kitchen table math, the sequel: middle class kids & charter schools

Monday, July 19, 2010

middle class kids & charter schools

In today's Wall Street Journal:
New Jersey is preparing to announce the confirmation of at least six new charter schools this week, but proposed charters in Princeton, Teaneck and Flemington won't be on the list, dealing a blow to a movement to widen school choice to affluent districts.

A zoning technicality tripped up the Princeton International Academy Charter School, a Mandarin-immersion program that faced strong opposition from the three school districts whose students it would serve. When nearing an already-extended July 15 deadline for the state to approve the school's certificate of occupancy before granting final approval of its charter, the districts raised legal questions about the charter's variance request to occupy a Plainsboro seminary building.

That, in turn, postponed a zoning hearing that could have given the school its certificate of occupancy. Last week, the commissioner of education declined the school's request for another extension, forcing dozens of families to find an alternative for the upcoming school year.


At the heart of these New Jersey cases is the question of who can and should be served by charter schools, which receive public money but can be run privately. School-choice advocates assert that charters should be open to parents who want something different from what public schools offer. They argue that demand alone should be the test.

Those who oppose charters in high-performing areas—a group that often encompasses the public-school districts themselves—say that charters are only viable in urban areas where parents are faced with failing schools. "Within the public-school system, we need more definition around the circumstances and conditions for when choice is necessary," said Judith Wilson, superintendent of the Princeton Regional School District, who called the Mandarin-immersion school a "narrowly defined option."

About 160 families in the Princeton area wanted that choice, despite the district's argument that language immersion is a luxury amid budget cuts. Lydia Grebe, a nurse practitioner who moved to Plainsboro two weeks ago to send her daughter to second grade at the new charter school, is one of them.

"This is being ripped away like a Band-Aid," she said. "I'm stunned."

Charters Derailed in Areas of New Jersey
JULY 19, 2010
Assuming this is the same Princeton Regional School District that fought the founding of the Princeton Charter School tooth and nail, I think it's safe to say the district learned nothing from that experience.

Either that, or they learned all the wrong lessons.

Those who oppose charters in high-performing areas—a group that often encompasses the public-school districts themselves—say that charters are only viable in urban areas where parents are faced with failing schools.
Does the group "those who oppose charters in high-performing areas" include anyone other than "public-school districts themselves"?

Is there a political movement against charter schools for suburban kids?

I think not.  I take it back.


Anonymous said...

Actually there is political opposition to charter schools from other than the public school officials. In my town, there is one of the best public charter high schools in the country (probably the best lottery-admission charter high school). The demand for the education it provides is high, with the chance of winning the lottery and getting it varying from 0 to 15%, depending on which grade you are trying to enter at.

It is continually being attacked as being "elitist" (despite the lottery admission).

Anonymous said...

I've seen political opposition to charter schools from parents who feel that any school choice (whether charter or magnet) diminishes the local neighborhood school. They want those families to stay and devote their time and energy to improving the neighborhood school. There are plenty of people who feel that any school other than the neighborhood school is inherently elitist.

Glen said...

Does the group "those who oppose charters in high-performing areas" include anyone other than "public-school districts themselves"?

Yes, it does: the teachers' unions, the politicians whose elections are paid for by the teachers' unions, and throngs of "progressives" who believe that progress means closing loopholes of liberty that threaten to grow and weaken state control over education.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have no shortage of "activists" who tell me that this "charter school business" is just the latest right-wing attempt to "destroy public education," "undo all the progress we've fought for for so long," "go backwards from a social justice curriculum to a right-wing traditional curriculum," and "maintain the status quo of oppression."

In an enlightened, progressive area like the Bay Area, a lot of people see any reversion of decision-making power from the state back to individuals, such as choice in any form in public schools, as the opposite of what they mean by progress.

Catherine Johnson said...

Do you all see significant opposition specifically to suburban charter schools?

The folks Glen cites probably oppose urban charter schools, too (?)

Glen said...

Do you all see significant opposition specifically to suburban charter schools?

Not quite. Yes, these people oppose all charters, but their opposition to charters in urban districts is weaker because progressives don't dare say no to civil rights activists, many of whom support charters, for fear of the names they'll be called. They don't mind saying no to suburbanites, though, because that is the very definition of the liberal hero--at least around here.

