The CMOs Are Coming! The CMOs Are Coming!

Yesterday I mentioned this cool initiative in Minnesota to allow a teachers union to authorize charter schools. Late yesterday afternoon the president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers sent the following letter to teachers in Minneapolis.  Read it yourself because it’s interesting in a few places (especially the line about schools inside or outside of school districts) and illustrates the various audiences union leaders must balance. But, a few contextual things are worth noting.

First, “CMOs” (Update – to be clear – as distinct from for-profit EMO’s, which comprise about 13 percent of charters nationally but are mostly found in a handful of states) are only “private” in the sense that they’re not run by traditional school districts.  About 16 percent of charters nationwide are part of a CMO.  They’re non-profits (so to be clear since there is obviously some confusion: They don’t make a profit and that’s not a goal) and public bodies have to give them approval to open schools – they’re highly integrated with the public system.  And their growth if fueled by, you know, parents choosing these schools.  Second, although the ‘charters were Shanker’s idea and then there was a fall that we must struggle to overcome’ rhetoric is a catchy narrative it’s not quite right.  The history and various streams of thought in the charter world are more complicated – and full of tension.  Third, despite the ‘to the barricades at last!’ rhetoric, in practice this could reasonably be considered the third teachers union foray into charter schooling.  To recap, the National Education Association launched a big initiative that subsequently fizzled.  The UFT in New York City opened some schools and they’re facing some challenges. Bottom line: Opening and running really good schools is hard work.  You’d think that would create more curiosity about how exactly the networks that have managed to do it at some scale do it.

From: on behalf of Lynn Nordgren
Sent: Tuesday, December 06, 2011 4:11 PM
Subject: Breaking the mold…

This is a long email but is important information for you to know…thanks for taking the time to read it.

MFT has been working to become an authorizer of public school charters over the past 18 months – which we were just approved to be by the Minnesota Department of Education with the support of the American Federation of Teachers. The information below tells you why we are pursuing this since it may cause some of you to question it – especially in light of the history of charters. I have sent out some preliminary information to you about this work over the past year and have also shared it with stewards at several meetings. This is a progress report.

Everything the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers does these days, in one way or another, is designed to support educators so they can have a voice in improving education overall and increasing student achievement, specifically. As educators, we all have a fundamental belief in each student and truly want them to be successful in school and in life. Some of the ways the MFT approaches these efforts is to find and implement ideas that will help us continuously improve our profession and strengthen our union work as advocates for students. It is critical work given the attacks on teachers, public education and unions. We cannot step back and merely protest these attacks (that come in many forms) – we must move forward and lead.

An idea I had two years ago was to move forward and lead the way to take on the charter school movement. I realize for many of us, charter schools are associated with bad things. The idea of charter schools was born from AFT President Albert Shanker’s thinking some 30 years ago. He thought charters could become lab schools that inform the larger school system. Unfortunately, his idea was abducted by others and shape-shifted into something else very different from Shanker’s original idea. Too often, charters haven’t respected teachers, their unions, or delivered on the promise of student achievement.

But, it is also true that charter schools are not going away despite 20 years of protesting. Because of this, it is time to figure out how to bring our kidnapped idea back home so we can also stop the de-professionalization of teaching, the bleeding out of our unions and the miseducation of too many students. While new state laws are tightening up the approval process for charters and for authorizers, as well as the oversight of them both, charters continue to grow. It is time to “get in the game” and make it ours.

While the mom and pop charters are not at issue, the larger corporate, privately run Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) schools are. CMO schools are spreading across the country and taking over major, urban school districts leaving professional teachers and their unions out in the cold. These corporate run CMOs have several goals in mind: take over public education, take down the unions, drown out our professional voice by having complete control over teachers, and, make a profit. We can look to New Orleans as an example of a complete take over by a CMO. There are at least 8 other urban districts in America who have between 40-60% of CMO schools in existence. Minneapolis has its first CMO school – opened this past fall. To open the CMO school, one of our existing schools (Cityview) was closed to make room for it. We protested loudly all of this happening along with families and students – to no avail. Only one MPS teacher now works in the CMO school – the rest of the MPS teachers were pushed out along with the union. As you might guess, the salaries are much lower for those in the CMO school but the work hours and duties are the same. For this reason, we must strategize how to stop the proliferation of CMOs and ensure the health and welfare of public education. Becoming an authorizer is just one strategy – we are working to find others as well.

