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California

Stop Painting Charters With a Broad Brush

The Post News Group, a publication out of the San Francisco Bay Area, has a piece taking charter schools—namely, for-profit charter schools—to task and arguing that the charter sector would be bad for Oakland. Painting all charter schools with one brush is disingenuous on its own, but especially so when it is done with so much misinformation:
Public education is in crisis. Many children, especially low-income children of color, are poorly served by public schools. But charter schools are no better. A recent study concludes that about 30 percent of charter schools outperform public schools with comparable student bodies, while another 30 percent perform less well than the public schools. We can also identify many examples of successful schools, both public and charter. 1) The same study (Stanford’s CREDO Report) also shows charters have a more POSITIVE effect on black and Hispanic students in poverty.2) These figures are only for math. In reading only 19% of charters perform worse than traditional district schools (25% outperform).3) Charter schools ARE public schools. But to understand the situation, and the likely result of the move to the large-scale creation of charter schools, people need to pay attention to what is occurring nationally in the charter school movement: The charter school trend is increasingly dominated by the for profit sector and is receiving massive investments from hedge funds and other investors whose focus is profit, not improving public education. NOT true. For-profit operators manage only 12.3% of charters, decreasing from the prior two years.
All of that said, we don’t necessarily disagree on everything:
Our focus in Oakland should be on improving our public schools. Fortunately, we have excellent models based on recent Oakland experience. Oakland Tech, now viewed by many as Oakland’s best high school, was recently a violent, dangerous place with little academic success. Frick Middle School, now a candidate for reorganization, was until recently regarded as a safe, successful school in a severely challenged neighborhood. Agreed! And Oakland is on the right track. Here are some of the elements of a successful school: These 5 are all true, but why imply that charter schools aren’t able to provide these things? For example, Rocketship, which began in the Bay Area, is a charter network that places a huge priority on parent involvement. 1. A strong principal focused on instruction, a teacher of teachers rather than a disciplinarian or fundraiser. Oakland has many excellent principals and many who should be replaced. When Dennis Chaconas was appointed superintendent in 2000, his first priority was the replacement of 60% of the district’s principals. And then he replaced some of the replacements. 2. Well-paid, well-trained teachers. We need to demand that teachers be paid as much as nurses or police officers, so they can support their families and make instruction a career. The relationship between principals and teachers is clear—good principals attract and retain good teachers, while poor teachers leave schools where the culture and peer pressure demands their best efforts. 3. Site-based decision making in the context of accountability for school results. Public schools, just like charters, should be encouraged to develop their own identities and specialties. Public schools could be organized around specialities such as environmental science, African culture, or language arts to provide choices for students and parents. 4. Programs that address students’ life circumstances, including physical and mental health, violence prevention, and nutrition. 5. Active, engaged parent involvement that participates in decision-making as well as support activities.

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