievable success rate at graduating students on time.

It’s easy when a school can cherry pick their students or counsel them out for a school to have a high success rate in graduating their students. The reality is that there are few English Language Learners (ELL’s) in charter schools and most charter schools will not accept or will counsel out IEP students (Individualized Education Program) who have special requirements. Students in this category include children with learning disabilities, ADHD, emotional or cognitive disorders, autism, speech or language impairment or developmental delay. These are students that public schools not only accept but provide individualized programs for under the law and with as much of a budget that a school or district can muster.

Charter schools don’t want these students because states mandate that for a charter school to keep their charter, the school is required to show a certain level of performance and this is reflected in test scores. It a student is going to test poorly, the charter school does not want that student. It is also expensive to provide additional support for IEP and ELL students and most charter schools are looking at their bottom line in terms of profitability.

This leads me to the second myth about charter schools:

Myth #2: Charter Schools do not take funding away from public schools.

They do.

What has happened in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia is that as students leave the public schools, the money has followed the student to the charter school.

The way that public schools manage to maintain a budget for special instruction of ELL and IEP students is to pool the financial resources that come with each student. Every district has a certain amount of money per student that is to be used for their education. It varies from district to district depending upon the district’s budget. The majority of students in a typical school population require less in terms of actual costs than their IEP and ELL counterparts so the money is distributed to where the funding is needed.

When students who require less in terms of actual costs leave the school population and a greater percentage of students who remain require more funding, overall there is less money to go around for the students who require additional support.

Also, if a student attends a charter school in the fall and is then “counseled out”, the money stays with the charter school for that school year. This is another racket that some charter schools are involved in, expelling students after getting the cash from the district for that student.

When I met with Arne Duncan two years ago, a teacher from Chicago asked Arne what he was going to do with all of the special ed students who had been left behind in the public schools. She said that the school and the teachers were overwhelmed with the growing percentage of IEP and ELL students who needed additional time and resources that the school no longer had. Arne gave his goofy smile that is supposed to be disarming and said nothing that addressed her concerns.

Myth #3: Charter schools are public schools

So far we’ve seen that charter schools use public funds to stay afloat and even to make a profit but that’s where the term “public” begins and ends.

The intention of public schools was to ensure that all children received an education that would be the foundation for a productive future. The funding for education would be provided using tax payer dollars and schools would be run in a democratic and transparent manner.

None of the above applies to charter schools.

Typically there is no oversight of charter schools by publicly elected school boards and little to no protection of students from charter school violations. Typically charter schools have well-paid CEO’s who run the schools and a selected board to oversee how the school is run. Most charter schools do not support parent or teacher involvement.

There is also the fact that charter schools have created highly segregated school populations. See UCLA Report Says Charters Are Causing Resegregation Of American Schools and an interview with UCLA’s Civil Rights Project co-director Gary Orfield:

Myth #4: Non-profit charter schools are OK, for-profit charter schools are not.

Just because an organization is a “non-profit”, doesn’t mean that a profit cannot be had. Look at Teach for America, Inc for instance. TFA, Inc. is an organization that started out as a good idea but is now pushing its way into one school district after another demanding yearly fees for their uncredentialed and poorly trained recruits to populate minority public schools. Kopp is making a fortune off of what was once an admirable idea between receiving millions from her donors and $50M grants from the government on top of the average $5,000 per recruit per year fees that she garnishes from school districts. The atrocity is that these recruits go broke having to pay for their expenses.

There is nothing inherently altruistic about a non-profit. Many times it’s simply a wolf in sheep’s clothing. An example would be Michelle Rhee, another proponent of the privatization of our schools. She’s raking in millions between her donors and speaking engagements and exactly where is that money going?

Another fact to keep in mind is that most charter schools are managed by CMO’s, Charter Management Organizations such as White Hat Management, or EMO’s, Education Management Organizations, which add another layer of cost to school districts.

Which brings me to another myth that is related to charter schools, you don’t need to be credentialed, experienced or educated in education to be a good teacher.

This myth is related to charter schools in two ways. First, charter schools rarely hire union teachers or teachers with much experience. This is a way to keep the cost down so the myth is perpetrated that students don’t require teachers who are experienced, credentialed or have received a degree, particularly a Master’s degree, in education.

The second reason is that it supports the action by charter schools in hiring TFA, Inc. recruits to staff their schools with cheap labor.

What’s interesting about this myth is that you hear it repeated by people who have their children in private schools where they would consider the best teachers to have all of the attributes listed above including Bill Gates.

Myth #5: Charter schools are better than public school in terms of student performance.

Not only are their several peer-reviewed studies that show otherwise, but we see in states like Florida and New York that the proliferation of charter schools has not raised test scores or closed the much touted “achievement gap”.

Studies regarding charter schools include:

The Stanford Credo Report: Charter School Performance in Pennsylvania

New Charter Study by Mathematica With More Bad News for Corporate Ed Reform



Schools Without Diversity: Education Management Organizations, Charter Schools, and the Demographic Stratification

Vanderbilt Study: Instructional Conditions in Charter Schools and Students’ Mathematics Achievement Gains

NEPC: Latest Charter School Meta-Study Exaggerates Their Benefits

Separating fact from fiction in 21 claims about charter schools

What we need is for all of those folks who are putting millions into backing the privatization of our schools to pay their fair share of taxes including Bill Gates.

Then, the population needs to realize that for our children to have a good education, we have to pay for it. Funding in education has been woefully lacking over the years and it is finally made itself painfully apparent in terms of the condition of our schools, the lack of resources that teachers have including up to date text books, a shorter school day and school year, and a loss of classes in music, drama, art, physical education as well as other classes that help spark an interest in learning.

And finally, our values need to change. The Secretary of Education Arne Duncan started his campaign for the privatization of our schools with a $5B plan that he termed Race to the Top. That money seemed like so much money to people and unfortunately schools districts and states fell for it and tried to comply with the demands of the Department of Education for what turned out to be a small pittance and did not cover all that each state was to do to receive RTTT money. What makes this so terrible in comparison is that last year we spent $5B every two weeks in Afghanistan. $5B for 50 states as a one shot deal to educate our children and $5B to Afghanistan every two weeks. As I said, our values as a nation need to change and we need to start demanding that federal funds be diverted away from spending on the corporate/military complex and the propping up of financial institutions and instead be used to educate our children. That’s where our future is.

Other articles and video’s of interest:

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

Access Denied: New Orleans Students and Parents Identify Barriers to Public Education

Parents say special-ed kids falling victim in charter battle for space inside city schools

Teach For America: A False Promise

Teach for America: The Hidden Curriculum of Liberal Do-Gooders

Does Teacher Preparation Matter? Evidence about Teacher Certification, Teach for America, and Teacher Effectiveness

Charter law forced school’s closure

Charter discipline policy under fire

Dirty job: charter teachers janitors

See also on this blog:

The Shock Doctrine

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

A teacher’s perspective: Firing day at a charter school

Are charter schools public or private? Neither or both?

Charter Management Organizations (CMO’s) and Education Management Organizations (EMO)

Dora Taylor

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