I want to seize the opportunity for our union to help shape the future of our profession and of education – whether it is inside or outside of a school district – charter or traditional. So, about 18 months ago, with the approval of the MFT Executive Board, I went ahead and applied for an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) innovation grant. We were approved. The innovative idea the AFT approved was centered on unions taking back the charter school movement by becoming authorizers (approvers) of charter schools. This would ensure charters authorized by unions will: be high quality schools, monitored for progress, keep our union responsibilities and rights as an option, and make sure teachers are respected and have a voice in the the schools in which they work. As an authorizer, we will put students and educators front and center so their ideas are valued and used. The AFT has been very supportive of this effort – so much so that they continued funding for a second year. The majority of the AFT funds go to pay for a director, who is a former MPS teacher.

If every union local in the U.S. had the capacity to authorize charter schools, we just might be able to compete with the CMOs. Imagine a movement of our own. I cannot think of a better and more important time for us to make it happen.

Thank you for your time and attention. I am open to and appreciate all comments and ideas as we move forward.


Lynn Nordgren MFT President, Local 59

47 Replies to “The CMOs Are Coming! The CMOs Are Coming!”

  1. The big question is what restrictions an authorizer such as MFT will be able to place on the schools it approves. The whole point of charter schools is to balance accountability with autonomy. Are authorizers in MN allowed to use different standards for approving charter applications. Will the MFT be able to reject charter applications merely because they don’t propose to have unionized staff, follow step salary schedules or provide pensions? Charter school authorizers are responsible for holding school boards and management accountable for student performance, so its going to be interesting to see how labor holds management accountable for labor’s outcomes.

  2. A correction about charter management organizations: there are many CMOs which are private, for profit entities. I don’t know Minnesota’s current laws, but most states that allow charter schools do not require them to be managed by non-profit organizations. In Michigan, more than 70% of our charter schools are operated primarily or entirely by private, for-profit entities. (Two of the largest operators here are National Heritage Academies and the Leona Group.) This is an issue, since these private firms also tend to be privately-held, meaning that their books are not open to the public at all. While some operators disclose the terms of their management agreement, others simply take the full amount of state aid and run the school. In that case, it’s impossible for anyone to figure out what the EMO is taking as fees.

  3. What wonderful news! I was wondering why more teachers did not take advantage of this great opportunity to open their own schools and run them in the best way possible for the benefit of the students.

    Once teachers are in charge of schools the way doctors are in charge of clinics and lawyers are in charge of firms, they will be fully professional. This will lead to improved salaries, benefits, working conditions and professional autonomy. Once this happens, the profession will attract more highly qualified men and women and of course that will be a great benefit to students. In addition to that, the taxpayers won’t have to worry about $500,000 salaries for charter “managers” while the teachers in these schools get decreased salaries.

    I’m hoping this will lead to all public schools being run by teachers.

    Congratulations to Lynn Nordgren and the members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. I believe you are at the forefront of a huge movement that will truly change the nature of K-12 teaching.

  4. I’m with Linda on this one. Will teacher-run charters truly be different or better than public schools or other charters? I’d like to see why this group thinks so.

  5. “We can look to New Orleans as an example of a complete take over by a CMO.”

  6. Although not many of you have heard about OmniVision before, the company is behind many of the camera sensors used in today’s smartphones, iPhone included, the company just announcing a new 8MP CMOS chip destined to be used in smartphones.

  7. Congratulations to Lynn Nordgren and the members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. I believe you are at the forefront of a huge movement that will truly change the nature of K-12 teaching.

  8. Charter school authorizers are responsible for holding school boards and management accountable for student performance, so its going to be interesting to see how labor holds management accountable for labor’s outcomes.

  9. Once teachers are in charge of their own schools, they will become full professionals and not “labor.” They will elect leaders who will become “management.” Labor unions will morph into professional organizations similar to the American Association of University Professors. When teachers’ unions were first formed, they were supposed to be professional organizations but were only allowed to bargain for salaries, benefits and working conditions. Thus, they became unions.

