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Nov 5, 2012 KJones commented on Don't Be Charter Fooled.
Hi Jason,

I believe that the main strength of charter schools is their flexibility in setting a goal or mission for a school and then building up their staff, culture, and practices around it. Many of the things that they do could potentially be done in regular public schools as well but rarely are. It is easier to build this kind of school from the ground up than to try implementing change after change upon a staff and student population that may not be receptive. Also, since charter schools are schools of choice, nobody is forced to stay in them. Schools must be responsive to students' and families' needs if they are going to keep them as clients.

The charter school where I taught was built around the mission of enabling students from disadvantaged communities to get to and through a four-year college. We had five core values (courage, kindness, joy, perseverance, and truth) that were posted in every classroom and woven into lessons in all subjects whenever possible. The whiteboards at the side of every classroom were arranged the same way (date, teacher's name and contact information, agenda of the lesson, daily learning objective, homework, a motivational quote, etc.) to build consistency for kids between classes and grades. We had a schoolwide discipline system that included demerits and detentions for misbehavior as well as rewards for consistently following rules and exemplifying our core values. First thing in the morning, every homeroom teacher checked kids' homework to be sure that it was there, completed, and signed by a parent. A child who came to school missing a homework assignment had to call home to let their family know that they'd be staying after school that day to make it up. Best of all, every teacher in the school was on board with enforcing these systems because we knew what we were getting into when we were hired.

My school was not perfect; it definitely had its issues. The model wouldn't work without dedicated, effective teachers and significant buy-in from the community. That said, I did see the school do wonderful things for many of our students--99 percent of whom were Hispanic and the majority of whom came from disadvantaged backgrounds. Apart from the longer school day, nothing we did was really outside of the scope of what traditional public schools are allowed to do. Our staff just bought into the mission so deeply that we all self-selected into working there and then worked our hearts out to make the mission a reality.

But you are probably looking for more than my anecdotal evidence, and rightly so. I would direct you to two reports from the federal Department of Education, published in 2006 and 2007, that try to determine which practices at top charter schools are responsible for their success. They found that being mission-driven, teaching for mastery and deep understanding, and holding themselves accountable for successes and failures tended to predict success in charter schools at all levels. At the high school level in particular, successful charters also tended to focus on college preparation, provide wraparound support, and value professional learning. You can read the reports here:
http://www2.ed.gov/admins/comm/choice/ch… for high school and http://www2.ed.gov/admins/comm/choice/ch… for K-8
They are not scholarly sources, but they are based in research on the practices of those institutions. The most-cited scholarly source, the 2009 CREDO study from Stanford, makes a similar guess about what makes some charters so successful. They say that "charter schools that are organized around a mission to teach the most economically disadvantaged students in particular seem to have developed expertise in serving these communities" (p. 9).

Successful charter schools are notoriously difficult to replicate, so what I like about I-1240 is that it caps the number of schools that can open over the next five years. I also like that it says they will give preference in the application process to schools that target at-risk students. To me, this is consistent with following through on what charter schools can do best: tailoring the structures of the system to meet the needs of the community. I also like that in the case of a conversion charter (turning an existing school into a charter school), the charter cannot be approved unless at least half of the parents or teachers sign off on it. They require community support before moving forward. I also like that 1240 heads off funding disputes by indicating which physical resources and streams of money are available to charters that apply through different authorizers (the local district vs. the state).

I am sort of on the fence about charters as a whole, but I do believe that this is a good initiative to ease Washington into the arena. By including caps, targeting at-risk students, not allowing for contracting with for-profit providers, requiring community support for conversion, and providing financial incentives to work with the local school district, the text of the initiative shows that its drafters have taken the lessons learned elsewhere into account when crafting 1240.
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Nov 2, 2012 KJones commented on Don't Be Charter Fooled.
Hi StuckInUtah,

It appears you have not read 1240 as closely as you imply. As I said, I am opposed to parent-trigger laws. I agree with you that it's not right for a small percentage to cause upheaval in a school community. However, this law is NOT a parent trigger law. The text of 1240 says the following:

"(3) In the case of an application to establish a conversion charter school, the applicant must also demonstrate support for the proposed conversion by a petition signed by a majority of teachers assigned to the school or a petition signed by a majority of parents of students in the school."

Again, this is NOT a parent trigger. In California, the parent trigger law guarantees that if a majority of parents sign a petition, the state WILL take one of four turnaround actions, including conversion to a charter school. What the Washington law does is ensure that IF a charter school applicant proposes converting a traditional public school into a charter school, they CANNOT DO IT UNLESS a majority of the teachers or parents sign off on it. It is a safeguard for the community rather than a new right for them to exercise.

