Are grassroots charter groups at a disadvantage?   2 comments

For those who have been following my blogs or Tweets, you are aware that I do not claim to be an expert on anything. Instead, I choose to rely on my common sense and observations to draw conclusions and offer my two cents on anything Education-related. My passions are, in no particular order: (1) Actually closing the achievement gap, instead of just talking about it; (2) more free school choice options for students who happen to be minority or from low-income families; (3) smaller schools; (4) ending racial barriers to Gifted Education programs; and (5) addressing the over-representation of African American students, particularly males, in Special Education. Perhaps I am most passionate about creating more school choice options because, when done correctly, it can alleviate the other issues.

In one of my blog posts, I asked ‘Can Education really be fixed?’ because there are so many companies jumping into the business of Education for the sake of making a profit. Whether they are publishers of Education-related textbooks, masking their companies as non-profit CMOs (See: Imagine blog post), or charging charter schools nearly $1 million dollars in management fees per year, a lot of people are getting very rich off of the ‘economically disadvantaged.’ When these new ‘miracle’ plans do not work, critics begin to point the finger at the victims, also known as students. In reality, we need to start addressing some of the other disparities in Education before we can really claim that we are trying to close the achievement gap.

Let’s take a quick look at the charter school movement, as these schools have become increasingly popular with parents who cannot afford private school tuition. For the states with charter school legislation (39 and D.C.), it is expected that each would have unique chartering process and policies. Since I have only studied the legislation of Indiana and Georgia, I will only comment on those two. Until this year, Georgia only had one charter approval process: Submitting applications to the Board of Education in the district where the school would be located. The local board then had two options: approval or denial. If the application is denied, the group could submit it to the State Board of Education to be approved as a State Chartered Special School. Unfortunately, this special status would mean less per pupil funding; schools would have to operate on a significantly smaller budget. Last year, Georgia’s Charter Commission was approved in an effort to further the charter school movement and as a response to the high number of denials by local school boards

While I applaud the state representatives, politicians, and others who support the move to increase charters, we still have a problem: Grassroots groups, mainly minority-created, are still at a disadvantage in the charter school movement. Some groups are required to raise exorbitant amounts of capital to guarantee approval; others are told that their projected salaries are too low to attract and retain qualified staff, even though salaries mirror those in the district. There are no stipulations for such requirements in Georgia’s charter school law; instead, the leadership determines who will receive approval based on whether one’s attitude is in line with their expectations. Parental support, student needs, and potential success are not factors. Also troubling are insinuations made that applicants must participate in charter school leadership training provided by the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Again, the law does not stipulate that this is required; however, it has been implied. The cost for GCSA leadership training is $10,000 for members and $15,000 for non-members. Most grassroots organizations are staffed by individuals who have full-time paying jobs, which usually support their families. Expecting someone to pay this amount of money for a school that may or may not be approved, is…well, a bit careless. Agree? Unless, of course, attending the training guarantees approval of your application. I certainly hope no one is stupid enough to charge people for an approved application. That’s almost as absurd as appointing one of your Teach for America colleagues to sit on the state’s Charter Committee, but I digress.

So again, how can we close the achievement gap when all stakeholders do not have a legitimate voice in offering solutions? There is a lot to be said about the charter school movement become an exclusive club only meant for people with access to millions of dollars of capital. Chances are, they don’t look like the ‘poor, disadvantaged’ people they plan to help.

2 responses to “Are grassroots charter groups at a disadvantage?

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  1. [quote](1) Actually closing the achievement gap, instead of just talking about it;
    (2) more free school choice options for students who happen to be minority or from low-income families; (3) smaller schools;
    (4) ending racial barriers to Gifted Education programs; and
    (5) addressing the over-representation of African American students, particularly males, in Special Education
    [/quote]

    EducationCEO:

    Please do not read any prejudice into my question as I ask you. I only want to get your viewpoint.

    Question: From my experience the goals that you enumerate for charter schools were also the goals that were present at the start of the educational activism which focused the Black community upon taking control over the public schools and school administrations so that “people who care about our children and have our permanent interests in mind” would be in power.