    Once teachers are in charge, I believe tenure will be granted only to those who are effective and ineffective veterans will be driven out, as they are in other full professions.

    I am hoping that once the effects of this recession are over, and teachers cannot be easily hired, they will be lured to districts with promises of full professional status and the ability to run their own schools. Now THAT will be a real change that would benefit students, teachers and other citizens. Down with he status quo of education by zip code and powerless teachers!

  10. Linda: Well said. I also believe that teachers should be treated like professionals (as they are now in many countries) rather than widget-like, interchangeable labor in the current U.S. education system.

  11. The idea of teachers or a teachers union running a charter school has pluses/minuses.

    Substituting teacher-managers for corporate or non-profit managers would probably help the teachers as employees regarding employment terms (salaries/benefits/hours). It would probably also help the teachers as employees regarding professional issues — the teacher-managers would, on average, be more knowledgeable re what does/doesn’t work in the classroom than the corporate or non-profit manager. To the extent that management regarding professional issues is better, the quality of education delivered to the students should also be better.

    The minus — and its a big one — is that, to compete successfully with corporate/non-profit charters, teacher-managed charters would follow the same pupil recruitment/retention models as the corporate/non-profit charters. That is, enrollment would be based on parent-application, not random assignment from the neighborhood schools + unmotivated and/or disruptive students could be removed (via encouraged withdrawal or involuntary expulsion) far more easily than in the neighborhood schools.

    In these circumstances, the teacher-managed charter would provide a better education to its enrollees than the neighborhood public school, but mostly because the teacher-managed charter enjoyed the skim-the-cream and credible-threat-of-expulsion advantages over the neighborhood public school.

    Teacher-managed charters therefore would not solve the problem of our inner-city schools being basket cases. Like charters generally, they would, at best, offer escape from the inner-city basket case schools for students whose parents had the motivation/functionality to complete the application process while leaving most inner-city children to suffer in the inner-city basket case neighborhood schools.

    We need to fix our inner-city basket case neighborhood schools. Allowing some students to escape to better schools (via charters or vouchers) does not meet our societal obligation to provide a decent education to all our children. To the extent that charters and vouchers remove the more motivated students from the neighborhood public schools, the charters/vouchers damage the quality ofthe neighborhood public schools. To the extent that the charter/voucher movements reduce the political pressure to fix the inner-city basket case neighborhood schools, the charter/voucher movements retard progress towards our ultimate goal.

  12. Actually, I’d rather see teachers take over traditional schools with intact student populations, but if the only way they can gain autonomy is through the charter concept, that’s at least a step forward. It’s absolutely imperative to make the profession more attractive to well-educated men and women from all social classes. As it is now, the offspring of the middle and upper classes often find K-12 teaching an unacceptable job and that really hurts our students and the nation.

    It is true, though, that opening schools to children whose parents are motivated is not good for those left behind. This has been tried in other countries and results in the marginalization of the very poor and the disabled. That’s the worst possible thing that could happen to disadvantaged children.

    Mayor Bloomberg gave us all a good idea on how to help our “basket case” schools. When he suggested very large classes for city children, we all rushed to see where he sent his own daughters. It is the exclusive Spence School where there about fourteen children in each class and students are encouraged to learn subjects “in depth” (no need for test prep there). Now there’s an idea! The man really does know! Let’s give our poorest children something like equity and maybe we’ll see results. Test prep and merit pay won’t do it.

  13. I read these speculations about the automatic benefits of teacher-run schools with some astonishment, considering that Eduwonk has posted items showing that charter schools run by teachers (the AFT school in NYC) and by teachers of teachers (Stanford charter school) suffered from disorganization, weak curriculum, poor teaching, and poor outcomes for students to the point where both faced revocation of their charter. Whether these schools have gotten their acts together and whether they are more congenial places for teachers to work in I don’t know.

  14. In the short run, some teacher-run schools are successful and some are not, but in the long run, the only thing that will truly benefit American students and improve our system as a whole, is a fully professional teacher corps. That’s the only way we’ll be able to attract highly qualified people to the profession. The bottom line is this: Well-educated men and women are not going to choose a profession that pays low salaries, provides a very poor working environment and offers almost no professional autonomy. That’s just common sense.

