Friday, January 20, 2006

Charters and School Closures

At 10:30 p.m. last night the board meeting of San Francisco Unified was still going strong, with parents, teachers, and students essentially imploring the board to keep their community schools open, to avoid consolidation and shut-downs. Uh, not so much. Read about what schools got hit here: And then go back and read how the whole story developed -- it's an excellent blog.

This is one of the logical results of combining 1) under-enrolled urban school districts and 2) a lemming-like rush to institute school "choice" by opening as many charter schools as fast as you possibly can. One did not need to possess Cassandra-like foresight to see this coming down the road, nor the same situation playing itself out yearly in the Oakland Unified School District. Fewer kids + more schools = closed schools. Interesting that more "choice" for some resulted in less "choice" for others. Interesting that your ability to exercise your "choice" in San Francisco was negatively correlated with being African-American and/or Latino.

My district has (almost shockingly) avoided this same problem (for now). In rejecting proposals to open more schools in our under-enrolled urban district, we have averted the kind of nightmare that plagues San Francisco. (How's the learning and teaching been going lately, with all this hanging over their heads?) Yet, the San Jose Mercury News -- and, I assume, one particular editor possessed of a near-religious ideological support of charter schools -- has seen to bash this (remarkably) responsible and far-sighted decision.

Some factual errors:
"The highest-performing school by far in the Alum Rock Unified Elementary district is KIPP Heartwood, a 2-year-old charter school."
They are not part of this District. That school is an independent charter that happens to be located in the geographic area served by our District. While a majority (probably) of students that attend this school would have attended District schools, it also admits students from other Districts, indescriminately.

"The teachers union hates charters, which it perceives as siphoning money for pay raises."
The union opposes charters out of its professional obligation to protect the working conditions of all members and maintain its ability to collectively bargain -- to assign personal/emotional motives to a multi-layered organization made up of many hundreds of diverse personalities and experiences is probably just a bit of a reach. Moreoever, the opposition does not derive from the kind of simple greed implied here. I have never heard that or anything like it during my time as a Union Rep, and indeed, this is a fairly illogicaly claim, based on the way funds are earmarked and distributed.

"And some in Alum Rock simply have chips on their shoulders. They're sick of hearing comparisons: ``KIPP did this and KIPP did that.' "
This is in quotes, so I assume it is a direct quote from an individual employed in some capacity by Alum Rock, and yet there is no attribution. This is inflammatory, snide, and potentially wrong. If you quote, you attribute. Personally, I will say I am sick of hearing what KIPP did only because the conversation rarely gets around to how we will bring those conditions to all students. Their success does not threaten me because it is 1) limited; 2) dependent upon a certain amount of sleight-of-hand; 3) a good thing for those kids and their families; 4) we do more with less.

The editorial "board" that produced this work cites ed code in its declaration that charter schools ought to be a part of the educational landscape in California, implying the District should adhere more closely to all legal principles. Then there's this: "The result was a 20-page rationale for rejection that was handed to RAICES two days before the trustees voted, with neither time nor an invitation to respond." The rationale for rejection was given with the legally defined time frame, in compliance with the ed code and applicable legal statutes, but suddenly that's not good enough. The position of the editorial "board" is that the District ought to act in strict accordance to the law when it is in the interest of charter schools, but should act in a "law-plus" manner, going beyond their legally outlined responsibilities, when it is in the interest of charter schools. Okay, got it.

And finally:
"But none of these is a valid reason to deny RAICES a charter and parents a quality choice. And all are secondary to what's best for Alum Rock's kids."

This editorial "board" is correct; under the straw man they created nothing is valid. Viewing the situation with an intellectually honest disposition however, you find a myriad of reasons to deny this petition:
1) Under-enrollment and more school openings -- like Jose Cuervo and 2% milk -- do not mix.
2) Facilities crunch (which doesn't seem to fit in with 1. above, but does).
3) Refusal/ inability of charter schools to bring reform to the most needy in our District (newcomers, chronic CELDT-3s, SpEd, kids with no/ negative parental involvement, kids with high suspension and/or absentee rates).
4) Gross failure of 2 out of 3 charter/small schools (with one abstention for reserved judgment)
5) Desire to bring reform to 13,000 kids in our district, not 1,300.


