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tonysam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-07-10 11:25 AM
Original message
Just How Private are Charter Schools?
This from the Schools Matter blog


There's been a concerted effort by the pro-charter crowd to "educate" the public about the so-called publicness of charter schools. You'll regularly see "charters" referred to as "public charter schools" these days, and don't think this slight change in label was accidental. The variety, quality, and types of charter schools - from your blatantly for-profit EMOs like the Edison Schools, the assortment of no excuses charter chaingangs like KIPP, rather progressive versions like the Big Picture schools, "mom and pop" charters started and run by legitimate teachers, and a number of other different types - makes this field more complicated than it first appears. Given the variety of changes during the Bush years (and extending back towards Reagan), the whole privatization and for-profit thing has gotten a bad reputation (deservedly so), particularly given the whole Wall Street collapse '08, America's high poverty rate, and the vast disparities in income and access to resources. "Public charter schools" is precisely the kind of term designed to obscure or confuse. Make no mistake about it - there are some very real things about charter schools that make them private. They're not a full-blown version of privatization a la vouchers, but they share a heck of a lot with the nuclear option for public education.



And here is a prime example, mentioned on the blog, about how "public" these charters REALLY are:

Employees cannot use federal civil rights laws to sue the owners of Arizona charter schools, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The judges acknowledged that, under Arizona law, charter schools are "public schools." They are authorized to operate under state law and must comply with some - but not all - of the same requirements as traditional district schools.

But Judge Sandra Ikuta, writing for the unanimous court, said that does not make the school and its owners "state actors," something required to make a civil rights challenge. Instead, the court concluded, the school is a private company despite those state laws, at least for purposes of deciding who to hire, fire and, in this case, whether to provide a referral for a future job.

The ruling is a setback for Michael Caviness, who claims that actions by Horizon Community Learning Center employees prevented him from getting a job with the Mesa Unified School District. But attorney David Larkin, who represents Caviness, said it could have broader implications for those who work for charter schools.


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tonysam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-07-10 11:28 AM
Response to Original message
1. This guy would probably be blackballed anyway
if he worked as a public school teacher and looked for a job in a public school district given the same circumstances, but at least he would have legal recourse.
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FBaggins Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-07-10 12:10 PM
Response to Original message
2. Doesn't it vary from one area to another?
I thought one of the advantages of charter options was that they had the flexibility to try new things... so I would expect each experiment to be different. Some successful... some failures... some that were more "public" others more "private".

If this isn't the case, then I wonder what the point is?
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proud2BlibKansan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-07-10 03:54 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. It's a mind blower that federal civil rights laws wouldn't apply in a taxpayer funded institution
That would be the point. :)
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tonysam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-07-10 04:51 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. The teachers are "at-will" employees in these charter schools
Never mind taxpayers are footing the bill for these schools.
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proud2BlibKansan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-07-10 04:53 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. The hits just keep on coming
No union for these teachers and no civil rights protections either.

It's appalling.
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tonysam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-07-10 04:54 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. They're going to keep hitting
because people in the general public don't know what is really going on.
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noamnety Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jan-08-10 05:08 PM
Response to Reply #5
9. In some cases there is no union protection
Edited on Fri Jan-08-10 05:10 PM by noamnety
because the unions refuse to include them, not because the teachers don't want it, or because the charter or school board disallows it. There is a problem with unions opposing charters because they are "antiunion" when the unions themselves have prevented them from joining.

(But I do think it's BS that the federal employment rights don't apply. In my mind, that's NOT what charters are supposed to be about, and I don't see how that helps kids at all.)
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FBaggins Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-07-10 04:59 PM
Response to Reply #3
7. Sorry... my reply was primarily to the title.
Edited on Thu Jan-07-10 05:02 PM by FBaggins
My impression was that the degree of private-ness varied.

