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

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Real Effects of Corporate Charter Schools on Public Schools

Grover Norquist, whose Center for Tax Reform is prominent among the organizational supporters of Michelle Rhee's Reign of Terror in DC, is also famous for saying, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

In Los Angeles, corporate reformers are doing just that, beginning with the public schools. And they are getting it done with the viral spread of intensely segregated charter boot camps whose per-pupil public expenditure now goes to the corporate charter schools.

As this strategy gains steam, the old canards that were used to justify more charter schools are, each day, becoming more transparently false in their claims. Almost quaint, you could say:
  • Charter schools will be free to experiment with innovative curricula whose successes will spread into the public schools, thus improving instruction for all. The most prominent innovation that is spreading among and beyond the urban charters is the bare-knuckled "no excuses" total compliance model of schooling that has raised test scores at the KIPP sects and the KIPP knock-offs, where 40-50 percent of 5th graders never make it to 8th grade. The constant weeding out of the weak and recalcitrant is a closely managed not-so-secret fact that the media ignore, and the inflated test scores among the KIPP survivors becomes the only part of the story worth telling. If this "choice" chain gang model, however, were used in public schools which cannot weed the weak as KIPP does, the dropout rate could soar to 60 or 70 percent, easily, by high school. And never mind for now the massive teacher turnover (18 to 49 percent per year) at the KIPPs, thus requiring a constant infusion by white Teach for America missionaries.
  • Charter schools will force public schools to become better in order to attract more "market share." Sound good, but this is another market myth that is even more mythical in the context of schools. When public schools in LA or anywhere else lose students, they lose the thousands of dollars that go with each of those children to educate them. The result is a drop of public school enrollment that will mean increased financial pressures on the LAUSD, which will mean fewer teachers, larger classes, scarcer resources, reduced support services, and the further weakening of public support as the system is less able to respond to the needs of students.
The results, of course, follow the corporate ed reformer road map laid out by Andy Smarick:
First, commit to drastically increasing the charter market share in a few select communities until it is the dominant system and the district is reduced to a secondary provider . . . . As chartering increases its market share in a city, the district will come under growing financial pressure. The district, despite educating fewer and fewer students, will still require a large administrative staff to process payroll and benefits, administer federal programs, and oversee special education. With a lopsided adult-to-student ratio, the district's per-pupil costs will skyrocket.

At some point along the district's path from monopoly provider to financially unsustainable marginal player
, the city's investors and stakeholders--taxpayers, foundations, business leaders, elected officials, and editorial boards--are likely to demand fundamental change. That is, eventually the financial crisis will become a political crisis. If the district has progressive leadership, one of two best-case scenarios may result. The district could voluntarily begin the shift to an authorizer, developing a new relationship with its schools and reworking its administrative structure to meet the new conditions. Or, believing the organization is unable to make this change, the district could gradually transfer its schools to an established authorizer.
As if to emphasize the fact that this emerging reality is something the media does not care to think too much about, the LA Times had this short short the other day on what is truly happening to LA schools and other urban systems that have been targeted by the Oligarchs and their henchmen who run the U. S. Department of Education:
November 4, 2009 | 6:00 am
Enrollment in traditional Los Angeles-area public schools has declined this fall, even as the number of students enrolled in charter schools has exploded, according to just-released data.

The drop at traditional schools is slightly more than 3%, with enrollment falling to 617,798 students. The number of students at independent charters is up nearly 19%, to 60,643 students. More students attend charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District than in any other district in the country.

Charter schools operate like their own school districts, with control over most of the funding generated by their students. With the opening of new charters in the Los Angeles area, the enrollment shift was not entirely unexpected, but it nonetheless has broad implications for the nation's second-largest school system. When the district sheds students, it also loses the funds that accompany them, which puts pressure on a district budget with built-in costs for services and facilities.

Fewer students ultimately result in staff reductions --- over and above those already caused by the state budget crisis.

Even if the charter students are added in, district enrollment is down 1.4% from last year, continuing a recent trend. The latest numbers are culled from an annual survey called “norm day,” which is important for setting staffing levels at schools as well as determining future funding.

-- Howard Blume


  1. Re KIPP's weeding out of the weak and recalcitrant: As you may know, I did some volunteer research on KIPP (in the near-total absence of any skeptical press questioning about it) a few years ago by taking my own daughter, then just starting 7th grade, to KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy to inquire about enrolling her. I wanted to see if they'd say she had to take a test to get into the lottery*. (They did, though they claim they don't require that of entering 5th-graders.)

    We left with a KIPP Parent Handbook and read all about the school. My daughter's reaction was that she wanted me to enroll her so she could lead an uprising of the oppressed masses. (Actually she was happy and successful in her excellent San Francisco Unified School District diverse urban public middle school, Aptos Middle School.) That kind of tells you something about what kind of kids KIPP would attract and would produce, doesn't it?

    *If there IS a lottery. San Francisco's KIPP schools don't seem to be in much demand. Of course KIPP claims there's a "long waiting list," but all charter schools say that. Basically no one should ever believe a "long waiting list" claim.

  2. I am a student studying to be a teacher and I am just curious for learning purposes what you believe is the solution to funding issues in public schools? I know public schools are really facing funding issues now and always have. So I'm just wondering if you could give some ideas on what you believe would solve funding issues because I see that you feel charter schools cause districts great financial stress. We have this discussion in class often and no one really seems to have an answer so I'd like to hear your thoughts to help me have a better understanding on this issue of funding in public schools and charter schools.

  3. If your statistics are truly pure, then I might have a tendency to agree that Charter schools might not be the answer. However, throwing more money at public schools has not helped, either.

    Could the real answer be with improvements in parenting? I don't know.

  4. I do not know the answer and it seems like no one really has an answer everytime we have this discussion in class because it is such a complicated subject. I agree, throwing more money at the public schools does not help the situation. Improvements in parenting is something that has never come up actually in our class discussions; this may be something to think about because this is another issue that schools are constantly facing. Could you explain what you mean by this further for me please?

  5. Amy, I don't know that an answer exists with regard to improving parental support of their student's education and the results that could be acheived. Just because a parent makes a choice to take their option for Charter schools doesn't mean they have, or have to to adopt a supportive role in their child's education. We are talking about culturally-driven issues here, in general, that today's political correct movement, which has been almost wholly empowered by educators, snuffs out any REAL discussion of solutions. Plus, the solutions must be incited by leaders of those cultural groups. Until they are, I'm afraid, solutions floated by educators or schools, or by you and me are given no credence.