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Charters are the answer?

by Shani Adia Evans on Feb 16 2009 Posted in High schools
Photo: j_mills

Perspectives Charter School in Chicago was named a top small school in the country by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In his 2009 annual letter, Bill Gates lamented that many of the high schools his foundation funded did not improve student outcomes in a meaningful way. Although many of the schools did have higher attendance and graduation rates, they had not graduated more college-ready students. However, Gates wrote that a few successful non-selective schools serving mostly poor students had been effective in raising expectations and student achievement. These schools were successful in helping teachers be more effective and "almost all of these schools are charter schools that have significantly longer school days than other schools."

Based on these findings, the Gates foundation has "refined its strategy." In the name of innovation, he's has been advocating for mayoral control of schools and greater funding for, and fewer limits on charter schools.

Of course, some charter schools are great and some of them are not. I wonder if there are lessons Gates may have missed. After spending $2 billion, was nothing else learned about these successful schools other than the fact that they're charters and have longer days?

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Comments (6)

Submitted by Eric Braxton on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 13:08.

The reason that some charters work is that they have been given flexibility to hire staff that are on board with their mission and the ability to control their own budget, curriculum, and schedule. We should learn from this by creating zones of regular public schools that have those same abilities. Turning a few schools over to charters might be good for those schools, but it does nothing for the public school system as a whole. We need to look at what works and apply it to more of our schools.

Submitted by AChangeIsGonnaCome (not verified) on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 14:11.

When teachers unions first proposed charters schools (yes, it came from teachers, not the corportations or politicians that currently control them) the basic plan was to try new ideas at charters. If they worked the same idea would then be incorporated into ALL the public schools. Unfortunately politicians got involved and it became a money-generating proposition instead of real school reform.

It's interesting that Ackerman has SUDDENLY found money to reduce class size in the schools she's giving away to the charters and such. Last fall she sent out a letter to district teachers explaining how there was no money for reducing class size in the public schools. Funny how the money has arrived in time for the RENovation of the Philadelphia School District. It's a case of setting up public schools to fail by withholding aid and then breaking out the necessary aid for the takeover firms.

Submitted by WaldenKM (not verified) on Thu, 09/17/2009 - 22:18.

I find it extremely amazing how many public school teacher have the wrong perception of charters schools and what they do. Many of public school teachers seem to believe that charters schools are stealing money from the public schools, but in reality, charter schools get less money from the "state/school district" to educate the same kids the public schools are educating. Public schools believe that charters are receiving equal amont of funding that they are receiving, but in reality most charters must find grants etc. to keep them afloat, because they are receiving less dollars. Public schools also believe that charter schools get to pick and choose who they want, and that is also not true, by charter law they must take any student that applies to the school. The difference between charters and public schools is that charter schools can easily get rid of a student that is not following the rules and public schools have to jump through hoops. Most charter schools have the backing of their administration, who is not afraid to deal with unruly students and their parents, it will just not be tolerated. If you truly want the public schools to get better and keep good quality teachers, then the administration must stand up for their teachers, because all of the "good" teachers are now moving to charter schools unless they are in a school where they have the support of the administration.

Submitted by Beentheredonethat (not verified) on Thu, 09/17/2009 - 22:42.

This is more of the simplistic spiels we've been hearing from charter shils for years. First off, charters DO NOT TAKE EVERY CHILD that walks through their doors. They have a variety of ways of weeding out potential problems via lotteries, 14 page forms to be filled out, sibling rules, etc. The very nature of having to apply would eliminate many problem students as the parents (who are often the problem to begin with) can't be bothered to jump through the various hoops charters require. How do you explain charters in the heart of Philly that almost all lily white in a city that is 50% black? From teachers I've talked to that have left charters all left BECAUSE OF THE ADMINISTRATION. You have only to read the Inky's pieces on Chester Charter to see how the system has been abused (highest salaries for administrators while one of the lowest paying for teachers). Look at all the scandals that are arising now that the state is finally getting off its butt to investigate charters after a decade of the Hands Off policy thanks to certain politicians.

We've been asking administrators to stand up for their teachers for years, but Philly Public doesn't give a damn. As for the "good" teacher leaving for charters, that's a laugh. Every single teacher I know that has been fired from Philly public schools ened up at a charter. However, public school teachers that are still employed by the district can't even get a form letter saying "No Thanks" from charters. The charters know these teachers aren't desperate, unlike the fired ones, and won't put up with the administration's crap. A few charters might recognize that you have to pay good wages to keep good teachers, but most charters want a cheap hire that will endure alot of crap from both the kids and administrators.

Charters may not get as much money as the public schools, but are usually sponsored by corporate entities that want to derail public education and break down the teacher unions.

Submitted by Helen Gym on Fri, 09/18/2009 - 08:49.

Ease up friend. There's a lot of complexity to charters that don't quite deserve the broad characterizations mentioned above. There are 60+ charter schools in the school district of Philadelphia educating 30,000 -some students. Taken by itself, it would comprise the second largest school district in the state of Pennsylvania. And like anything of that size there are clearly quality charters, struggling charters and the majority which are not dramatically different in academic performance than your average Philadelphia public school.

It is simply not true that charters are "usually sponsored by corporate entities that want to derail public education and break down the teacher union." The voucher movement may have started that way but after 15+ years in Philly the charter movement is far more complex with lots of different motivations - a large number of charters are sponsored by independent community organizations for example.

It's clear that there's certainly interest in expanding the charter movement - though at one point under Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn there was interest in putting a mortorium on charter approvals while the District tried to review finances and assess needs and priorities in granting charters. Under Vallas charters grew exponentially; we'll see where their future lies under Dr. Ackerman. But, no matter our opinions, charters are a very real, very fixed part of Philadelphia's educational picture.

You raise some viable concerns about charters. And as we move forward and try to press on issues that matter - focusing on investments in district run schools, improving the financial relationship between charters and the district, establishing accountability and transparency for charters - it serves us better to keep in mind that the Philly charters are not one monolithic entity to be painted too rosily or derided and wholesale dismissed.

Submitted by jester (not verified) on Sat, 01/28/2012 - 02:03.

Charter schools are more successful because the rules imposed on charter schools are more flexible. However, if we really want to focus on the betterment of the educational system, all the key players must be involved. Students, parents, teachers and the government should work hand in hand to produce more college-ready graduates.

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