  15. Linda/RetiredTeacher —

    I disagree that a fully-profesionalized teacher corps is “the ‘only’ thing that will truly benefit American students and improve our system”. There are other reforms that would help, perhaps more than improving teacher quality/morale — i.e., in the inner-city schools, reducing student behavior problems/students reading far below grade level.

    Of course, improving teacher quality/morale would serve these other reforms and implementing the other reforms would improve teacher quality/morale.

    And, I’m definitely in favor of improving teacher quality/morale, just not as the #1 reform goal.

  16. LaborLawyer:

    Perhaps you are correct. I’m a teacher advocate and I want what’s best for teachers at this time. I believe what is good for parents and teachers is usually good for the children in their care. I’ll amend what I said to say “one of the best things we can do for our educational system is to make the K-12 teaching profession more attractive to well-qualified individuals.”

    Art: One factor we need to consider is the validity of “research” that is based on state tests. As we should all know by now, many (almost all?) schools look at these tests ahead of time and drill the students on the exact test items. This invalidates these tests and the research that is based on them. So, in the case of the Stanford sponsored charter school, did they get low test scores because they provided poor instruction, or did they strive for the poorest students and refuse to drill them on the test? We don’t really know.

  17. Just to clarify on the reference to New Orleans, with some actual, you know, data…

    –6 non-profit CMOs operate multiple (more than 1) open enrollment schools in New Orleans.
    –34% of public school students in New Orleans attended a school that is part of a CMO, and 44% of public school students in New Orleans attend a “stand alone” charter
    –Last year, 61% of students in open enrollment CMOs passed city-wide tests (RSD (district) passing rate as a whole: 48%; RSD stand-alone passing rate: 55%; state-wide passing rate: 66%)
    –Three of the highest open enrollment stand-alone schools in the city will be expanding next year to become “CMOs” and will serve more students

    As a city, New Orleans has gone from 35% passing pre-Katrina, to 56% passing — in large part the the expansion of high performing charter organizations.

    IMHO, MFT acting as an authorizer is fine — as long as they have a high bar for granting charters and exercise the political will to aggressively close/transform bad schools. That’s what we have in New Orleans, that’s been a key driver to the enormous success we’ve had, and the DATA bears that out.

  18. Michael: I believe that the population of students in New Orleans shifted (perhaps dramatically) after Katrina, and that many of the poorest residents didn’t return after the evacuation. I don’t have any hard data on this, but I’ve seen this general statement.

    I don’t know what effect (if any) charters have had on New Orleans’ student performance, but, for any comparison to be honest, the data should account for the (possibly very significant) differences in students population (numbers of students, student/teacher ratios and the average SES levels) before drawing any quick conclusions about the influence of charters on student test results.

    In addition, I’d also want some confirmation that the tests themselves (or their pass rates) haven’t changed since Katrina before drawing any conclusions about the effect of charters on student test performance. States have been under pressure to make their tests or pass rates easier in recent years to avoid NCLB sanctions, as the proficiency levels become stricter with each passing year.

  19. In addition to what Attorney DC said, all tests used for “data” must be professionally administered and proctured before results can be taken seriously. We’re fools if we just accept scores given by school administrators.

    Are New Orleans charter schools doing better? We don’t know.

  20. Linda: Good point. Having worked in several different types of schools (private, public), I have doubts that any particular TYPE of school organization will, in itself, produce dramatic results in student performance.

    Of course, many private and charter schools may have smaller class sizes, “creaming” advantages, more involved parents, etc. But that doesn’t mean that the school itself is doing anything particularly innovative: They’re just taking more motivated kids, counseling out the most difficult students, requiring more parental involvement, etc.

    If public schools could do these things, they could probably post some higher test results as well (although the overall results show that on average charters aren’t doing any better than public schools). But if we let public schools restrict their student body, counsel out disruptive students, etc., then they wouldn’t really be “public” anymore and, in addition, question would arise: Where would the rest of the kids go?

  21. Attorney DC:

    Yes, of course what you say is true and I’ll bet “everyone” knows it.