I'm also not sure that the story isn't an over-reaction. The 9th circuit (while not as reflexively leftist as the RW claims) is the most progressive bench at that level and the decision was unanimous.
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LWolf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jan-08-10 05:55 PM
Response to Reply #7
10. The degree of "privateness" can vary,
but the point is that they all have a degree of "privateness" at all, while promoting them as "public" and allowing them to spend public funds.
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noamnety Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 10:12 AM
Response to Reply #10
12. Most do, but I don't agree that all do.
Where I work there is no corporate affiliation at all. None. There are also no exemptions from oversight - all the financial data is open to the public, it's all handled by the intermediate school district which does every other public school's finances in the area, and we are audited the same as the district schools.

But most of the charters in our area do have corporate sponsorship.

We happen to function more like a magnet school in some ways (with a specific focus of the school), and more like a neighborhood school in other ways (enrollment regardless of ability, whereas a magnet often selects and rejects students based on ability). And in one way we are more open to the public than what we think of as a "public equal education school" - we have no residency requirements beyond living in the state.

I think that's in many ways the best of both worlds. Excluding kids based on income (where they can afford to live) is an indirect form of institutional racism, and it's definitely classist. Any school without open enrollment is guilty of that.

In some ways I don't believe it's the best for teachers. The state won't let us have tenure, which I believe is a bad decision. The teacher's union won't allow us to join (even though the state and board would), which leaves us without some protection. However, with the Race to the Top union-busting requirements, I'm not sure how long even union membership will be worth anything.

My ideal solution would be more noncorporate fully public schools of choice with no residency restrictions, which recognize that many students thrive in smaller schools - an option that is just not available to most students right now. For me, that's one of the biggest advantages of charters and magnets - the smaller size creates a sense of communitedy that's often missing in a school (outside of a sports-warrior mentality).

If some of the glaring flaws in large district schools were addressed (overall population size in a school and inequitable education opportunities), I don't think the true advocates of public education would be opting for other solutions. I think you would still see policies like NCLB and Race to the Top trying to destroy the system, I view those as the spawn of satan, and I can tell you they are having the same effect on our charter as any other public school in the area. For us, the decision to send my kid to a charter came from having three choices:

1) The large neighborhood school, which was not meeting her academic needs,
2) a small magnet run by district, which had entrance exams (that she passed), and a focus on math and science, or
3) a small charter with a focus on the arts.

She opted for the third purely because its mission met her interests, but if there had been a district-run magnet with the same focus, we would have opted for that.
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LWolf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 11:01 AM
Response to Reply #12
13. There doesn't have to be corporate sponsorship or affiliation to be private.
A school run by admins that were not hired or appointed by districts, taught by teachers that were not hired by the district and are not part of the local bargaining unit...that is also a degree of private.

I worked for two district schools that had no attendance zones, but they weren't charter schools. They were created and controlled by the district they taught in. There was no charter, we were part of the local union, and we were called "schools of choice." I wonder what the difference is for your school? Do you have a charter? Is there a reason your local district wouldn't, themselves, support a "school of choice" without it? It sounds like you'd be better off without the charter. You'd have union support, for as long as it's worth anything.

If every school in every district was a "school of choice," we could shut down the charter movement, which is designed to privatize schools. We don't really need them to innovate, to customize, or to enjoy the benefits of a charter school. We just need more local control, less standardization, more flexibility. Until NCLB, with the focus on standardized test scores, and the list of negative actions that happen when a school doesn't make AYP, is gone, I don't see that happening. Under this administration, NCLB is a tool to create more charter schools...more privatization.

I also prefer small districts. I started in a small district in the early 80s; 6 schools. It grew from that original 6 to 28 before I left 5 years ago. When it was small, it was friendly, flexible, and creative about getting things done that served the needs of students and of individual school sites. The bigger it got, the more bureaucratic, the more authoritarian, the more ineffective it became. My current district is small, and I'm enjoying that friendly atmosphere, flexibility, and mutual respect and collaboration between the district and school sites.

I'd also like to see schools smaller, for the same reasons.

