School choice is intended to give parents better options for their children. The idea is appealing, but after fifteen years, it is clear that not all choices are good choices. The League of Women Voters of Florida charges our legislators to ensure that charters:
Which children do charter schools serve? Students are identified based on their demographics including free and reduced lunch (FRL) status. Yet, half the student population in Florida qualifies. FRL status may just mask what is really happening.
Children who qualify for FRL are not all alike. Nearly half of the FRL children, about 950,000 live in deep poverty. The difference is between families of four earning about $47, 000 vs. about $24,000 i.e. those who qualify for reduced cost lunch and those who qualify for free lunch. How many truly poor children attend charters?
Remember the post about Duval County charters? Between 2013 and 2014, the percentage of students classified as economically disadvantaged dropped in most cases about 30%. The reason was a change in the definition of economically disadvantaged by their charters. Skewed enrollment in charters has become a civil rights issue.
In a report from the August 14th New York Times, 14% of all children persistently qualify for free lunch (not reduced cost lunch) over time. A University of Michigan study shows the achievement gap of the persistently poor is a third larger than generally reported by NAEP and other measures. Grouping children in FRL together masks the real achievement gap between lower and higher income groups.
In Florida, 24% of all children fall below the federal poverty level. This includes about 950,000 children below the age of 18. Another 25% qualify for reduced lunch. These are not just statistics. They are real children with lives complicated by the trappings of poverty. If charters are ‘skimming’ students from the public schools, their percentage of students who qualify for free lunch not just for reduced cost lunch, will be much lower.
Charters are supposed to find innovative ways to solve academic problems. They may just be masking them. It is time to take the mask off and see which children are being served.
I do not generally repost blog articles, but this one just appeared in Diane Ravitch’s blog. It tells the story of children required to eat breakfast in the hallway of their school. The story is told by a teacher there who resigned. She headed the United Opt Out movement, and her position was eliminated. The school has become one of the Relay Leadership schools that focuses on teach to the test strategies. These ‘take over’ schools promise the moon but deliver smelly cheese. You should read this. It is what privatization of public schools is all about. It is becoming a ‘like it or leave it’ world. This teacher left.
In Valerie Strauss’ latest Washington Post article, she reports on former New York principal, Carol Burris’ study of the sort and select enrollment practices in New York charter schools.
These are charters that are so often held up as success stories, so to speak. Are they?
Two years ago, the League made a statewide call for better oversight of charter schools. Major reports on charter fraud, waste and abuse made national headlines. The FBI raided charter schools across the country. Just this year, a new scandal erupted in several Florida cities. The U.S. district attorney has brought charges.
The problems extend beyond corruption and enter the realm of civil rights. The U.S. Department of Education and the President cautioned the charter movement about its tendency to increase racial and economic segregation in its schools. Charters, moreover, under represent children with disabilities. Critics claim that these enrollment policies reflect charter school management companies’ profit seeking priorities.
Lack of charter oversight is a design feature, not a bug says PR Watch. Charters were to be given free rein to ‘change the system’. Accountability was to be based on student academic achievement. The appWearance of academic achievement, however, is easy to manipulate. If charters attract strong students to begin with, their schools will be successful. Under the school grade system, good students, not good teachers, make good schools. Concerns about screening out students abound.
Charters have been operating long enough for the consequences to become apparent. Federal and state authorities have begun to officially recognize the abuse in the system and make marginal efforts to correct it.
STATE OF FLORIDA ACTIONS
UPDATED LEAGUE STUDY
SCHOOL DISTRICT ACTIONS
Florida officials have taken small steps to improve charter school laws, but the lack of oversight over how these laws are implemented remains. School districts authorize charters but have limited access to information about how they are run.
What more needs to be done to improve the system?
The next legislative session may, once again, tackle the charter school management and oversight problems. In the past, legislators have proposed everything from creating a charter school institute to be housed at Florida State University to forming charter school districts. There are sporadic efforts to improve collaboration between charters and local public schools, but they are often stymied by the inherent competition between the two systems.
WOULD A NEW STUDY OF CHARTER MANAAGEMENT HELP?
Identifying successful collaborative efforts, if any, could be instructive. A 2013 Center for Reinventing Public Schools report on a Gates Foundation initiative was not hopeful. Some argue that the Washington D.C. model is effective, but it too has had large scale scandals. The seven member D.C. Public Charter School Board is appointed by the Mayor. A 2015 Washington Post article reports on the need for more transparency in D.C. charter school management. It appears D.C. has the same mismanagement problems as those in other cities.
There is a report on different oversight models in the country. Minnesota and New York have ‘hands on’ oversight models. Others states are much more passive. The U.S. has a public school management and oversight system that has survived for about 100 years. If we need some schools to do a few different things, one would think that some incentives could be provided without using a wrecking ball to destroy one system in order to replace it with a more imperfect system over which the public has no control.
It is an election year. Which way is the wind blowing? Judging by the rift over the Democratic Party Platform, testing, accountability, and charter school management could see significant changes….or not.
The draft platform opposed for-profit charter schools. The amended platform added even many more changes:
The FBI raided the Okaloosa charter school for at risk children yesterday. The school is managed by The Radar Group based in Florida’s panhandle. This is the same area where the Newpoint charter schools were recently indicted. The Radar Group has other charters. We may learn more about what happened.
No one is talking about the reasons for the raid. It can’t be good.
In the last post, I shared the Florida Auditor General’s concerns about some charter schools. They may have missed at least one. Many times the League has asked for better management, transparency and oversight of charter schools. These schools are not innovative, they are just free to manipulate.