Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dispelling the myths of charter schools

Someone in my own small town of Doylestown, Ohio had the idea that they might want to start a little charter school.  The Gilcrest Wellness Center already houses a daycare center, a senior daycare facility, a fitness center, and a rehabilitation center.  The planning commission recently approved a conditional permit (pending a detailed site plan) for 2-3 modular units with two classrooms per unit.  Oh my!

This prompted the Chippewa School Board, the Chippewa Education Association, and even the local Catholic school, Saints Peter and Paul, to move swiftly and decisively to eradicate this menace to our bucolic way of life. Within days, the village council had 25 letters of opposition to the dreaded mini-charter school that threatened to suck the life out of our public and private schools.  

The Chippewa School board's unanimous letter to Council President Anthony Lindeman said the school would, "divert local taxes to a for-profit company," and that charter schools "are not held to the same standards as public schools and often lack highly qualified teaching personnel."

The Chippewa Education Association's (CEA) letter said,
"We understand that some communities need to develop charter schools to offer an alternative to a failing system. However, Chippewa Local is not failing....This is a time for the community to rally its resources around what is best for our children, not take them away...We are also concerned that our children may not receive instruction from someone highly qualified...There are too many unanswered questions for this school to be effective."
[for an explanation of how little it takes for a school to receive an "Excellent" rating see my previous blog post]

These are common concerns and arguments against charter schools.  Unfortunately, they're not factual.  Let's look at them one by one.  

First, let's get a couple terms right.  In Ohio,  charter schools are legally called "community schools."  And they are public schools.  The state pays for them, the students take state-mandated tests and the state has the authority to close them if they fail. 

The first assertion is that they "divert local taxes to a for-profit company." The fact is that community schools receive their funding from the state through the per-pupil foundation allocation.  Many also receive funding through grants and other government and private sources.  The formula amount for FY 2010 was $5718 per pupil.  Some students came with additional funding due to IEP's, special education designation, poverty-based assistance, etc.   There is no funding formula or per pupil funding that "diverts local taxes to a for-profit company." That statement by the Chippewa Board is simply untrue. Surely Superintendent Higgins, who has been a very outspoken critic of state budget cuts and lack of local funding, is aware of the flow of local dollars and is also aware that local tax dollars are not sent to charter schools. 

The only possible "local taxes" that could be used on behalf of community school students would be transportation costs if the parents insist that their children be transported to the new school at district expense, as is their right.  Of course, if the child decides to attend a community school or private school 29 minutes away from Doylestown, the district must also pay for that transportation, so that's probably not the expense the school board is complaining about here, since choosing a community school in Doyestown over an out of town school might save the district money. 

The second allegation is that community schools "are not held to the same standards as public schools and often lack highly qualified teaching personnel." Wrong and wrong again.

All Ohio certification and licensing requirements do apply to community schools, with the exception that teachers may teach outside their areas of certification.  Teachers must be highly qualified. 

As for the standards, community schools are required to follow the Individuals with Disabilities Act, No Child Left Behind, Ohio Core graduation requirements, and students take all state-required assessments.  Community schools are identified for improvement based upon performance and required to participate in the Ohio Improvement Process, just like every other public school in Ohio.  They are subject to closure criteria based upon ratings of performance. 

The main difference is that the teachers have more freedom in curriculum development and implementation. 

The letter from the Chippewa Education Association (the union) said, "This is a time for the community to rally its resources around what is best for our children, not take them away." [emphasis added] 

This is the biggest myth of all - that teachers, school personnel, bureaucrats, government officials, that anyone but the parents know what is best for their own personal children.  In fact, this is the very reason that many families choose alternative forms of education, including homeschooling, because they want want to be the ones influencing and making decisions for their children.  

I have no doubt that the Chippewa School Board and the CEA believe that they are providing an education far superior to anything a community school could ever provide. And perhaps they are.  But you don't prove that by bullying the little competitor out of town and shouting down any voices with alternatives ideas.  We live in an exciting time when education is exploding in a hundred different directions across many platforms.  We should encourage expansion rather than limitation in the best interest of the children and the community.  This isn't about building kingdoms, it's about the building kids. 


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have a problem with Doylestown having a Charter School. I do have a problem with the business that is running it. They have proven to be poor business people as they have ignored requests from the city to comply with zoning regulations of which have been ignored. I don't believe the owners are very responsible. (Not going to educate my children.)

Paula said...

Thanks for your comment.

First, let me say clearly that I believe everyone needs to follow the rules. No one gets a pass on those.

That said, I do have to question the timing of the zoning violations. I've lived here since 1999 and I don't ever remember such a high-profile zoning case in Doylestown, let alone such a fuss about some shrubs. Is that the only business in town with zoning violations? I hope the Village Council is treating every business in town the same and everyone has equal protection under the law.

I understand completely if you don't trust the owners of the charter school to educate your children. That is your right. Clearly others feel differently, and that is the beauty of school choice.

I believe that in the vast majority of cases, parents know what is best for their own children. For many families, the public schools will be the best choice. Other families choose private schools or homeschooling. For some, charter schools will be the best choice.

Just like we don't force parent to dress all children alike or feed them all the same diet, we shouldn't force them to be educated the same way. One size does not fit all in education.

Clearly, there are families who feel Annette's school is the best fit for their children. We should trust that they know what's best for their own children. I'm sure you know what's best for yours, too :)

Anonymous said...