    With all due respect – in as much as this plan has largely worked yet now you are forced to pursue these goals in the Charter schools which serve as a relief valve for the defacto government operated school distribution system – Could you articulate the stance that you have in reference to the present machine that controls these public schools?

    Many in the Black Establishment are opposed to charter schools. In fact the “DC Choice” program was sunset as a date for funding cut off was included in a recent appropriation bill.

    My ultimate point is that I see your passion in reference to CHARTER schools and how racial barriers exist. I am trying to understand your disposition in reference to the public school establishment where the “victory has been won”. This is where the bulk of the African-American students are who’s education experiences are being violated per your list.

    • First of all, thank you for reading and responding! Believe me, it will take more than you posting for me to think you are prejudice! I do not go around looking for ‘prejudice’ or ‘racism,’ sometimes people put it right in front of your face. We need to be able to dialogue honestly because race IS a serious factor in public education..we cannot deny it. There is an achievement gap and we need to be able to address and fix it.

      Let me see if I can understand what you are trying to ask me. First let me say that I am aware of the voucher program in D.C. It is a great initiative but I also understand that parents are responsible for a portion of the tuition at private schools. in reality, a lot of families cannnot afford that tuition bill, especially now with millions (?) of people being unemployed. If we had a true system of competition within public education, the funds would follow the students. In come charter schools: In some states, the full funding does follow the students to charter schools. There are states where charter schools are making significant differences for students from low-income and minority families. Again, law is different in every state and it’s important to keep that in mind.

      There are people complaining about the quality of public education in every state. Unlike all the pseudo-experts, I am not going to turn this reponse into a ‘blame-the-teacher’ movement because all of education’s problems do not rest on their shoulders. Let’s be realistic: Teachers are powerful inside the classrooms, but when it comes to policy, curriculum, etc., they are essentially powerless. Many teacherum and are given a pre-set curriculum and standards to teach in a pre-determined amount of time. when class sizes range from 19-15 kids, a single teacher will have a challenge trying to teach to the individual learning style (not referring to students with an IEP) of each student. It is a fact that everyone has a different learning style; some people have more than one. This is just one of the ways that public education fails all children, not just those in the AYP subgroups. All children would thrive if given the opportunity to learn (the same material) through their strengths. Even Bill Gates has publicly stated that schools are warehouses..they don’t provide the learning environment necessary for students to truly learn.

      I can honestly say that I have not met any African American/Black parents who are opposed to charter schools. I am not implying they do not exist, I just haven’t met any. If you look at the charter school enrollment data across the country, you will see that the majority of students enrolled are African American, then followed by Hispanic/Latino children. This phenomenon also debunks the belief that these groups, especially African Americans, do not value education. Here you have parents educating themselves on the potential value of charter schools and doing what they need to do in order to enroll their children. Most charter schools also require volunteer hours from parents; therefore, if their kids attend the parents HAVE to volunteer. You cannot get around that or deny that parents want choice.

      You stated that you see my point as it relates to charter schools; however I would like to clarify something. I am for QUALITY EDUCATION in whatever form is readily available to all children, regardless of their zip code, race, or socio-economic status. It is unfortunate that public education has digressed to the point that competition to ‘educate’ has become a necessary evil. Many parents have tried working from the inside; as a teacher, I tried working from the inside. I worked as a Special Education teacher and I loved my job. Let me clarify: I loved working with the kids! I could not stand the petty, vindictive, and unprofessional behaviors of some of the ‘adults.’ Likewise, I do not have the stomach for workplace politics. If I do my job, keep my students engaged, under control, etc., then have the courtesy to not involve me in your childish activities but only in a perfact world. I digress. This is common, but I think less common in states that have strong teacher unions.

      I admit and acknowledge that there is a lot of work to be done with regard to public education. I do not recall stating that the victory has been won by any means! I guess since you do not really know me, you may have gathered that I was implying that. We have a very long way to go, whether it be through traditional schools, charters, or public schools.

      I certainly hope I answered your questions. If not, please feel free to email me at moniseseward@yahoo.com. It will probbaly be easier to respond since I have to keep scrolling up to read your response.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to read and respond!

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