    A few miles from my home is a high school that always had average test scores for the area. One day I was reading Jay Mathews’ column in the Washington Post when I discovered this high school is now in “the top ten” in the United States. “That’s odd” I thought to myself and immediately googled it. Sure enough, the school is now a magnet and students must apply and test well to get in. Also, that community has gone from an average population (in regard to demographics) to predominantly Korean.

    When a school gets high scores, it can mean many, many things. Once we accept what the research really tells us, we can begin to help all children have the opportunity to get a good education.

  22. Students who, for example, apply for a seat in a charter school may indeed have more involved parents and may indeed differ from students who do not apply for a seat in a charter in other important ways. That’s why it’s important to control for differences between students to the degree possible in analyzing differences in achievement between schools.

    More and more studies find that students who win a lottery and enter a charter school outperform students who don’t win a lottery and stay in a traditional public school. This situation is as close to a randomized study as we can get. The results are strong evidence that differences in achievement are, to substantial degree, due to differences between schools.

  23. We know that the peer group has a tremendous effect on student achievement and behavior. So if a student wins a charter lottery and finds a seat next to other students whose parents are involved enough to participate in the lottery, he will likely do better in school than the child who does not win and is sent back to a traditional school that may be chaotic. The higher achievement could have everything to do with peers and little or nothing to do with teachers and methods. Again, we don’t really know. Is the charter school better or are the students better in some way?

    If we really want to know if charters do better than traditional schools, the only legitimate study would be for the charter to take over an entire school with the population intact. They would bring in their own leadership, faculty and methods. Has this been done? If so, what were the results? Thank you.

    I want to reiterate that I am not against charter schools. But like private, parochial and magnet schools, many succeed because they have a select population. It’s important for people to recognize this. It’s not “bad” (I sent my own sons to exclusive schools) but we must acknowledge it for the purpose of understanding what constitutes a good education and how we can make it available to all.

  24. Linda,

    Very few people in their right mind would ever take over a school in the way you suggest. Why not start from scratch, no matter the model? Have a fresh start at building a culture and add one year at a time? Of course it’s not always practical, but if the charters can do this, is that a problem with the charter model or is it a problem with the way that we open and restructure schools?

  25. Linda/RetiredTeacher —

    You hit the nail on the head. The best way to find out if a charter school is providing a better education than a neighborhood school is to have the charter school enroll exactly the same student population as the neighborhood school. This is the only way to eliminate the skim-the-cream advantage that the charter will otherwise enjoy.

    Of course, even in your hypothetical model, the charter would still enjoy an important credible-threat-of-expulsion advantage. When the school was run as a neighborhood school, the school could not have easily transferred disruptive students to an alternative school or expelled such students — the alternative school would have cost the school system more $/student than the neighborhood school and the student would have enjoyed significant property/due-process rights that the school would have had to overcome. By contrast, when the school was run as a charter, unless special requirements were imposed, the school could involuntarily send a disruptive student to a neighborhood school merely by directing that the student leave the charter. In other words, the charter, unlike the neighborhood school, could credibly threaten disruptive students with removal to another school; assuming the student wanted to stay in school with his/her friends, the charter would thereby have a significant advantage over the neighborhood school in deterring disruptive behavior. And, if the removal threat did not deter the disruptive behavior, the charter could easily send the disruptive student to another school — another major advantage for the charter over the neighborhood school.

  26. This is an issue, since these private firms also tend to be privately-held, meaning that their books are not open to the public at all. While some operators disclose the terms of their management agreement, others simply take the full amount of state aid and run the school. In that case, it’s impossible for anyone to figure out what the EMO is taking as fees

  27. pgteacher Says:
    December 12th, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Very few people in their right mind would ever take over a school in the way you suggest.
    KIPP tried in Colorado and failed.
    Friends of Bedford tried in DCPS as well and failed.

  28. Yes, I had heard this, but wasn’t sure. In today’s Los Angeles Times, there is a story about charters being used by parents to get their kids away from “those other kids.” (“2 charters let families avoid lottery” December 13) As I said before, a lot of us choose schools that are exclusive, but let’s not lie about it and compare these schools to the traditional public school that must take and keep everyone.