The practical result of this selective weakening of the urban portion of their defense against charters is that the unweakened portion (charters in suburbs) is left relatively stronger. That's the practical result, but it doesn't seem to be their intention.

"Professional educators" on progressive radio talk shows talk about the "failed promises," "corporate greed," "right-wing agenda," and so on of all charters, but, if pressed with urban data, they say the urban situation is "complicated," which is how they hope to avoid being called unbearable names by civil rights activists.

Though I don't recall hearing any stated opposition that was specific to suburban charters, the above phenomenon seems to produce the same practical result: though there seems to be more demand for charters in the suburbs, charters are spreading more rapidly in urban districts.

Catherine Johnson said...

Glen - that's interesting - thanks for filling us in

Now I'm curious whether things are radically different here in New York.

I think it's right to say that the zeitgeist here is now anti-union and pro-charter; I wouldn't be surprised if people begin to be openly pro-voucher.

lgm said...

up in my area of NY, folks (mainy blue collar that work in NYC gov't agencies and came here for the 'good schools') could care less about charters. They see that concept as a waste of resources that would be better devoted to fixing public school. Essentially, they want the district to be the charter by having the state stop forcing full inclusion and go back to grouping by academic instructional need. Allow test out, allow honors courses, allow slow learner courses, have alternative school, but do not allow the inclusion of violent children, druggies, gang members, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill and severe needs to be an excuse not to offer a year or more's worth of curriculum to each unclassified child each year. They propose that unclassified disruptors/nonparticipants pay the difference in cost between the alternative school and the regular setting.

Additionally, they'd like to fire the teachers who are presenting rather than teaching or are incompetent or abusive. It's been six years since the middle school failed ayp and the taxpayers stopped the 'blame the student' game and funded 'extra help' and rTi. They want to cut costs by having the unclassified students learn the material in the classroom, not from the extra help/resource teacher.

On the other hand, some parents view this proposal as racist or elitist. They work behind the scenes rather than engage in debate at board meetings for continuing full inclusion. Homeschool, homebound, alternative, and private school numbers continue to increase as does the number of hours of 1:1 aides for the emotionally disturbed and behaviorally challenged, and the security guards to remove the violent and disruptive.

Glen said...

From this interesting article:

--In California, 12 of the top 15 public schools are charters, including three in Oakland that cater to exceptionally poor children. Los Angeles charters’ median score on California’s Academic Performance Index was 728 in 2008, compared with 663 for regular public schools.

--According to a resolution adopted at last year’s convention, “NEA shall oppose any initiative to greatly expand the growth of charter schools”—though “by no means should this effort conflict with the ongoing and necessary work of organizing charter school teachers.” Unfortunately, this “necessary” work hasn’t helped students. A study of charter schools in Boston by Harvard economist Tom Kane found that “students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.”

Catherine Johnson said...

“NEA shall oppose any initiative to greatly expand the growth of charter schools”—though “by no means should this effort conflict with the ongoing and necessary work of organizing charter school teachers.”

oh, brother

Tex said...

Did you see this report on the proposed charter school in Ossining?

An application to open a charter school possibly in Ossining in the fall of 2011 is being reviewed by the State University of New York Charter Schools Institute, while many residents of this river town are mobilizing to quash it. . . .

Even so, the proposal has raised serious concerns in Ossining among several community members who have formed Ossining Strong to oppose the charter school. The group has, to date, collected some 654 signatures on a petition objecting to the plan. The Ossining Union Free School District, which held a June 16 public hearing on the plan, has received 199 letters against a charter school in Ossining, officials said. . .

Both Ossining residents and school officials have expressed objections to the severe financial burden, they argue, the charter school would have on the district, as well as duplicating curriculums and segregating Ossining's students.

Hudson River charter school proposed for Ossining, many in district object

jtidwell said...

I don't know about New York, but here in Massachusetts, the funding structure for charter schools causes real grief in some suburban school districts. It's not that suburbanites don't want charters in principle. It's that the amount of money taken per child from a disastrously underfunded school system can cause major cuts in services that can't stand any more cuts.

If a town spends on average $10,000 per child in public school, and ten children leave one public school to go to a charter school, $100,000 in state aid leaves with them. That's almost enough to pay a teacher's salary and benefits, is it not? I'm simplifying the numbers, obviously, but the impact is still disproportionate.

(On the other hand, I know several folks who would love to see the public school system torn down and rebuilt from scratch. They're rather pleased with the use of charter schools to "bleed" the regular public school system.)

