I hadn’t planned to go there just yet . . . charter schools. My, but there are a lot of dogs in this fight called “school reform.” There is nothing wrong with charter schools. I have no objection against charter schools per se. The problem arises when the public compares charter schools with public schools and finds public schools lacking before they first ask some fundamental questions: What is the percentage of your special ed students? What is the percentage of your ELL students? What is the percentage of your Title 1 students (students who qualify for free and reduced lunch)? If we are to compare apples to apples, then we need to compare a charter school’s percentages against the percentages of the public school that competes with it for enrollment. From my own personal experience as a high school principal, I was amused at the number of special ed parents, as well as parents/guardians of students who had been expelled from schools in other cities and states, who told me that before coming to my school, they had first tried to enroll into a particular charter school in town and had been told there were no openings. Public schools have to take anyone. Charter schools know that they don’t. The playing field is not even. Don’t even try to compare the two. Yet at the moment it seems the hot topic in the nation is accolades for charter schools.
Thank goodness that in the future each state will be able to follow each student as he or she proceeds from grade to grade and be able to keep track of each student’s progress. Right now, cohorts of students are studied and compared — the 8th grade cohort of 2009, for example, is compared to the 8th grade cohort of 2008. They are not the same students. What kind of valuable information can be derived from this data? Very little. With the change, however, researchers will now be able to actually compare how a particular charter school’s students are doing when compared to a particular public school’s students. After all of the special ed kids, the tough discipline kids, the Title 1 kids, and the ELL kids are factored in and the playing field is level, I predict that public schools will win that battle overall. But again, some charter schools do an excellent job and fill a niche in their city or town.
What I can’t understand is why so many policymakers and corporation bigwigs have jumped on the charter school bandwagon. And at this point in time, now that we have the tools to compare a particular charter school to its competition (another public school serving the same population), I would expect the charter school to have higher test scores. If this does not turn out to be true, then that charter school should be taken over by the local public school system. If it turns out that a particular charter school has a lower percentage of ELL, special ed, and Title 1 students than its competitor and that its competitor has consistently higher test scores, then it should be mandatory that the charter school lose its charter and be returned to the public school system.
As I said, I had not planned to delve into the subject of charter schools quite yet. But tonight on Daily Kos.com I read an incisive, insightful piece on charter schools by Laura Clawson. It’s well worth reading. The emperor, the emperor — his clothes are made of gold. So who’s going to tell him that he has no clothes? He’s naked as a jay bird.Well, unlike the emperor –who was very embarrassed and who felt like a fool when the little boy yelled out the truth, when Diane Ravitch told the emperor the truth, nothing happened. The parade of the emperor and his courtiers continues down Main Street. Emperor Arne appears not to mind parading naked and ignorant right before our eyes. I once thought fables turned foolish people into smart people, that they learned something from their ordeal. Those days, seemingly, are no more.
November 9, 2010 – Today I was looking at the “Education” section of Huffington Post and came across some research about charter schools in Chicago.
November 2, 2010 Why Do Charter Schools Have High Teacher Turnover?