"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Corbett's Charter Magic: Charter Trickery in Oregon

The front-page story in yesterday's Oregonian was a prime example of why charter schools are not a viable route to creating a high quality, equitable school system. The Corbett School District, set in a small town just outside of Portland, Oregon, recently opened a new charter school - within their already-existing public school - in order to circumvent the interdistrict transfer policy, pulling students from neighboring schools (Gresham-Barlow SD and Reynolds SD, both with 11,000 and 12,000 students, respectively; Corbett has 800). The student transfers, of course, drain funding from Gresham-Barlow and Reynolds, shoring up the funding for the already relatively affluent Corbett SD. The Oregonian's story, not surprisingly, did not offer any serious critique of the charter school policies; instead, the article ignored the demographics of the various communities, which I have provided below (information from SchoolMatters, a pro-market education "service" funded by various philanthrocapitalists and S&P):

My jaw nearly dropped when I saw the entire lack of ELL students in the Corbett district. The drastically fewer students with disabilities and relatively low number of students that are "economically disadvantaged" (code word for living in poverty) seriously impacts the finances of each district. Does the public school system - itself a middle-class, white institution - have an easier time educating Corbett students? Without a doubt. Does Reynolds and Gresham-Barlow have more diverse needs among their student population? Without a doubt. But siphoning off students from Reynolds/Gresham-Barlow is part of the fast-track to a more segregated educational system. Of the Reynolds/Gresham-Barlow students, which ones have the financial and parental resources to drive to and from the Corbett school district? It's not a leap to assume the students Corbett attracts through their charter school trickery are more affluent and have more parental involvement.
Below are a few key snippets from the Oregonian article; and here are some additional statistics about Corbett, Reynolds, and Gresham-Barlow. Warning: deregulation, pro-segregation policies, and pro-charter rhetoric ahead:

Corbett adds charter school, irks neighbors

By Kimberly Melton, The Oregonian

August 30, 2009

Corbett is known for its Columbia River Gorge scenery and its nationally recognized public schools.

Families from all over the Portland area drive up to 30 miles a day so their kids can take advantage of blended classrooms, self-paced instruction and more advanced placement classes than high schools quadruple Corbett's size.

The small rural district has relied on student transfers from other cities to shore up its ranks and finances. But the transfers started drying up this year as surrounding districts tried to hold tight to their own students after a disastrous budget season.

Corbett is now fighting fire with fire: It's opening a public charter school that by state law bypasses any transfer ban.


Dunton's move has driven a wedge between Corbett and its neighbors, especially the beleaguered Reynolds School District. Reynolds cut nine days of school this past year and has canceled field trips and many electives in the coming year to save money.

Reynolds Superintendent Robert Fisher said he was floored when he learned of Dunton's plan. "This new charter school definitely impacts our district finances negatively," he said. "And it blatantly circumvents the interdistrict transfer process."

It's not the first time a school district in Oregon has used the state's 10-year-old charter school law to help resolve battles over students and district stability. But state officials say they've never heard of school district staff starting a charter school inside their regular public school.

Then again, Corbett is in a tight spot.

The district gets nearly a fourth of its students from outside its boundaries. And each of those students comes with state money -- an average of about $5,600 a head.


The Corbett Charter Academy will begin classes today in the same building as the district's K-12 classrooms. Dunton will run the K-12 charter school, and it will offer basically the same programs as the traditional school.

The academy circumvents state rules that allow school districts to limit transfers to other public schools.


Though charter schools are part of the state's public school system, they operate under different regulations that typically support more flexible ways of learning and programs that the regular system doesn't provide.


Corbett may offer smaller classes, but other than that, neither the traditional school nor the charter academy offers much of a different approach to education than his district, he said.

"We can't cannibalize one another under the guise of curriculum," Miner said. "There is a fundamental flaw in the charter school law that the Legislature must address."


About 40 percent of the students coming to the charter are from private schools, home schools or other charters.

No other single-school district in the state has chosen to maintain its neighborhood public school and open a parallel charter school. Dunton said he chose that route so he could maintain the small, community focus of the traditional neighborhood school while opening the doors to a new program that would draw more students and create a space to pilot new education ideas.

State law allows a district with only one school to convert the school into a charter -- and eight have done that as their enrollment has declined and money has dwindled.


Kaaren Heikes, executive director of the Northwest Center for Education Options, the state's only charter school association, said charter conversions and district-initiated charter schools are becoming more common, especially as the economy limits school budgets.

"The real issue is we need a new funding system," Heikes said. "Districts should not have to compete for kids in order to survive." [Ken's note: until recently, Heikes worked for theCharter School Development Center - headquartered in California - and made over $100,000/year. The charter school movement: once a local idea that now operates as a multi-state corporation, massive salaries included.]


