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I-1240: An essential escape route from failing schools

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 11, 2012 at 7:02 pm with 3 Comments »
September 11, 2012 4:07 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

We’ll let Initiative 1240 speak for itself.

The measure would authorize the creation of up to 40 charter schools, public schools freed from many bureaucratic regulations. They are commonly launched and governed by teachers and parents who believe their local schools are failing their students.

If enacted in November, the initiative would:

•  Give priority to charter organizers who want to serve disadvantaged children and students trapped in poorly performing traditional schools.

•  Require that charter schools comply with all state and federal nondiscrimination laws.

•  Allow them to specialize in teaching students at risk of academic failure, including children with disabilities or severe behavioral problems.

• Forbid any religious influence in admissions, hiring or instruction.

• Forbid them from charging tuition.

• Require that they be open to all students, with seats filled by lottery if demand exceeds capacity.

• Forbid for-profit companies from running them.

• Require that their teachers meet the same certification standards as their counterparts in traditional schools.

• Require them to submit to annual performance reviews.

• Hold them to the same academic standards and student performance assessments as other public schools.

• Require that they be approved either by the local school district or by a new state charter school commission. The second option is essential; a district with failing schools may be especially resistant to escape routes.

Now for the opposing arguments. Two are screwy:

Charters would divert money from public schools. Nonsense – by definition, charters are public schools.

Charter schools are a conspiracy of Bill Gates and other billionaires. Let’s see: When Gates and other philanthropists fight polio or expand immunization, they are humanitarians. When they support education reforms, they are suddenly villains.

The one objection with a kernel of truth is that the overall record of charter schools in other states has been uneven.

States without the safeguards of I-1240 – especially the annual performance reviews and enforcement of standards – have seen flaky people start flaky schools. States with those safeguards have done better.

Charter schools are not an end in themselves; strong school districts don’t need them. But many charter schools have outperformed traditional schools in educating poor and disadvantaged children, especially in urban districts.

Students with access to fine public schools are fortunate. But not every public school is above average, and the rules shouldn’t be tailored for the most fortunate students.

Struggling children in mediocre schools deserve alternatives. I-1240 would give them one.

Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. tacomanorske says:

    Just a few corrections TNT. I will let initiative 1240 speak for itself:

    1) TNT “The measure would authorize the creation of up to 40 charter schools, public schools freed from many bureaucratic regulations. They are commonly launched and governed by teachers and parents who believe their local schools are failing their students.”

    Actually it would create two types of charter schools. Section 213, pages 17-20

    One is a start-up, meaning it’s a new school that would solicit for students. It might locate in an unused school building or co-located with an existing school if there is space. It could be in leased space from another public building or private building. There could be an application form that parents must fill out to enroll their child in a charter school (rather than simply enrolling a student as you do for a traditional school).

    The other is a conversion charter that uses what is called a trigger petition. A charter group with an approved application can go to ANY existing school, circulate a petition to either parents OR teachers, and if a majority of either group signs it, the charter takes over that existing school, building and all.

    For example, say your neighborhood elementary school has 18 teachers and they are convinced by a charter applicant to sign a petition. With just 10 signatures, the charter flips the school and the entire community changes.

    Alarmingly, here is no limit to the number of schools that can be converted, and a school does not have to be failing to be converted.

    2) TNT “Give priority to charter organizers who want to serve disadvantaged children and students trapped in poorly performing traditional schools.” “Allow them to specialize in teaching students at risk of academic failure, including children with disabilities or severe behavioral problems.”

    That’s what voters are being told but this initiative has NO set-aside spaces for charter schools for those kids. The initiative would allow an authorizer to give “preference” to a charter application that would serve those students but then doesn’t say how. Section 214, pages 20-21

    And, if there are more than eight approved charter applications, they ALL go into a lottery without any preference to whom they serve. There really is no way of knowing what kind of charters we might get. Section 215, page 22.

    3) TNT “Require that charter schools comply with all state and federal nondiscrimination laws. ” “Require that they be open to all students, with seats filled by lottery if demand exceeds capacity. ”

    Charter Schools are under the same federal laws to serve all children including English Language Learners (ELL), Special Education and homeless students. Unfortunately, charters are able to “counsel out” many of those students; statistics show that charters underserve those groups. (Government Accountability Office report, June 2012).
    Charters can be as big or small as the charter chooses their enrollment to be. If a child leaves, they don’t have to fill that space even if another child wants it (unlike traditional schools).

    4) TNT “Forbid for-profit companies from running them.” 

    That’s tricky because the initiative would allow a charter to contract out many services to other companies/corporations that are FOR-PROFIT including operations and educational instructional services. They can also contract out management but only to another non-profit corporation. Section 203, page 6.

    5) TNT ” Require that their teachers meet the same certification standards as their counterparts in traditional schools. Require them to submit to annual performance reviews. Hold them to the same academic standards and student performance assessments as other public schools.”