    Already we have many charters (especially online) that are making fortunes for their “operators” while providing a very poor education for the students who sign up. I just can’t believe we allowed this to happen, especially so soon after the Wall Street debacle. Thankfully, the press is beginning to report on these educational travesties.

  29. Well said, Linda! Having taught in several different schools, I’ve always believed that the students heavily influence the school (not just the other way around). It’s easier to teach a class of students who are well-behaved, well-fed, and well-motivated AND it is easier for other students to learn in such a class.

    People keep pretending that it’s all about the teachers — However, while teachers are very important (and great teachers can really impact their students), at the end of the day, the students who come from supportive, well-educated families AND who have the privilege of attending school with other similarly advantaged students are going to have a substantial edge in the academic world.

  30. I wasn’t saying it hadn’t been done, and I’m well aware of KIPP’s failure at Cole. My point is that if we’re out to serve the students, then why would we handicap them by not starting with a model that has a better chance? If I were to start a school, I’d love to build culture one year at a time, not have the culture already in the building to deal with. Culture can be changed, but it’s a hell of a lot harder than starting fresh.

  31. pgteacher:

    I don’t think you are getting our point. Let me put it another way:

    The school across the street from me is a magnet school. Each spring there is a long line of parents from the poor side of town trying to get their children in. The line forms around 5:00 a.m. Someone told me that some parents camp out overnight but I have not seen this myself.

    This school has very high test scores. It is indeed a good school for the children who attend, but is it “better” because of better teachers and methods, or is something else going on?

    Many of us object to the lies and the unfair comparisons between charter and traditional schools. I am not against the schools themselves, especially if there is strict oversight of the money.

  32. Linda,

    A magnet, by definition, is different from a charter school. Please clarify exactly how your point about this magnet school applies to the charter school situation other than that the parents need to apply (I’d also like to point out that the application for this magnet school may be significantly different than the application for a charter school, meaning that the population that enters the school may be different from the school’s prior population in ways other than parent motivation)

    Furthermore, I challenge you to go into a high-performing charter network campus – KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, YES Prep, Rocketship, etc – and come back saying that the methods of instruction and techniques are not fundamentally different from the ones seen at your every day, run of the mill neighborhood school in an urban area. Sure, there are pockets of excellence at neighborhood schools – hell, I’m at one and I see it quite often – but the culture of the ADULTS in the building stands in stark contrast to the culture of the adults in the typical neighborhood school.

  33. My point is that it is impossible to know that one school is “better” than another unless you can control the critical variable of student population.

  34. Thanks DC Attorney, Linda, and phillipmarlow. Some additional data in response to the notes above…

    New Orleans may be older, less African-American and less poor, but the data suggests that proportionally, the make-up of public school students in New Orleans has changed little. My data is a little old (but not that old):

    Enrollment (Pre-Katrina / Feb 1, 2010): ~65,000 / ~36,500
    % African: 93% / 90%
    % Free or reduced lunch: 77% / 82%

    Slightly less African-American, slightly more poor.

    On the performance of the city as a whole, and charter schools specifically, I point you to two links:

    1) Educate Now tracks student performance through 2011. DC Attorney, you bring up a good point — how do we know the bar isn’t being lowered and the test isn’t getting easier? One way is to compare New Orleans with the overall state average. When we do, we see that the gap between New Orleans and the state has narrowed from 22 points in 2005 to 8 points in 2011 for 4th, 8th, and 10th grade reading and math proficiency rates. We see that since 2007, in all grades and all subjects, the Recovery School District has posted a 25 point gain in proficiency, compared to a 6 point gain for the state. Within 5 years, New Orleans will become the first urban district in the country to pass its state in proficiency rates — which is exciting.

    2) Charters are driving this performance. 80% of the students in public schools in NOLA attend charters. An analysis by CREDO at Stanford University demonstrates that roughly half of the charters in New Orleans have a statistically significant and positive effect in reading and/or math relative to their traditional public school counterparts, about a quarter are statistically neutral, and a quarter are worse. This compares favorably to CREDO’s 2009 national study. Do we have bad charters? Yes. But on the whole, are the charters we have doing a better job of educating kids in New Orleans? Yes. Here’s the link from the local paper about the analysis:

    We have miles to go before the system of schools in New Orleans is remotely great. And the skepticism is understandable. But this success is unequivocal, and I think that ultimately, dismissing this data does a disservice to the students, parents, and teachers who are responsible for this progress.

