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Thursday, January 23, 2014

250 charter schools have opened taken public money and closed over the years in Florida.

Let that sink in for a moment. 250

That represents hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted and tens of thousands of kids who at best, at best had their educations disrupted.

Some people might be saying that 250 figure represents the charter closures over the last 15 years and that things are undoubtedly getting better as the charter industry learns from its mistakes.  The answer to that would be no as 25 closed during 2013 alone and many of those closed while school was in session.

Other people might be saying it doesn’t matter if there have been starts and stops because the charter schools that remain are doing better than public schools. The answer to that is wrong again. First about 40% of charter schools don't receive grades being mysteriously exempt for one reason or another. Then the Stanford CREDO study, the gold standard of charter school studies says students in Florida’s charter schools lag behind their public school counterparts. Finally look at their graduation rates which by and large are atrocious.  

Even others might say none of above matters because it’s about charter and public schools coming together to serve the needs of the child whatever they are, which is the current charter school narrative. Other narratives however have included competition, innovation, and saving kids from failing public schools and which means when this kumbaya narrative loses steam they will switch to something else.

So what has Florida learned from all this lost money and lives disrupted? Absolutely nothing as it seeks to make the expansion of charter schools easier.

Last spring superintendent Vitti attended a conference about how to attract more charter schools to Florida and in the past year the Duval County school board despite a shoddy record of success approved a dozen or so more charter schools including two high schools within a couple miles of Forrest high school.
Then Florida’s legislature in the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee right now is discussing a bill that will take away local control from school districts, not that there is much left anyways, and will require the very friendly FLDOE to review charter school applications which will then tell districts if they pass muster or not.

Also friends we can’t count on our Department of Education to be either fair or balanced. Every day they send districts news articles to disseminate to their staffs and the other day one of the articles was a very misleading from the Jay P. Greene blog which said charter schools are worth the money. Some people like charter schools and the department of education hired most of them but where were the recent pieces from Salon or Forbes detailing all the abuses that happen in charter schools, the Tampa Times article detailing how the operators of a failed school in Wisconsin that took millions in tax payer dollars, simply packed up and moved to Florida to try again or the article in the Daily News about KIPP charters putting misbehaving kids in padded rooms. I assure you the FLDOE has an ample selection of news articles that report all the terrible things that are going on in charters but instead chose to go with a pro privatization blog to sell their point.

KIPP by the way is one of the types of charter schools the Florida legislature wants to attract more of to Florida and the proposed legislation wants to offer them before they operate a day in our state, high performing status, if it can show evidence it has done well in a different state. This is a big deal too because if a charter school gets high performing status they can be awarded a fifteen year contract (teachers only get one year for being high performing) and are allowed to expand with very little oversight. KIPP by the way can’t use its Florida school to get high performing status. Located in Jacksonville, during its first year of operation it was the lowest rated school in northeast Florida. During its second year it miraculously raised its grade to a B and despite not showing any sustained success was allowed to expand. What was their grade last year? It fell to a C but it was protected by Florida’s rule that says schools can drop only one letter grade a year. A rule by the way that was voted for by state board of education chair and Jacksonville resident Gary Chartrand, who invested a million dollars into the school and got his friends to invest nine million more.  

Another type of charter the Florida Legislature wants to bring to Florida is the Rocket Ship charter school. Rocket Ship charters are a chain based out of California which is presumably where the millions in management fees would go. Rocket Ship charters are known for their large classes, replacing teachers with computers, relying on Teach for America teachers because they are cheaper and hey who cares if they burn out and for eliminating the arts to have more time for test prep. They are also known for high test scores which is the only thing that the Florida legislature really cares about.

You know what gets me most of all, well tied with the fact numerous legislators vote or introduce charter friendly legislation that either they, friends or family members profit from because so many either own charters or are in bed with them, is they want to create all these schools they wouldn’t let their own children near. Chartrand, Jeb Bush and even president Obama are all charter school fans but they send or sent their kids to exclusive prep schools which had small classes a commitment to the arts and which don’t rely on standardized tests. KIPP, Rocket Ship and other charter schools are great for our kids but not for theirs.   

I get it though; despite all the evidence some of you don’t like government schools. I believe you have been poisoned by anti-union and liberal indoctrination rhetoric but at the end of the day the reason does not matter because you to should want charter schools to be done right too. You should want schools to be on solid financial footing with the lion’s share of funds being put into classrooms instead into exorbitant rents and management fees and you to should want local control instead of answering to management boards based out of New York, California or someplace even farther away. You should want charters that don’t see kids just a test scores so they can expand and get even more money.

 I also get it that some of you want choice even if the choice is a bad one because the choices parents had for years, home school, private school or to get involved in local politics or the school your child attends to make it better are no longer good enough. Instead you want the public to subsidize your choice. I always find it ironic that often the same people that often rail against welfare recipients are the same ones that call for vouchers and charter schools which at the end of the day is just another form of welfare. Unfortunately most of that money goes into the pockets of corporations that are more interested in the bottom line than educating our children.

I wonder though if some of you get the fact public schools are for all of us whether we have a child in public school or not. I wonder though if some of you get that a strong public education system benefits all of us, and that diverting what limited resources we have hurts us too. I wonder if some of you get that many of the problems we have in public education were either created by or exacerbated by the same people who now point their fingers and say what a disaster they are, many of whom are seeking to profit off of public education too.

We don’t need more charter schools and less regulation. History, and recent history at that, has shown us that has led to millions of dollars lost and thousands of kids having their educations kneecapped. What we need to do is pump the breaks on charter school expansion and to invest in our public schools with great leadership, appropriate resources and a curriculum that benefits our kids needs and that doesn’t rely so heavily on high stakes testing or basically the exact opposite of what we have been doing. What we need are fewer charter schools and with the ones that remain done right.

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