kitchen table math, the sequel: the ridiculous debate over charter schools

Saturday, January 28, 2012

the ridiculous debate over charter schools

A Georgia school board denies a charter renewal request by an award-winning charter school in a 7-0 unanimous decision.

"Virginia law gives local school boards authority to approve or deny a charter proposal. Charter advocates say the system creates a difficult hurdle because local boards are often loath to help create direct competition." 

Some comments on the Washington Post's facebook:

That's CRAP!!! That wouldn't be fair to the kids who are not high-performance....

Charter Schools STEAL educational advantages from the students left behind. Disgusting! Public schools should not allow a caste system for students...
Sounds like reinventing the wheel. Why not FIX the schools that need it instead

How curious, because most charter schools I know have admission by lottery. Of course, higher-achieving students might be more wont to apply to a charter school, causing a statistical bias. Is the argument against charter schools really, "they'll draw the brighter students away?" Because of course the brighter lower-income students who can't afford private school should be FORCED to stay imprisoned, and cooped-up.


Crimson Wife said...

A similar argument was used to deny a charter to a second campus of a popular Mandarin immersion school. The original location gets more than 3 times the applications than it has slots available so there is tremendous demand. The rationale for the denial was that because Mandarin is a difficult language to learn, the school would disproportionately attract smart kids and wouldn't reflect the overall student population of the district in which it would be located.

le radical galoisien said...

Mandarin isn't a difficult language to learn. It's comparable to French in listening comprehension (although maybe writing is difficult).

SteveH said...

See also the thread on January 16that's called "Nobody Gets Out Unless Everybody Gets Out".

"Charter Schools STEAL educational advantages from the students left behind. Disgusting! Public schools should not allow a caste system for students...
Sounds like reinventing the wheel. Why not FIX the schools that need it instead."

This seems to be a common view, but they don't explain why those left behind would fare worse and they don't explain what new procedures exist that allow parents to help fix the existing schools.

This is not a case of affluent families who want vouchers to help send their kids to fancy academies. This is about telling urban parents (like the Green Dot schools in CA) that they they can't get out even if the schools can't figure out how to fix the problems.

What happens in affluent towns when parents pay to have their kids go to private schools? Is the education worse for those left behind? One might say that involved parents are no longer helping to improve things, but in many examples, these parents have tried and tried and tried with no results. At that point they leave.

This is what happened with us. We tried very hard to work with our public school, but they wouldn't make changes. I was selected to be on a Citizen's Curriculum Committee, but the committee never met. The school didn't really want it in the first place and they just ignored it. That was back when they decided to change over to Everyday Math.

In second grade, we sent our son to a private school that was somewhat better, but it also used Everyday Math. (You can't win.) However, this migration caused our public schools to pay attention to the needs of the better students who were leaving. One one hand, they would claim that those who left were elitist, but on the other hand, they didn't want to lose their best students. They knew it wasn't just elitism. They knew that differentiated instruction wasn't giving these kids what they needed.

Ultimately, we brought our son back in sixth grade because the public schools were really trying to bring kids back. The idea of differentiated instruction could be applied to the more able kids, so my son got to skip a grade in math. They also got rid of CMP math in middle school and brought in proper Glencoe textbooks. They started separating kids in 7th grade.

Ironically, the private school wasn't going to allow any separation of students in the upper grades because they thought all of their students were bright. They weren't paying attention to the individual needs of the students. Lots of students left and now they are struggling.

We left the private school only after we worked and worked with the school. I talked with the curriculum head and loaned her my Singapore Math books. In the end, she said that they were interesting, but "not right for our mix of students". They stuck with Everyday Math. We weren't going to pay $15,000+ per year for that.

SteveH said...

With no choice, there is no incentive for schools to change - public or private. To say that kids and parents can't leave, but should try to fix the problems is naive at best. It doesn't work.

The simple solution is for public schools to separate the able students without the statistical bias of willing parents. They would have to accept tracking by ability rather than tracking by age. Do they want individual educational opportunity or equal education?

How can they begin to close the academic gap if affluent kids are allowed to get ahead, but poor kids are not? How does it feel for the social justice crowd to be fighting against those they profess to support?

The battle is on in Providence, RI to prevent Achievent First from starting charter schools. The arguments are the same. Even though the amount of money per student they receive is going up, they still claim that the schools will lose money. They still claim that the issue is money, not curriculum or an unwillingness to separate the willing and able from those who are not.

I find it incredible that the public debate is stuck at this level.

FedUpMom said...

le radical galoisien, I've studied Mandarin and I've studied French, and I think Mandarin is WAY harder, at least if your first language is English.

For me, everything about French is reasonably accessible, and a lot of the vocabulary is related to English, so it's pretty easy to remember. Mandarin has tones that change the meaning of words, plus no vocab cross-over with English, plus the world's most difficult writing system. Ack! The only bright spot is the stripped-down syntax, so I don't have to memorize verb declensions or masculine/feminine nouns.

le radical galoisien said...

"and a lot of the vocabulary is related to English, so it's pretty easy to remember"

a major faux amis pitfall though. and it doesn't help with spoken fluency!

Mandarin is the French-English of the East; morphologically it declines analytically like English (except it goes further) and phonologically it creates homophones like French, so Mandarin resorts to two-syllable words more often than the other Chinese languages.