  35. Linda,

    Again, do yourself a favor and go into one of those high-performing charter schools. You have a great deal of anecdotes supporting anti-reform viewpoints, but it’s only fair that you at least expose yourself to the possibility of developing anecdotes that support a charter school.

  36. Michael NOLA:

    Thank you so much for clarifying what’s going on in New Orleans. It’s important that others study the data themselves to truly understand what is happening down here.

    To disclose, I’m also a resident of NOLA. I’m also a fan of the charter movement. The overall improvements are undeniable. However, I still cast a critical eye on what is going on because as you say, ” we have miles to go before the system is remotely great.” As a speech-language pathologist, I can attest that too many charter schools are not doing so well with population that is my lifelong passion to service: children with disabilities. There have been efforts to work these kinks out, but not all efforts have been sufficient. I applaud the charters that are doing a good job and wish others would model themselves after Lafayette Academy and Arthur Ashe, for example.

    Also, when one looks at a chart of all the charters in New Orleans ranked by performance, one thing stands out. With a few exceptions, the selective admissions charters dominate the top of the chart. These selective admissions charters, for the most part, have been around for a long time, are well established and have higher enrollment than many of the burgeoning charters in their 1st-3rd years which service comparatively fewer grades. Has anyone considered how this may skew findings?

    From an article about the CREDO study: ” Perhaps not surprisingly, the test scores for students who attended selective-admissions schools improved more quickly. Of the 28 charter schools that showed significantly faster growth, six are either selective, require that students maintain minimum academic performance to keep their seat, or take students only from one area of the city. ”

    How could the inclusion of the relatively large enrollment selective admissions schools not have an affect on the results of the CREDO study?

    To be certain, I’m not against selective admissions charters, but it’s only fair for them to exist if there are also high quality non-selective options available for families. At this point, looking objectively at the data, there are too few choices and too much disparity. Miles to go, indeed.

  37. Thanks, Angelique. You and many other child advocates are interested in a good education for ALL children.

    Personally I am not against charters, and would start one myself if I were younger. I’m hoping to see every public school run independently by parents and teachers in the future. I am a radical reformer who wants to see an end to the status quo of education by zip code. By this I mean that every child should be able to apply to any tax supported school, regardless of where they live. I also want to see an end to the unconscionable practice of placing the least experienced teachers in the most challenging schools.

    What I am against are the lies and fraud surrounding these schools. I believe the purpose is to discredit traditional schools for the purpose of pocketing educational tax dollars. How did this Pandora’s Box ever get opened? If nothing is done, it will lead us to a permanent educational dumping ground for the very poor and the disabled.

  38. Linda,

    You didn’t even make an attempt to respond to my point, which was a response to a previous point you made.

    Your platitudes are well known among those that read this blog faithfully. What I believe we’re all thirsting for, however, isn’t a restatement of your quest to “end the status quo of education by zip code,” but instead actionable policy proposals that you’ve got for achieving that goal. As I’ve said before, I squarely sit in the reformer camp and have the same goal as you; the difference is that I’m out there trying and supporting what I believe works.

  39. PgTeacher:

    I have visited the schools of my grandchildren and my friends. Some are charter and some are traditional. Most look good to me, although I don’t like the idea of all-black academies, no matter what they do. This sends a terrible message to children of color and makes them feel that they are “less than” others. I am well aware that some charter schools are excellent but I am not arguing that point. I am saying that we can’t really tell if a charter is doing a better job than a traditional school unless we can control the critical variable of the student population. Does this answer your question?

    The proposals I support are those suggested by Diane Ravitch and teachers’ associations. These are approaches heavily supported by mountains of research: that is, prenatal care, on-site health clinics, high-quality preschool, small classes, teachers with track records of success, etc. If we could just concentrate on eliminating avoidable birth problems and offer children a good education during their first five years of life, we’d make significant improvements for our least advantaged children.

    I taught for 42 years. Now it is time to advocate in another way and that is by writing. You are doing your part by teaching. Thank you for your service and please continue to do what you believe is best for your students and all students throughout the nation.