My child goes to this school, and I have nver seen a smile so big on her face, GOING to school. She has blossomed and become so focused on actual work, not being send home with a printed sheet from a book for her homework. She has been raised into Grade 3 reading class and her Math, which we were told she was struggling with, has been assessed, and there is absolutely no issue with it. Unfortunately, the only issue Chippewa schools have with our Charter School is the fact that they will loose money. WOW. And I thought they were more interested in our Childrens Education. This school is here to stay, like every parent in the Country, we have the right to choose where our children go to school, which we have done. My child is on the computer or I pod EVERY day, not some computer education once every few weeks, when the teacher can get hold of the computer cart. My child will be learning 3 languages by 5th Grade. This school is forward thinking and state of the art. Chippewa should be embracing this school, as at the present time, after Grade 8, the High School will be reaping the benefits of their education, unless the Charter School decides to go through High School.

Paula said...

I am sympathetic to the fact that the Chippewa schools are having financial difficulties. It's a very real problem. However,individual children should not be expected to bear the brunt of that problem by remaining in a situation where educational needs are not being met. If there is somewhere that can be done more effectively, they have the right to go elsewhere.

Little children don't have some responsibility to the community to keep the public schools afloat financially at the expense of their own education. It's unfair of the Chippewa schools to ask them to do that.

And again, I want to say that everyone, on both sides of this debate needs to follow the rules - all the I's need to be dotted and the T's crossed. There are a lot of regulations involved in starting a charter school and there is a lot of burdensome paperwork required. It's an occupational hazard that shouldn't be taken lightly.

And as I said previously, our community should not be targeting this school (or any business) for excessive scrutiny simply because the Chippewa schools or CEA is feeling the heat of competition.

Anonymous said...

Putting this school in is just another way for them to pocket more cash. They don't care about the community, regardless of the students. They will try and cut corners like they did before. I would never send my kids to a school that they are running. Rather have my kids go to a school that has been around longer and known longer. They have violated so many rules already why wouldn't they keep violating them. Maybe Paula you should get actually get insiders opinions instead of just being friends with the owners to make them look like they are great people.

Paula said...

Anonymous #3: Actually, I am not "friends with the owners." I have spoken to Annette a couple times on the phone. Other than that, I have only read about the school in the Daily Record and The Post.

I support the expansion of charter schools for one reason: I believe in parental choice in education. Period. I trust parents to know what is best for their children. If the charter school is providing a lousy education and the parents and children are receiving a bad "product," the parents are smart enough to remove their children and send them somewhere else and the school will close for lack of customers.

For what it's worth, does it really matter what the owners' motives are as long as the parents are happy with the education their children are receiving? For the sake of argument, lets say the motive is pure, unadulterated greed. Is that any worse than a teacher in a public school whose motivation is a salary and benefits?

Anonymous said...

They can barely run the company that they have now. Add an extra business to them would just be crazy. There are reasons the town doesn't want them to put it there. They have tried to to cut corners by putting fake addresses saying they are using that location to host the school but yet still keep them in Doylestown and try to not let anyone know. Then as usual since they were lying they were caught. Lying and lack of knowledge must run in their family. That's all they ever do. People in Doylestown know how all the Saegers are and that's one of the reasons no one wants to help them. They have given a bad name to themselves.

Paula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paula said...

As I wrote in an earlier comment, I believe that they have to abide by the laws. The state has very strict oversight rules in place and any school that doesn't jump through the hundreds of hoops they've set up will be shut down.

"There are reasons the town doesn't want them to put it there."

It doesn't have anything to do with the Chippewa schools losing money? Because that's been one of the major complaints from the district.

If they're as bad as you say, why do parents keep their kids there? They must be doing something right.

I think that you are getting sidetracked on what's important. It's not about the Saegers or the other businesses they run or personality conflicts in town. It's not about who gets a share of the pie. It's not about shrubbery.It's not about a turf war or protecting the public school monopoly. It's about educating children.

Again, I believe that parents are the ones best qualified to make those decisions and they should have a wide array of options from which to choose.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I’m a strong supporter of charter schools.

Several months ago John Stossel did show on charter schools, which really showed the value these schools add to the community. Here is the entire show:

“Stupid in America – Part A”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyswCDwe3uo.
“Stupid in America – Part B”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGNz0Y9vrBo
“Stupid in America – Part C”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlg1LBHlNAc
“Stupid in America – Part D”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Irx9o7DjO8
“Stupid in America – Part E”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_--4EDg06A
“Stupid in America – Part F”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LR3I6LUknxo

It is a shame to see the local school districts targeting these schools. If it is ‘all about the children,’ then teachers from all educational institutions should be rejoicing that students are getting a good education – no matter what school it is.

Glenna in Ashland said...

I am always amazed how folks complain that alternative schools "take funds away from" the established public schools. State funds are alloted for each student enrolled. When fewer students are enrolled, for whatever reason, less money comes from the state. But guess what? The school has responsibility for fewer students!

And why do the complaints only ever name charter schools and home educators as "drains" on public school funds? I never hear people moan about private schools taking money away from the public schools. Or am I just deaf?

Why are people afraid of a little healthy competition? If someone other than the establishment can follow all the rules and still manage to educate children to the parents' satisfaction, let them have a go at it. If the rules are not being followed, the place needs to be shut down. If parents are not happy, they will withdraw their children and the school will fail.

Are the complainers whining about general ideas or specific details? I'm hearing different stories. You can't dislike specific people and turn that dislike into a complaint over a general principle. Maybe the complaints just come from several different "anonymous." I've never been fond of the term "anonymous." Sounds too much like "coward."