    Scandals galore here. Charter schools all over the country have been caught cheating to increase student test scores. The scandal around Crescendo charter school in L.A. shows clearly why teachers need due process. The founder of the school was coercing teachers to help students cheat on the tests. This was done in a subtle way so that many of the new, inexperienced teachers did not even realize they were doing anything wrong. Teachers who did speak out were fired. It took several years to close that school. The experiences of the 42 states that have charters have shown that charter schools are difficult to close.

    7)” Require that they be approved either by the local school district, or by a new state charter school commission.”

    The charter school commission is a 9-member group of appointees: the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate each select 3 members. There can only be five members of one political party on the Commission. One member must be a Washington State public school parent. Each serves a 4-year term. Section 208, pages 10-12 states:

    All members shall have demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.
    This rule means a well-qualified retired educator or administrator without a real position on charters would be passed over for membership on the Commission for someone who has no education background but believes in charters. Objectivity would not seem to be a qualification for being on the Charter Commission.

    8) “Now for the opposing arguments. Two are screwy:Charters would divert money from public schools. Nonsense – by definition, charters are public schools.”

    Our public schools are already underfunded. This initiative would just create more underfunded schools. By offering charter schools for a minority of students this will mean fewer options for students remaining in traditional public schools because sharing limited public funds will reduce electives, sports and other extracurricular programs that provide choices to all students. Also, if students leave a public school to attend a charter school, the public school building will still have expenses that will need to be paid, but less money to cover them. Also there will be a whole new expensive bureaucracy that will need to be created to oversee all of these different charter schools.

    9)” Charter schools are a conspiracy of Bill Gates and other billionaires. Let’s see: When Gates and other philanthropists fight polio or expand immunization, they are humanitarians. When they support education reforms, they are suddenly villains.”

    Now here is my two cents: Saying I oppose initiative 1240 does not mean I think the public school system is adequate. It needs massive revitalization, and the steps needed to do this are not a secret. We just need to look at how the rich elite set up their schools. They do it by increasing funding, ensuring small class sizes, and allowing experienced teachers to use innovative teaching methods. And yet they argue that a high-stakes testing system, and replacing quality teachers by inexperienced students straight out of graduate school is what we need. If it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for us, too – and our public school system. If billionaires like Bill Gates want to play with new experimental schools, they should do it with their own money, not with our public funds.

  2. mahinaokeiki says:

    No Child Left Behind gave us the method to determine what a failing school is. It gave us the ‘label’ and it provided a means to turn nearly all of our public schools into ‘failures.’ It’s all manufactured using a flawed evaluation tool. The goal was not to help schools do better. If it had been meant to improve schools, the process would have provided support and additional resources. Instead, it was a means to shut down our schools and “evaluate out” teachers who have been working harder than ever to educate students. In Tacoma, many of our students are living in poverty, have socioeconomic challenges at home, and have poor attendance records. Imagine teachers being held accountable for test scores of students who rarely show up for class. There is no essential route from failing schools because “failing” is a label given to even some of the most successful schools in our state. Options exist: private schools and home schooling. Our moral and ethical obligation is to focus on improving public schools for all children, not get caught up in providing better opportunities for some, but not all. Unless, of course, you like the “separate and unequal” label better.

  3. peacestarts says:

    There is clearly a tie between the “back-door charter schools” and the Charter School initiative I-1240. That tie is a line that goes directly to Bill Gates.

    In April of 2011 the Washington State Legislature passed 2 bills to create “Innovation Schools”.

    HB 1521: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2011-12/Pdf/Bills/House%20Passed%20Legislature/1521.PL.pdf

    And E2S HB 1546: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2011-12/Pdf/Bills/House%20Passed%20Legislature/1546-S2.PL.pdf

    The Yes on I-1240 website says (on the FAQ Page):
    “Public charter schools are subject to the same academic standards as traditional public schools and hold teachers to the same certification requirements as other public schools do.

    Public charter schools, however, are free from many other regulations, so they have more flexibility to set curriculum and budgets, hire and fire teachers and staff, and offer more customized learning experiences for students. Most other states have public charter schools, but they are not yet allowed under Washington’s current state law.”

    But wait a second, “not yet allowed under Washington’s current state law”, that is not accurate. Schools can apply for waivers to regulations such as curriculum, budgets, Teacher’s Union contracts (for hiring and firing), and customized learning experiences under the Innovation School’s bill, which is state law. – Specifically look at Sections 4, 5, 8, & 9 of E2S HB 1546.

    Since the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is funding the study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy of these new Innovation Schools, see: http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/current.asp?projid=130 You’d think they would know this.

    So what is the REAL agenda?

    E2S HB 1546 still calls for public oversight and review of these Innovation Schools and Innovation Zones, see sections 6 & 7 of E2S HB 1546. This is the glaring difference between current state law and the proposed charter school initiative. I’m going to call a spade a spade; I-1240 does not provide new flexibility for schools, rather it removes the onerous public oversight of the current law.

    The Yes on I-1240 campaign is pushing that current law does not allow for the “flexibility” that the charter schools initiative would provide… the only additional flexibility is for the private charter companies that come in and run the schools with public money to do so without public oversight.

    I’m Not Charter Fooled

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