Tones aren't difficult-- and this is from a person who originally had a phobia of tones; it is hard rationally knowing which tone you are hearing at first, but you can tell them apart. And at first, don't even worry about the tones-- only start distinguishing as your vocabulary increases. It isn't any more of a problem than "horse" and "hoarse" or "jacket" and "jack it".

In fact the pitfall for most Mandarin courses (that would be avoided with an immersion course) is the overreliance on the original writing system to teach the spoken language. Pinyin and the spoken language should be used for the first year or so, with some introduction to characters; character memorisation can get more hardcore in the second year.

The English spelling system is difficult too, I might remind you! Chinese-speaking students and English-speaking students spend comparable amounts of time learning their writing system. (In contrast, I think Italians master it within the first few years of elementary school.)

Unknown said...

I work at a charter school and it is not always true that charter schools disproportionately attract brighter students. When a new charter school opens, the upper grades tend to be filled with students who are not succeeding in their current placement. Parents seldom move older students from a school when they are doing well, especially to go to a school with an unproven track record.

At our school, the top grade is very polarized with students mainly at the high and low ends of the scale. We have higher than average numbers of students with IEPs in the upper grades and we attracted many students from failing urban schools who have needed extensive remediation. We must and do accept all students.

It would violate confidentiality to go into detail about the special education needs of some of our students, but in some cases they have been significant and have been a huge challenge for a small new school with few resources.

As much as our local school district dislikes that we exist, they could easily make us go away by providing the type of education that helps all children learn and makes all kids want to go to school. Our existence is a direct result of their inadequacy. Unfortunately, in these beginning years, we are tasked with remediating the miseducation of other schools. It is a daunting task.

SteveH said...

The argument we get against charter schools in our area has to do with the statistical bias of parents willing to go to the effort of supporting the move to a charter school. The claim is that these kids take something away from regular public schools (more than money), and that the remaining kids will somehow get less of an education. All of their arguments are tenuous at best.

I tried to show that even in the case of affluent families moving their kids to private schools, things don't change for the worse in the regular public schools. In fact, the competition forces the schools to pay attention.

Also, for expensive private schools, the kids are not necessarily a smarter bunch. Schools love to give entrance exams, but in many cases, that's just to impress the parents. They do keep out the strugglers, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they do a better job with what they have.

"they could easily make us go away"

A common refrain I've heard is that public schools have to teach ALL kids. That's also what charter schools have to do, but they can get away with setting higher standards - it's part of the deal. Then again, nothing is stopping public schools from separating kids in K-6. I just don't think that they can or will do that.

K9Sasha said...

Like Unknown, I also work at a charter school, and I see the same thing in the students we attract. We are a charter school that supports homeschooling families, but we get a lot of kids, especially at the upper grades, who aren't a good fit for our school. They aren't doing well in a typical school and so their parents enroll them in our school thinking that will fix things. While it is true that charter schools have to take all comers, or have a lottery system if there is an enrollment cap, they are still schools of choice. At my school, if a student isn't doing his work and/or is missing the required weekly meetings with the teacher, and continues to do that even after an "intervention" with the principal, the student is unenrolled. You can't do that in a typical school. Even so, there are many challenging students at our school and the high school teachers often feel like social workers. On the other hand, we also have many committed parents who work hard to homeschool their children and do a wonderful job of it.

Kevin said...

Trying again to post a comment (blogger was failing yesterday again to accept my "word verification").
If this continues for long enough, I'll have to unsubscribe from all blogger blogs, since it is too frustrating to type comments and then have the blogging software fail.

The local grades 7-12 charter school (Pacific Collegiate) is regularly recognized as one of the best in the country. It is lottery entry with at most a 1-in-5 chance of getting in. Despite (or because of) its success, the school district tries to kill it off every few years.

Although we tried for 4 years to get our son into PCS, when a slot finally opened up due to someone leaving (we were one of 80 who entered the lottery for 0 slots in that grade), we turned the slot down. Discussion of the reasons for this choice at
and subsequent posts.

Jen said...

:::At my school, if a student isn't doing his work and/or is missing the required weekly meetings with the teacher, and continues to do that even after an "intervention" with the principal, the student is unenrolled. You can't do that in a typical school.:::

I'd say this is the crux of the public school's point about charters. Unenrolling a student in public school requires at least a year of hoop jumping, and in our larger district, it just means that kid goes to another school in the district (and then another and another and sometimes ends up back where they started!) The programs for children with severe behavior problems in school begin at 6th grade and are either a several week 1/2 day program or a full year at a special school -- maybe 1 in 8? 10? are actually turned around by these experiences designed to get a kid back on track.

In many other cases, it just introduces them to other new bad behaviors and other new kids to join in with.

Charter schools as noted above do often start out with more IEPs and more kids who aren't doing well in their home school. However, they are also often unenrolled over time, or it becomes clear to the parent that the resources they had hoped would be available are not. Schools don't have to specifically kick kids out to get rid of them.

Not to say that all schools do this, all the time, but many do. Attrition rates at charter schools tend to be higher than at non-charter schools nearby, and they tend to have fewer ESL kids, fewer kids with IEPs requiring a lot of support, etc.

Anonymous said...

Where I live the charters do typically attract struggling students. This is often the case in suburban areas. The schools may not be great but they're not so bad that parents of students who do well feel the need to take their kids out.

So, the charters are filled with the difficult kids leaving fewer poor students in the public schools. Online public schools often face the same problems. A lot of their students are kids who were taken out of school working below grade level. So, they often have low test scores.