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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Charter schools aren’t public schools let me count the ways

They, people who like charter schools and who want to speed up their proliferation, always say; charter schools are public schools. They say this not because it is true but because they think this will ease the mind of the community as they seek to privatize public education. Well friends’ charter schools are not public schools and let me count the ways.

Many in the Florida Legislature are looking to exempt charter schools from the Student Success act. In case you don’t now the SSA ended tenure like protections, said 50% of teacher evaluations had to be based on test scores, and called for but didn’t fund merit pay. Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale while attempting to have his cake and eat it too, said in the Orlando Sentinel that the law “was never meant to cover charters.” He said that because charter school teachers are all “at will” employees — without the tenure-like protections that some traditional school employees enjoy — the law wasn’t mean to govern their work. (1)

However if you are following along, something the representative obviously hasn’t been doing, the SSA ended tenure like protections. Then senate president Don Geatz said, when talking about exempting charter school teachers’ not public school teachers from the odious Student Success act, “I’ve been in business for thirty years. I’ve never asked for an even playing field, you can’t make everything equal.”  (2)

This is what National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says about them on its Web site: Charter schools are always public schools. They never charge tuition, and they accept any student who wants to attend. Charter laws require that students are admitted by a random lottery drawing in cases too many students want to enroll in a single charter school. Charter schools must also meet the state and federal academic requirements that apply to all public schools.

Recent studies however have shown charter schools despite claiming to be the bastions of fairness often pick and choose whom they keep. 

Reuters just did a comprehensive piece showing how many charter schools prohibit, ESOL students, poor academic performers and students whose parents are involved less than they like. (3) Then State Impact reports how charter schools exclude disabled students saying, more than 86 percent of the charter schools do not serve a single child with a severe disability – compared to more than half of district schools which do. That in Duval County, just one student enrolled in a charter school has a severe disability. Duval district schools educate more than 1,000 severely-disabled students. There’s not a single child with a severe disability in charter schools in Pinellas County, the nation’s 24th-largest school district and finally the majority of charter school students with severe disabilities are concentrated in a handful of schools that specialize in those disabilities, often autism. (4)

Public schools are required to try and educate every student who shows up on the doorstep whether they be disabled, speak a different language, be less than academically inclined, have frequent discipline problems or parents who are absentee or not. If charter schools were public schools should they not be required to do the same?

Charter schools also get rid of kids at a faster and far greater rate than public schools do. All schools have some degree of mobility but the study reports essentially no overall attrition from the regular public schools. Expulsion undoubtedly counts for some of the charter school losses but low performing kids being counseled out also undoubtedly play a role as well. Public schools not charter schools take all the kids that show up at their doors and do their best to educate them. (5)

Furthermore charter schools don’t have the same financial accountability measures and this has led to massive malfeasance. Leslie Postal wrote in the Orlando Sentinel, According to an August report by the state auditor general, a third of state charter schools had accounting problems, legal violations or other problems in their 2011 audits. One third!!! Could you imagine if one third of public schools came back with the same type of report? The state legislature would be even more off with their heads than they are now. This is also the same industry that allowed the operator of a failed charter school to take home 890,000 dollars over a two-year period. (6) To give you some scale the Duval county School Superintendent who oversees some 170 schools, 14,000 employees and a billion dollar plus budget makes 275,000 dollars.   

Then some people might say, so what to all this. The long waiting lists for charter schools prove the public wants them. Well friends even that’s a lie.  Miami Dade official Iraida Mendez-Cartaya testified in front of the Florida legislature, pointing out that in her district, students are likely to appear on more than one waiting list – an obvious reason for such inflated numbers. (7)

Finally don’t even get me started about how study after study says charter schools don’t perform any better than their public school counterparts. 

At the end of the day they don’t follow the same laws, they don’t have the same admission standards, they get rid of students that public schools wouldn’t and they don’t have financial accountability. How could anybody possibly mistake a charter school for a public school and it is high time we stopped referring to them thusly. 

I have no doubt there are some fine charter schools, where kids are getting a wonderful education. The problem is this rush to privatize has created too great of an opportunity for charlatans and corporations looking to make a buck. Charter schools as parent teacher driven laboratories have a role to play in education. Charter schools as a replacement for public schools do both the children that attend them and the public that finances them a disservice.  

Charter schools are not public schools and the only reason people like Jeb Bush and Don Geatz says they are is because it gives their privatization agenda some cover. It is time we woke up and said enough, not enough is enough because there are two many poor performing charter schools out there and that should be closed but simply, enough.

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