I'm all for charter schools in principle, but as a taxpayer, I would have to fight any that would want to open in my district. We just can't afford one. It's quite a frustrating situation, because Lord knows we need some alternatives to our standard public schools.

Ben Calvin said...

If a town spends on average $10,000 per child in public school, and ten children leave one public school to go to a charter school, $100,000 in state aid leaves with them. That's almost enough to pay a teacher's salary and benefits, is it not?

But doesn't $100,000 or more in cost go with them? This is where the inflexibility of modern public sector institutions comes in. And if demand for the public school goes down by 10 customers, shouldn't it scale back by that amount as well? I'm interested in the best educational option, not in keeping a certain market share for the public school district.

jtidwell said...

Sadly, no - almost all costs for a school remain fixed if only a few kids leave. Physical plant and staff stay at the same levels unless you lose enough kids to actually drop a class. (And sometimes even that doesn't help. My local school has only two kindergarten classes, and it cannot go down to one, for various reasons that have been explained to me but I can't remember. So they're stuck staffing those two classes regardless of funding levels.)

In the worst case, the only savings you get for losing 10 students is the supplies they use. And maybe the parents pay for those anyway.

ChemProf said...

I've seen jtidwell's argument locally, although the piece that is usually left out is that the public school will feel the same pinch whether those 10 kids go to a charter, a private school, or homeschooling. In the Bay Area at least, there is general opposition to ANY option other than the neighborhood school (with its social justice curriculum) as weakening the public school system. I've actually heard people complain that anyone who opts out is being selfish. For middle class suburban parents, the sense is that they are being selfish, reactionary and probably racist (since there aren't any other reasons for avoiding public schools she said facetiously).

Glen said...

Perhaps strangely, my Silicon Valley school district secretly hopes some of us will get fed up and pull our kids out of public school. This, though they vehemently denounce all competing forms of school.

Sacramento has declared our district a Cash Cow District. (That's not quite the formal nomenclature they use, but it may as well be.) The accounting is confusing, but the practical result is that we don't get extra money for extra kids. Since we get plenty of extra kids from Mexico each year, the district hopes some of the rest of us will get fed up enough with something (anything) to pull our kids out (without actually moving away). That way, our taxes can be used to cover the costs of providing a proper "social justice" curriculum to the Mexican kids, while we pay directly to educate our own kids, relieving the school district of that costly burden without depriving them of any revenue, so the teachers and administrators can keep their jobs.

This may work, up to a point, but if it becomes clear that the public schools are no longer set up to serve the children of those who fund most of it, the parents will find ways to avoid paying for it. In progressive California, that might require many of them to physically leave the state, which isn't hard to imagine since that trend is now so well underway that activists keep threatening to institute a California exit tax, requiring you to surrender a major portion of your net worth before they will release you from Progressive Paradise.

SteveH said...

"Do you all see significant opposition specifically to suburban charter schools?"

Yes. Our school committee has come out publically against allowing our kids to go to charter schools becuase our public (town) schools are rated so well on the state tests. They want it to be a state law. Of course, these tests only indicate the percentage of kids who get over a minimal proficiency cutoff point. They claim that this means they provide a quality education, so kids should not be allowed to go anywhere else.

They see it as their money that they are losing. It's not an argument of marginal costs. They have experience with laying off teachers. It may not be a continuous function, but their argument is more fundamental than that. It's about control. Charter schools challenge that control.

When our son was at a private school (grades 2-5), one parent seemed quite satisfied that it wasn't a charter school that siphoned money away from her daughter's school. However, charter school money is not part of our town's school budget calculations. It's a separate budget category. School funding is primarily driven by the number of kids per class.

We got a certain amount of negative (elitist) reaction when our son was in a private school in the early grades. Now that he is back in the public schools and is headed to high school next year, everybody asks where he is going (because he is a top student). Apparently, it's elitist in K-8, but quite understandable for high school. When we tell them that he is going to the public high school, we get a lot of happy reactions. Perhaps it's a vote of confidence for where they are sending their kids.

jtidwell said...

ChemProf: "I've seen jtidwell's argument locally, although the piece that is usually left out is that the public school will feel the same pinch whether those 10 kids go to a charter, a private school, or homeschooling."

What state are you in, just out of curiosity? Here in Mass, kids who go to a private school or are homeschooled don't figure into state aid equations the way charter students do. Charters draw off money; non-public alternatives don't.