I'm all for families having multiple options in order to choose schools that best fit their child's needs; I'd just like them all to be fully public. Public schools don't HAVE to be rigidly standardized. It's current legislation and politics that keep them that way.


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tonysam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 11:17 AM
Response to Reply #13
15. Parents have always been able to get variances anyway
space permitting, of course.

But the idea that all parents should pick any old school regardless of where they live is pure insanity. You have space issues, busing issues, and so forth.
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LWolf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 03:40 PM
Response to Reply #15
18. Thats why we don't see more choice within districts.
Transportation is cost prohibitive.

If Obama/Duncan really wanted to see flexibility within the system, they wouldn't be pushing charters. They'd fund transportation costs for public school choice.

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noamnety Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 12:00 PM
Response to Reply #13
16. I agree with most of your post
"If every school in every district was a "school of choice," we could shut down the charter movement,"

I'd be fine with that. I think the charters exist because they fill a vacuum, and if the public schools were allowed to fill that vacuum themselves, we'd all be better off.

"Do you have a charter? Is there a reason your local district wouldn't, themselves, support a "school of choice" without it? It sounds like you'd be better off without the charter. "

We have a charter, yes. We wouldn't be better off without it exactly - we just wouldn't have the school without it. Just clarifying my use of the word "district" here because that varies by state. Our charter school is its own unique district with itself as its one school, and like the other larger multi-school districts, we fall under the larger "intermediate school district" which is run by the county. That ISD is the one that handles our finances and audits us, like they do all the other districts they manage in the county. Our teachers are hired by our district. Every teacher on our staff has their certification. We get hammered by the same (sucky) NCLB laws as every other public school.

If we could exist without the "charter" these would be the differences:

1. The county would give priority to students living in our (mainly white) suburb.
2. The inner city kids (mainly black) would only be allowed to attend if the suburban kids hadn't opted to take all the slots.

(Racism and classism would play a huge roll in enrollment, whereas currently we are about 50/50 suburban and city students, 50-50 white and black.)

3. The unions would be willing to represent us. That's an issue with unions, not with state or district laws. The district would actually allow us even to join the UAW, we were looking into that at one point.
4. The state would allow us to have tenure. That would obviously be appreciated. When our first group of teachers hit tenure, we had a little ceremony for them - and then a while later an email went out to all the staff saying oops, our bad, we didn't realize we weren't allowed to give that to you, nevermind."

-------
Where I'm confused or don't think I agree with your post - the implication that it's only a public entity if you are part of a local bargaining unit. Bargaining unit would be nice, but it's not criteria for excluding us as a public organization or claiming we are private. I was never part of a bargaining unit as a SGT, but I sure the heck was a public employee. Likewise, many private companies have union representation.
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LWolf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 03:47 PM
Response to Reply #16
19. Only a public entity if you are under the umbrella of a local district.
By "under the umbrella," I don't mean "receiving some services from." I mean organized by, and overseen (all usual oversights) by.

We also have schools run by our county district, open to all students in the region who qualify (they are for students with mental health issues.) They aren't charters, though.

There is no rule that says a local district school has to use neighborhood boundaries. That's a district call. At this point in time, if districts aren't willing to allow more choice within the district, it's probably due to economic concerns, and with the standardization imposed by those "improvement plans" when at least one school in the district doesn't make AYP.
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noamnety Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 04:01 PM
Response to Reply #19
20. We do have that.
Edited on Sat Jan-09-10 04:02 PM by noamnety
"organized by, and overseen (all usual oversights) by."

I believe a residential district does have to give first priority to students who live in their district. The ideal is that everyone can get served locally. The reality is that it gives privileged students whose families can afford bigger nicer houses access to better education, and even to peers who have better academic skills, which in turn raises theirs.

