I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Can't Deny the Truth About Segregating Charters Anymore

The charter cheerleaders have been telling us, over and over again, that charters are "public schools" that "must take everyone."

Too bad for them that the truth keeps getting in the way:
Students may be asked to submit a 15-page typed research paper, an original short story, or a handwritten essay on the historical figure they would most like to meet. There are interviews. Exams. And pages of questions for parents to answer, including: How do you intend to help this school if we admit your son or daughter?
These aren't college applications. They're applications for seats at charter schools.
Charters are public schools, funded by taxpayers and widely promoted as open to all. But Reuters has found that across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law. [emphasis mine]
Read the entire piece by Stephanie Simon, a reporter who, as Diane Ravitch reminds us, has done some really outstanding work on education. Simon shows that charters have developed a variety of techniques to segregate their students from the rest of a community's population:
But as Reuters has found, it's not that simple. Thousands of charter schools don't provide subsidized lunches, putting them out of reach for families in poverty. Hundreds mandate that parents spend hours doing "volunteer" work for the school or risk losing their child's seat. In one extreme example the Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, Illinois, mandates that each student's family invest in the company that built the school - a practice the state said it would investigate after inquiries from Reuters.
And from New Hampshire to California, charter schools large and small, honored and obscure, have developed complex application processes that can make it tough for students who struggle with disability, limited English skills, academic deficits or chaotic family lives to even get into the lottery.
Among the barriers that Reuters documented:
* Applications that are made available just a few hours a year.
* Lengthy application forms, often printed only in English, that require student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records.
* Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law.
* Mandatory family interviews.
* Assessment exams.
* Academic prerequisites.
* Requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs. The U.S. Department of Education considers this practice illegal on the college level but has not addressed the issue for K-12 schools. 
[emphasis mine]
It's bad enough charters engage in these practices; what makes this especially galling, however, is that so many folks in the charter industry continue to deny that they are engaging in segregation. But when you combine these activities with the high rates of attrition some of these charters have, you get a clear picture of schools that don't serve all children, yet continue to suck up taxpayer dollars on the conceit that they are inclusive.

As I noted earlier, this dishonesty has become so blatant that it's become impossible for charter cheerleaders to deny it and still retain a shred of credibility. So we now have a new line coming from the reformy right: charters do segregate, but that's OK, because we need to separate the kids with "potential" from the "chronic disruptors."

It's a measure of progress that some of these folks are starting to acknowledge the truth. I wish they'd start calling out their fellow travelers in state education offices and charter management organizations and the punditocracy for not joining them in acknowledging the segregation taking place in charters.

But I'd also like them to take this argument to its logical conclusion: if we're going to segregate students, let's at least have a process that's fair, unbiased, and broadly applied. I can't think of a worse way to determine who is "educable" than our current charter admission system: it's arbitrary, it's inconsistent, not all children participate, and the process isn't vetted.

Further, why should children living in urban districts have to be segregated while those living in the 'burbs are not? I have news for everyone: there are kids who go to "high-performing" suburban schools who are also "chronic disruptors" - yet those children are mainstreamed into their community's schools. Why do they get the luxury of attending a non-segregated school while those who struggle in urban districts do not? Where's the justice in that?

Of course, the larger issue - one that is almost never addressed in the current charter debate - is that suburban schools are already highly segregated. The parents who move into these districts know that no matter what learning or behavioral challenges their children face, they will be attending a school with all of their peers. Their schools will work to individualize their learning while mainstreaming them with their fellow students.

This is a luxury afforded to those who can spend a lot of money on a house; those who can't get the cold comfort of "choice." Which, as Simon shows, really isn't choice at all.



Teacher Mom said...

The admissions process described here is the exact same process my friend's just had to go through to get her son into a top ranked, 60k/ year private high school. Interesting.

ad77 said...

These comments are in response to this story and the previous one on charters in Paterson.

It's very interesting that one of the changes made by Commissioner Cerf to the new charter regulations allows for management companies to apply for charters in the state twice a year. Independent charter schools (home grown) can only apply once a year but management companies get to apply twice!
Clearly, this shows a bias in favor of management companies. Otherwise, why can't the process be open and equal to all.

Paterson BOE member Hodges questions the approval process of certain charter schools in Paterson. I just wish he would also question how and why the BOE approved the "Focus Point" contract at $7,500 a day.