Blogger pseudostoops said...

In trying to explain why I have serious reservations about charter schools to a friend from law school the other day, I finally gave up, sighed, and just sent him the link to room d2. True story.

11:07 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Where I hit the wall is with people who have a literal sexual-romantic love of so-called "free market" principles, as if the "victory" over communist Soviet Union somehow compensates for the absolute failure of market capitalism on a broad scale. I want to ask if they've seen an inner city, or Applachia, or the gulf-coast, or your choice of African nation, or what the average Russian's life is like now, but of course they haven't. But... the free market rulz!

11:16 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Since I'm the resident charter critic on the San Francisco Schools blog, tmao, we are naturally echoing each other -- though your experience is closer-up than mine. I'm an SFUSD parent but I can't say my workplace shares a site with KIPP!

I noted a head-spinning factoid the other day. Richard Barth, former Edison Schools executive, is now head of KIPP. (Edison Schools is the once-high-flying for-profit school management firm, now treated by its former cheerleaders like an embarrassing odor in the room. It was beloved by the free-market right.) AND Barth is married to Teach for America founder/honcho Wendy Kopp.

Things are getting weird.

Also, I should add that I was an editor at the Mercury News from 1982-'96. I never worked in the op-ed world, so I am not clear who there is behind the charter gushfest. Joanne Jacobs WAS a strong voice there, but she has gone off to do her own thing.

I can tell you that a few years ago, Edison Schools put out a press release describing its San Francisco school as "a successful school in a failing district." At the time, Edison Charter Academy ranked 62nd of 75 SFUSD elementary schools by API, and it fell to 75th of 75 while Edison was still making that claim. The Mercury News used that line in a "voice of the newspaper" editorial and did not correct itself when I e-mailed pointing out Edison's actual ranking among SFUSD schools by API. I THOUGHT we had higher ethical/accuracy standards than that when I was at the Merc, but maybe I was oblivious.

1:38 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Caroline, I saw that thing about the marriage of Edison and KIPP! I think it speaks ill of the direction KIPP is heading. Everything else aside, those kids do achieve (From what I've seen, I think a huge majority of them would achieve in a public school as well, but...) The KIPP-TFA marriage has long been in effect. There's something kind of... off, I guess, about the quasi-official recruting TFA does for KIPP.

As for the editorial writer of the Mercury News, and I'm connecting a few dots, I've met him twice and been interviewed for a forthcoming article-torial on the TFA experience in my District. I could be wrong, of course, but the pieces seem to fit.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

You have more experience with this, but I see the KIPP success (to whatever degree it exists) as a situation where these schools serve a very specific subset. These are low-achieving kids whose parents are motivated enough to seek out an option, and who WHEN REQUIRED TO are willing and able to meet KIPP's demands -- and kids who do the same on their end.

In my experience as a parent in diverse urban schools, there are many kids who don't have those parents (or who don't have parents), and they would never, ever get near a KIPP school. So when the school skims off that particular subset, it works pretty well. Same with Joanne Jacobs' topic, Downtown College Prep.

It interests me that some of these schools, especially DCP, are designed to be purely segregated schools, serving one subset of one demographic. Maybe that's what works, but it certainly flies in the face of other philosophies about equity.

I'm dying to know who the editorial writer is in case it's someone I know, but I guess there's no point.

Re Barth, maybe he saw the light and decided to get an honest job, though I'm still reserving judgment on KIPP? It doesn't seem possible to work for Edison without understanding that it's a total scam.

4:53 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Caroline, you are right, of course. Those who peer in from far away distances see the labels of low-SES, Black, Latino, and see a discrete block of low-achievement that admits of no diversity. They reveal their own prejudices this way, namely the assumption that any student fitting these categories is, by definition, difficult to educate. It is false, and yet drives much of the P.R. machine.

4:30 PM  
Blogger pseudostoops said...

Wait wait wait. Wendy Kopp and KIPP man are married? What? That totally validates all the weird feelings I've had about TFA advertising for KIPP.


3:35 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Yeah, and KIPP man used to be Edison man.

6:33 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Before any of this went any further I just want to give a shout-out to the intern the TFA-national office has monitoring this blog.

Sup dude!

Tell everybody that everything is fine.

8:05 PM  

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