That's one of those ironies - there's the sense that some children (gifted, perhaps, or just not being served by their school properly) have a moral obligation to stay in a less than ideal school for the greater good. But white suburban folks seem less likely to make the argument that their kids should have a moral obligation to trade places with an inner city kid, should get bussed to a failing school, for the greater good. Brain drain is unacceptable when a kid moves from the inner city to a charter because of educational opportunities, but it's completely unchallenged if that brain drain happens (and it does, on a much wider scale) because the family can afford to move to a better neighborhood.
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LWolf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 06:22 PM
Response to Reply #20
21. All districts have a process for
inter, and intra, district transfers. That's not the same thing as not setting boundaries for a school and allowing each school a particular focus (like a magnet.)
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tonysam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 11:10 AM
Response to Reply #12
14. Yeah, the school district does the dirty work of "oversight." Same in Nevada.
Edited on Sat Jan-09-10 11:13 AM by tonysam
Charter schools don't have a school board which is accountable to the voters. That's the problem right there. They are NOT true public schools.

No, there should be NO "competition" nonsense of parents "picking" whatever school they want--ALL schools should be funded equally. It HAS to be this way because you can't have a couple of hundred students at one school and a couple of thousand at another. You can't have underutilized buildings in one school and overcrowding in another.

By the way, "tenure" doesn't protect teachers anyway; it protects SCHOOL DISTRICTS from skyrocketing wrongful termination lawsuits because "tenure" puts a brake on ADMINISTRATORS to not put through frivolous or vindictive terminations. Of course, they still happen, as yours truly was victim of one such frivolous and vindictive act, and school districts waste piles of taxpayer money defending these negligent or unethical principals. Of course, teachers almost never "win" the sham hearings and have to sue.

The lie put forward by school districts and right-wing commentators that "tenure" is "lifetime employment" has been bought by millions of people. But if tenure is abolished, WATCH the lawsuits go through the roof.

In private sector work where it is "at-will," most employers are hesitant to fire workers for fear of lawsuits and going bankrupt. School districts don't care about lawsuits because the taxpayers are footing the bill.
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noamnety Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 12:14 PM
Response to Reply #14
17. I disagree on several key points in your post
Equitable funding should be a requirement within our system, but that's not the system we have. We should keep fighting for it - but the reality is we don't have it, or anything close to it. I'm specifically using equitable, not equal, because some schools have decades of well funded programs behind them while others have decades of falling behind, and equal funding from this point forward does not result in equitable programs, not when one school has to spend their dollars trying to hold together basic maintenance disasters. Equitable funding would require that historically underfunded schools get more per-pupil funding until the schools are at the same level, but the power distribution in this country will never allow that to happen.

Even if funding were equitable, I strongly think parents should be able to pick the best environment for their child. Your post implies that what's best for one child in a district is best for all children in a district. I on the other hand believe that some thrive in a larger school while others thrive in a smaller school - just like some people thrive in cities and others thrive in rural settings. There is no one ideal school setting that is ideal for every student - and equal/equitable funding isn't going to change that. One size fits all approaches tend to serve the middle of the bell curve moderately well, while ignoring the real needs of the people at either extreme. That could be an academic bell curve, or one based on social skills, or personality traits - I'm not tying it to "ability" in a standardized test kind of way. It's just a simple thing, that there is no one environment that is best for ALL people, not for children, not for adults. That's why we don't all live in identically designed houses with identical plots of land, identical landscaping, and all listen to top 40 pop music on the radio and all dress the same.

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alp227 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jan-08-10 02:51 PM
Response to Original message
8. The "liberal" 9th Circuit court (which is in San Francisco) ruled that way?
Way to allow abuse of our taxpayer dollars!
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FBaggins Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-09-10 09:41 AM
Response to Reply #8
11. Unanimously
Which really doesn't call in to question their progressive credentials, it
means that opponents either don't understand the ruling or the law is overwhelmingly clear.

Political leanings of judges certainly influences their rulings (or more properly, their worldview colors both their poliics and their judicial philosophy), but sometimes the law is too clear to play games with. Sometimes you just have to say " if this is wrong, then someone needs to change the law... But I can't do that from this chair"
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