In addition, regarding the use of for-profit providers, please note the following provision in 1240 from section 203, part c:

"Contracts for management operation of the charter school may only be with nonprofit organizations"

Naturally, I am aware that all sources are not equally reliable... though I'd consider the text of 1240 to be a pretty reliable source of what the law is intended to do! My point is that the literature on school choice is mixed both in quality and results. I am merely offering alternate perspectives not because I believe I have discovered some final truth, but as proof that this is a complicated issue and that it is not as easy as saying that charter schools are bad. The same studies (e.g., CREDO) that are being used as evidence against this initiative could just as easily be used as evidence for it.
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Nov 1, 2012 KJones commented on Don't Be Charter Fooled.
Sorry about the double-post above. Just a few more thoughts.

- Most of the literature on charter schools fails to draw a clear conclusion, which is very different from saying that charter schools are failing. In addition, most of the findings are based correlations, not causation. For instance, just because states with multiple authorizers tend to have lower average charter quality does not mean that the use of multiple authorizers is what CAUSES the lower quality. Another plausible explanation could be that states like Washington where big school districts have a knee-jerk reaction against reform, no matter its content, are left with no choice but to offer multiple authorizers... and it could be exactly this anti-reform climate that is responsible for charter schools' low performance. When looking at the critical difference between correlation and causation, almost all of the arguments presented in this article fall short.

- Contrary to conventional wisdom, research actually indicates that teacher experience is not usually the strongest predictor of teacher quality. Experience and quality cannot be used interchangeably. Some new teachers are extremely effective, and some veteran teachers are not. Just because charter schools tend to employ younger teachers does not mean they employ worse teachers. They may be able to attract young, enthusiastic candidates who are passionate about serving disadvantaged communities. This is another case where looking at an average correlation does not tell the whole story.

- It's fair to say that charter schools are accountable to taxpayers in a different way, and even fair to say that it is a worse form of accountability (though I wouldn't), but it's plain wrong to say that they are not accountable. Taxpayers who have kids can vote with their feet by sending their kids to a charter school or pulling them out. The authorizing board (which could be a school district with a locally-elected board) has the power to shut the schools down if they are not performing--a level of accountability to which traditional public schools are not subjected. Besides, nobody really exercises their local control over regular public schools anyway! Voter turnout for school board elections is typically around 15%, and school board meetings are sparsely attended. Is this form of accountability so much worse than that?

- I agree that parent trigger laws are a terrible idea, but I don't believe that this law is one. I believe that I-1240 requires a majority of teachers/families to support the conversion, but it does not guarantee (like California does) that a majority opinion is enough to force the conversion. It leaves the authorizing board's discretion and authority in place. At least, that is how I read the law.

- Finally, a few factual concerns. Regarding for-profit providers, this does not seem to be a problem. The voter pamphlet says, “Contracts for management of the charter school could only be with nonprofit corporations” (p. 14). In addition, I’m not sure where Goldy gets the idea that charter schools don't have to pay any money for buildings and can essentially just steal them from the district. I've never seen an operation like that, and the text of the law doesn't seem to indicate that kind of arrangement.
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Nov 1, 2012 KJones joined My Stranger Face
Nov 1, 2012 KJones commented on Don't Be Charter Fooled.
As a former public school teacher who is now getting a master's degree in education policy, I am disappointed by the many inaccuracies in this piece. Please do not accept this editorial as the gospel truth on what this bill does, the effectiveness of charter schools, or how you should vote.

The CREDO study (link below) shows that although the average charter school does not perform better than the average traditional public school, charters work very well in some places and for some students. In particular, the average charter school performs BETTER than an average public school for students in poverty and English Language Learners.

The study also says that “charter schools that are organized around a mission to teach the most economically disadvantaged students in particular seem to have developed expertise in serving these communities” (p. 7). The text of 1240 specifically says that they will give preference to applications that target disadvantaged populations. I support the idea of expanding access to preschool, but what about the kids who are in failing schools NOW? It’s too late to provide them with preschool. Why are we turning our backs on an initiative that could make a difference for real children right now?

In addition, Washington is one of the few states in the country where the achievement gap is getting bigger instead of smaller (link below). Our approach is not working, and it’s certainly not all about money—budgets are tight everywhere. I went to public schools and believe in public schools; I do not believe in a fully privatized market of education. What I do believe in is using a limited number of charter schools to target groups of kids whose achievement has stagnated or regressed.

I used to teach at a charter school in another state and I can tell you that charters are not perfect. Of course they won’t solve all their problems. However, they have the potential to do really great things for some of the kids in our state who are struggling the most. I am voting yes on charters, and I hope you will too.

CREDO study: http://credo.stanford.edu/reports/MULTIP…

Evidence of our growing achievement gap: http://tntp.org/assets/documents/TNTP_Wa… for evidence
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