  1. Anonymous2:24 PM

    I suspect that Superintendent Bob Dunton solicited the Oregonian article. There is nothing in the article which speaks to the concern of many Corbett District parents that the Charter School Kids and families seem to be held in more important regard than the district children. Corbett has been talking for a couple years about adding the 6th graders to the middle school which has been largely opposed by district families. On Wed @ 9PM, Aug 26th An email was sent out to parents of 6th grade district children that their kids would be added into the middle school... some of us did not even get the email. We found out from others friends in the community. Then on Friday Aug 28th an informational meeting was held in an attempt to justified the opposed change. ( By the way the Charter School is not effected...Their kids remain in the Elementasry School. Maybe this is supposed to be one of the "unique features" of the Charter School.) Parents that were outspoken and asked the tough questions were received with sarcasm from Mr. Dunton. His explanation for the change was that they were filled to capacity at the Grade School which now also accomodates the Charter School and suddenly received about 60+ new unexpected district admissions( apparently all in the past 2 weeks befor school start up) Space became an issue. So since the district 6th graders were just the right number of kids they needed to make it all work ...they moved them and only them. The window of opportunity opened and Mr Dunton shoved his scheme down our throats. He explained that they could not change what was already established for the Charter School because they have a contract to abide by...It was suggested at this informational meeting that perhaps the district needs a contract also. This decision was made solely by Mr. Dunton ... the School Board was notified after the fact. There are still issues concerning "Capacity" @ the Middle School. Rumor has it That they are 100 students above the legal capacity. It appears that any adjustments hence forward will be forcibly made by in district families. This is just the tip of the iceberg. And mind you Mr Dunton is Captain @ the helm of this ship...I wonder what personal gains Bob Dunton will be making as he expands his Corbett Charter School Association. Seems like a conflict of interest to me.!!!

  2. Anonymous3:30 PM

    My kids have been going to Corbett for many years. We have been trying to get buy out in Corbett because our family is from there and we feel like we are a part of the community. When this whole Charter things started I had no choice but to apply for the Charter because I didn't think it was fair to YANK my kids out of their school and away from the friends just because of all the political BS that was going on! I felt FORCED to have to apply to it because I was no longer being "allowed" my out of dist. transfer! I had never even registered my children in the school they are supposed to attend!! They have only known Corbett as their school.

    I also tried to go into this whole Charter idea with an open mind thinking, "Well at least my kids are still out there!!" But even that has proven to be very DISAPPOINTING and watered down!!! And if anyone says ANYTHING, they get the "Don't like it then leave." mentality. And these are parent's who have been involved with Corbett pre-charter. They were only voicing some concerns that they had. But I guess we better not question the deity of DUTTON the ALMIGHTY and his Imaginative Learning Experiment!!! Don't get me wrong...I love the teachers at Corbett..we have AMAZING teachers...but do you think, in this economy, that any of them are going to complain about what's going on? NO, they want to keep their jobs and I don't blame them!!!

    I also don't like what they did with the 6th graders either!! It was unfair to the in dist kids and for the few Charter 6th graders. Some of those 6th graders have been going to school together since Kindergarten...
    How does that bring a community closer?

    I know when it's all said and done, the bottom line is money!! Money, and EGO!! But the saddest of all is that it is our children that are left to suffer! Let's not forget that!!

    1. Anonymous6:06 AM

      Answer to Anonymous: I am a teacher in Sweden who has been practising Imaginative Education (IE) for many years. I have seen the 30 min presentation of Corbett Charter School on Vimeo and it shows that the teachers have many sources of influence in their work, not only IE but also Gardner's ideas about multiple intelligences. I get the impression that they are highly professional and know what they are doing and do it out of conviction rather than fear of losing their jobs.

      If you have any concerns about your kids aducation I strongly recommend that you email the teacher and try to be specific in your criticism. I am sure that this will sort a lot of things out. Teachers' email addresses are available on the school's website.

      As for IE it makes a lot of sense to me, you can read how I have used it to improve results for students who have been failing for years in school in a comment I made to this interesting article: http://infoacquisitionhub.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/beyond-the-traditionalist-and-progressivist-divide-kieran-egans-imaginative-education/

      I have also used the approach in schools with over 90 % percent of students coming from other countries than my native Sweden. Results have been equally positive.

      When discussing Corbett, Bob Dunton and IE i recommend differing two questions: 1) The education system as a whole where parent's choice inevitably cause problems of the kind that are described in this blogg. And 2) Educational methods used in the classroom, a question where I recommend discussing IE without mixing it up with question 1).
      Best regards,
      Björn Blomberg (Sweden)

  3. You should check out Corbett Post and see what is going on now with the Charter School.

  4. Anonymous2:28 PM

    My grandchildren have attended Corbett since gang symbols appeared on walls and fences, groups of them harrass students on the way to school. English as a second language has stunted the educational growth of those who cannot speak Spanish, since schools, of necessity, often have to teach to the lowest common denomenator. Gresham and the rest are no longer safe places to have our children. Corbett isn't the school of rich people, it's the school with parents who are paying attention, who dream of a college education for their children. Almost half students do poorly or drop out of school. Some parents will go far out of their way and spend money they don't have to try and innoculate their youth from this statistic. Seventy years ago, I attended school where the older boys were disciplinarians and often took out their pocket knives and placed the sharp end pointed toward the students who might walk up the steps on the wrong side. I was terrified and often refused to go to school and couldn't concentrate when I did. My grades were dismal. In the 2nd grade my family moved and I attended a school where bullies were monitored and stop and law enforcement did not allow gangs of school age youth to dominate the streets, even during school hours. I rose to the top of my class and skipped a grade. So, parents, get your kids out of schools that terrify or fail to teach to the ability of the student, and take them somewhere else. It's your job. And, the schools who are suffering from that should stop talking about how outrageous this mass exodus and start talking about why.