Why Would We Need Charter Schools in Washington?

Why vote for Measure 1240 to create charter schools? Charter improvements in student performance are modest. Alternatives exist. The measure is a gamble.

Washington is one of the most progressive states offering options to public education according to Emile Fogle,  chair of the Washington Homeschool Organization.

Fogle said, “Public schools may contract with [charter] companies …or operate Alternative Learning Experience Programs. Charters would be redundant now.”

Alternatives include the Skills Center, Westside High School, Eastmont technical programs and college preparation classes such as Bridgeport’s. Parent Partnership Programs create individualized contracts with reimbursements for materials.

Resources abound through social media and video education, such as the Khan Academy, having provided viewers 198,670,298  brief videos towards its “goal of providing a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”

I couldn’t find a Kahn video about the math arrays my 4th grade lunch buddy is studying, but quickly found five on YouTube. These resources link to Facebook.

Last week in my Wenatchee Learns committee, a teacher said students are talking about classes on Facebook. Some teachers link their classes with students on Facebook.

Revolutionary progress is rapidly providing resources for anyone, anywhere at any time.

In contrast, Measure 1240, “would authorize up to forty publicly-funded charter schools.” Students would be chosen by lottery.

Charter schools would be, “operated through approved … nonprofit organizations.”

Governmental oversight would be under a new state charter commission or a school district approved by the state to offer a charter school.

Charters could “modify certain laws applicable to them as public schools.” The measure lists many un-modifiable laws and says, “the bargaining unit for collective bargaining would be limited to employees of the charter school.”

The fiscal impact statement says, “Impacts on state expenditures are … indeterminate, but non-zero. Known state agency implementation costs are estimated at $3,090,700 over five fiscal years.”

Burdened with time-consuming, costly overhead, would charters be worth the costs?” I read the voters’ pamphlet asking, ‘Do charter schools improve student performance?’ These are advocate answers.

“Our current public school system isn’t meeting the needs of all students.”

But, do charters improve student performance?

“Forty-one other states have public charter schools.”

But, do charters improve student performance?

“Charter schools have more flexibility in curriculum, budgets and staffing, and in offering more customized learning experiences for students.”

I found answers from reputable sources, ignoring glowing self-reports from individual charters. Student improvements are variable and modest.

“From the available research, it seems that the attention paid to charter schools outweighs the effect they have had on public education, either good or bad,” says the Center for Public Education, which describes itself as a “national resource for accurate, timely and credible information about public education.”

In 2011 the National Charter School Research Project at the U. of Washington contracted for a new study, “The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Literature.” It said, “past charter research tells us little.”

However, the study said, “There is reason for optimism that, despite great variation in results, charter schools can be effective policy tools.”

Using psychometric skills from my PhD, I scanned the published study and studied the researchers’ summary brief. Optimism stems from statistically significant results in reading and math.

Average reading scores improve in elementary schools. A failing student ranking 50th out of 100 would be expected to rise to 50.4th after one year. No significant improvement would be expected in middle school or high school.

Average math scores improve in elementary and middle schools. A failing student ranking 50th  out of 100 would be expected to rise to 52nd after one year. No significant improvement would be expected in high school.

Researchers do not know why charters get these modest results. The report says, “Although the results cannot tell why some charter schools perform better than others, it is likely that state laws and implementation influence outcome.”

What? Their best guess is state laws and implementation might influence modest, variable outcomes?

Spending taxpayer money on charter schools is like buying a lottery ticket. Vote no.

And demand better alternatives.

About Russellsclearskies

Writing to poke fun at a retired klutz like me who's curiously exploring the absurdities and complexities of the good life. .
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2 Responses to Why Would We Need Charter Schools in Washington?

  1. Jami Lund says:

    Hello Mr. Russell, and thank you for the insights.

    To me, the dynamic of actual competition for market share is missed by most of the analysis I have seen both for and against charters.

    For example, what if the research finds no dominating difference in student learning between traditional and charter schools because both improve under the influence of competition? (leaving aside the abysmal state of student learning measures).

    But as a more important example, are we really sure that Olympia has figured out the one size that fits all? Competing alternatives put families in the drivers’ seat, and why do we fear that? For example, while student learning on a general basis is important, what if a family wanted to send their child to a charter school because it was safer? Or because it was better and addressing dyslexia? Or because it has a longer school year and a focus on the arts? In these cases, parents very logically may choose a charter school even if the average pass-fail results on a snapshot test of reading, writing and math are cumulatively worse than a nearby public school. Is such a generic test score comparison a just way to ban any such alternatives?

    To me, the question isn’t “have we found a better kind of school” the question is “shall we expand options and let competition prompt experts to meet educational needs?”

    Monopolies have warts. High costs, focus on employee interests, increased standardization, reduced adaptation, low efficiency and declining service levels. All of these are evident to some degree in public education as it operates in Washington state.

    We tinker with the monopoly with good intentions, but it is like pushing against the tide. I watched Olympia try to design a better teacher evaluation system, only to see them fail to even make student learning an element in such evaluation. If a district and a charter school were both free to truly serve their clients, and if improved service meant improved market share, then teacher evaluation would take care of itself.

    I watch Olympia wrestle with how to give away student learning days to employee union bargaining demands. If a district had a nearby charter school with a rich course offering resulting from a longer school day and longer school year, we would not even be discussing regulations about how to shorten school years.

    So please reconsider whether you have oversimplified the question, and whether families are better served where options exist.

    Jami Lund
    (360) 956-3482
    Education Reform Fellow
    Freedom Foundation

  2. Thanks for your comment, Mr. Lund. You raise a two major points in favor of charter schools: the value of competition and limited number of alternatives. I think the evidence is niether of the objections is valid.

    You ask whether competition overall has raised both the charter and public educational performances to account for the fact there is no worthwhile difference between charter schools and public schools. In fact research during the NCLB legislation shows that independent national measures of student performance have not changed, regardless of what states may be claiming. Charters have burgeoning during that time, but they still are a small percentage and no clear measures of superiority.

    My second point about competition is the private sector has had a significant opportunity to compete in private-for-profit schools and look what’s happened to Apollo and U of Phoenix, for example. Their completion rate is miserable, their debt loads on students is unsatisfactory, their counseling services inadequate, their pay-for-performance goes to recruiters and marketing not superior education and better educational results. Gambling with the montra of competition without skillful educational advantages is not prudent.

    Your second point is that adding charters provide choice for a number of reasons. Remember getting into a charter school is a lottery. Examples you mention such as dyslexia already have options that allow each parent a right to demand an individualized educational plan, rather than gamble on getting into a charter. Parents enroll their children in arts schools, private academies and supplement their education with independent learning plans, contracted plans. We have an amazing array of options for our students and the Internet revolution is increasing them every day.

    All I’m asking is why spend extra money and waste time to compete with non-performing charter schools instead of expanding the alternatives that are growing daily for every student and that would naturally create competitive choices for every student, in every school instead of a lucky few who win the lottery?

    Jim Russell

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