  40. Linda,

    What specific evidence would you require of the KIPP schools (for instance, but I guess this applies equally) that they enroll the same general population as other schools would have? Chris Smyr and I have provided numerous articles showing as close as we can that it’s a nearly identical population (demographically) enrolling in those high-performing charters as in the neighborhoods around them, but clearly that’s not enough, otherwise you wouldn’t be pushing the point further.

    Is it that you won’t surrender the point that having the parent motivation factor makes all the difference? We’ve also thrown out studies in previous comments that show that when controlling for that parent motivation, high performing charters still have a statistically significant positive impact on student achievement.

    Is it the peer effects argument? To counter that, I’d say it’s more the establishment of a strong, high expectations and no excuses culture from the administrators and teachers in the building. Who’s right? Anecdote to anecdote, neither wins without research proving the point, so the best we can do here is an objective draw.

    My point is that it often feels when debating here that we’re playing a game in which the goal posts are moved each time we make a field goal attempt.

    Regarding your policy proposals, they’ve all more or less come to fruition in the Harlem Children’s Zone (one of the centerpieces of which is their charter school – Harlem Success Academy), and you’d be crazy if you think you’d find a true ed reformer that wouldn’t support those policy proposals as well. The reason why it’s not on the tip of my tongue is that I often feel like there’s much lower hanging fruit that we need to grab first, things like tying my performance in the classroom to my pay (and not just with test scores, although I’d bet that more often than not test scores match up pretty well with well-trained administrator observations) or by paying me for my highly qualified status as a math teacher more than the gym teacher down the hall. Let’s work on making it easier to move teachers out that don’t fit in with the culture of a school (another charter plus in my book), and not because they’re bad teachers per se, but because a well-functioning organization has a strong culture, and if there’s someone that’s not buying in to that culture, then no union should shove that teacher down the principal’s throat to stay there because their kid lives down the block and it’s easy for them to get there. These and many other policy proposals sit in the minds of reformers, not because we’re teacher-bashers or malicious people (as Diane Ravitch, Valerie Strauss, or Deborah Meier would have you believe – none of whom, except for Deborah, ever taught in a K-12 setting), but because these are things that we can do right now with just a bit of political willpower instead of moving the US to a welfare state a la Finland, which let’s be real, is never going to happen.

    So please, where are the goalposts? I just want a chance to know exactly what my burden of proof is in these arguments.

  41. Pgteacher:

    I’m off to Hawaii without a laptop so I don’t have time but I’ll say this:

    Your last post tells me that we are philosophically and politically very different. My view of teachers is very different from yours. To me, most are heroes who devote their lives to the service of children in exchange for very little remuneration. Also, I see the American people as among the most generous in the world, so I believe equity in education is a probability in the coming years.

    Happy holidays to you! I am signing off.

  42. I couldn’t resist this, even though it’s costing me 85 cents a minute to write it:

    My first day in Hawaii and here is the headline in the local paper:

    “Charter schools spending ‘ illegal.'” The first paragraph of the article encapsulates perfectly what I’ve been trying to say:

    “Charter schools have been spending public money with little oversight or accountability for student performance and the lack of government monitoring has resulted in ‘unethical and illegal spending and employment practices at some campuses,’ a scathing audit of Hawaii’s system of 31 charter sxhools found.

    Hawaii’s charter school system has been operating without any read outside oversight since the first charter school opened in 1995, the audit concluded.

    The contract that charter schools made with the public to provide great accountability in exchange for greater autonomy is not only broken, it may have never existed.”

    The article goes on to say that there is “brazen waste and abuse” and “excessively increases salaries” to ’employees,’ probably not the people actually working with the kids.

    So, I admit that some charters might be excellent, but if we allow these schools to use public tax money without strict financial oversight, then we are a bunch of fools who don’t have the necessary intelligence to have an excellent school system.

    In Hawaii, there is legislation pending to toughen charter school laws to prevent further fraud and waste. I hope readers of this blog write to their state legislators to ask for strict financial oversight of charter schools. We know from experience that it is the poor kids of color who will end of being in all-black academies with poorly paid teachers and scarce resources. And the test scores will be whatever these charter “managers” want them to be.

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