There are quite a few independent and parochial schools here in the inner Boston suburbs. I've never heard parents or politicians complain about them or call them "elitist."

Catherine Johnson said...

the public school will feel the same pinch whether those 10 kids go to a charter, a private school, or homeschooling

But that's not true, is it?

Where I live, we have to continue paying taxes to support our local public schools in addition to private/parochial tuition.

Last year the district lost something like...45 just one year. This occurred at a time when NO houses were selling at all (I asked).

Only one member of the school board exhibited any curiosity as to why this had occurred, and she couldn't rouse any public interest in the other members.

The district has only 1800 kids in total, and all of these children left grades K-8.

They didn't leave at the normal juncture, either (i.e. between 5th & 6th). Again, I'd have to look up the exact figures, but I remember being struck by the loss between..1st & 2nd grade, I think it was.

That is a very unusual time to lose students, especially with no houses selling.

I also talked to former board members; the figure for the overall loss in students is very high.

Catherine Johnson said...

Tex - great find.

How are charter schools funded here in NY?

ChemProf said...

I'm in California, so all local taxes go to Sacramento, where they are sent back to the local district on a per-kid basis. As Glen says, wealthier areas are cash cows, as their taxes are sent off to poorer areas. I can see that having local taxes spent on local schools changes the calculation. For all the hand-wringing about dollars per student here, our teachers are the highest paid in the country.

I'm in the East Bay, where we get a lot of students fleeing Oakland schools, by sending in a fake address to a relative in city limits. In elementary school, where the Oakland schools aren't too bad, most folks go to the neighborhood school, but very few of those schools stay in the public system for high school, as the high school is actively unsafe (panic buttons in the classrooms, for example). Despite this, there is little push for charters, or alternatives to the social justice curriculum.

Bostonian said...

Dick Morris (fomer political advisor to Bill Clinton) says that vouchers and charter schools will get a boost from state and local governments that need to cut expenses.

"The Greek fiscal crisis is going to come to the United States next year via the vulnerable state governments of (at least) California, Michigan and New York. Look for these states to descend once more on Washington DC with their tin cups seeking additional federal subsidies, disguised as stimulus payments. But…with Republicans in control of both Houses (bet on it) they will meet a frosty reception on Capitol Hill. While Obama will try to pass the subsidies, the GOP will turn them down. The American people — from the other 47 states — will ask why they should reward state irresponsibility with federal dollars.

Faced with a cutoff of additional federal aid, these state legislatures will be unable to balance their budgets and bond buyers will back off their paper. Ratings agencies will downgrade their bonds to junk status and bankruptcy will ensue.

From there, the fiscal crunch will extend to states throughout the nation and the reduction of state expenditures will assume critical importance at just the time that a slew of Republican governors and state legislators — who have pledged not to raise taxes — will take office.

One area they will look at closely in their efforts to rein in spending will be education. Look for the school choice and voucher movements to get a massive shot in the arm as governors and legislatures seek to find lower cost ways of improving educational quality."

cranberry said...

From my standpoint, as a parent in a Massachusetts suburb, charter schools have not been a school budget-killer. A few local families choose to send their children to an out-of-town charter. As our local public schools are thought to be very good, there hasn't been a rush for the exits, as it were. Most parents in functioning suburban school systems will not choose charters, as transportation to and from an out-of-town school brings its own headaches. If they're dissatisfied with their local public schools, they'll move to another town, or send their children to private or parochial schools.

I found the relevant sections of the legal code online:

The number of charters has been subject to a cap. I remember hearing that Deval Patrick signed a law lifting the cap, as a result of the Race to the Top competition. Nevertheless, the formula for charter placement steers charter founders to districts which score very poorly in district assessments.

Bostonian, the current tuition system for charters in Massachusetts won't (or, rather, shouldn't) create any cost savings for the system as a whole. The tuition the charter school receives is the sending district's average per-pupil cost, whereby the costs associated with special-ed outplacements are excluded from the calculation of the district's total spending (from briefly reading the new law--forgive me if I got it wrong.) In other words, the commonwealth (or sending district) will spend the same amount per pupil, whether the student sits in a district school, or in a charter school.

SwitchedOnMom said...

Coming *very* late to this conversation, but is there opposition to charter schools in well performing suburbs?

Heck yes. I offer you Montgomery County, Maryland.