Archive for the ‘charter schools’ Tag

Do you keep pushing when others can't (or won't) 'see' your vision?   4 comments

Approximately 1.5 years ago our organization, Millennium Scholars Academy (MSA), submitted a charter petition to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. We proposed to open the first K-12 Visual and Performing Arts (tuition-free) charter school in the county. At the time that we submitted our petition, we had enrollment commitments for 160 students, ranging from grades K-9; we even had parents whose children were not school-age who asked us to consider adding a Pre-K program!

The board denied our petition, citing several reasons, including the following: (1) looping/multi-year classrooms were already being implemented in schools throughout the county; (2) our plans for the arts program was too extensive to do during the traditional school day (Kennedy Center Arts Edge Standards); and (3) Understanding by Design was not research based. As required by the state, I responded to the board’s deficiencies. I even went so far as to imply that looping implementation must be based on the zip code of the school because, to my knowledge, none of the schools in my community were participating. Guess whose daughter is now in the only looping classroom in the entire school? I also emailed Grant Wiggins and asked him what he thought about the board’s response to using UbD. He responded as I expected a well-educated and well-respected educational researcher would. I got a good laugh out of his response!

This year’s charter petition deadline is March 25, even though the state’s Charter School Division requires districts to follow its guideline (SMH). I am still debating whether or not to submit the revised petition and pay for 20 copies of a 100 page document, when I know that no matter how much research I cite to support our instructional model and curriculum, it all boils down to whether you assuage the superintendent and the board members. My alma mater did not (and still does not) offer degrees in ass-kissing). Several months ago when I thought about taking a different approach, I contacted the school system to request demographic information for the Gifted and Special Education programs. I was curious. I wanted to know who was being served in each program, by the numbers. After being transferred to the wrong person three or four times, I finally got connected with the correct person. He told me that the district did not have that information readily available; therefore, they would have to create a ‘special’ report to the tune of $400. I thought to myself: Yeah right. Me, being the resourceful person I am (and watching 20 years of Law& Order) decided to submit the same Open Records Request to the Georgia Department of Education. Glad I did! I got the same ‘report’ for $48. People will sure find create a way to keep the public from obtaining damning information.

Now that I have this data, I am debating on whether to use it as evidence that we (the people in the southern area of Gwinnett County-Snellville, Lilburn, & Loganville, mostly minority) need a charter school within reasonable distance from our homes (less than 45 minutes). Gwinnett County is the largest district in Georgia, serving approximately 160,000 kids. There are currently only 3 charter schools in the entire district: (1) Ivy Prep Academy-an all-girls’ charter school; (2) New Life Academy of Excellence; and (3) Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology-which came under scrutiny because it resembles a magnet school more than a charter. Ivy Prep is unique in that it is the first and only all -girls charter school in the state. The local board denied the petition because they were ‘cautious’ of the potential legal challenges that a single gender school could bring. I guess they hadn’t gotten around to reading that former President George W. Bush authorized single gender education, especially when it was used to address significant achievement disparities. Seeing as how this is a red state, I just knew they were up on his legislation. SMH

So here’s the dilemna: Should I use the data in the petition since our school will implement the Accelerated School model, created by Henry Levin? This model was created as a way to close the achievement gap (long before it became a catchphrase) for minority kids and those from low-income families who did not have access to rigorous curricula and Gifted Education programs (see statistic above about high percentage of SES students in Special Education). Of the 22,138 students served in Gwinnett County’s Gifted Education program last year (2008-09), here is the breakdown:

  • 12.9% African American
  • 6.5% Hispanic/Latino
  • 1.9% English Language Learners
  • 18.8% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible (no break-down of race)

This means that 59% of Gifted Students are either White or Asian. Since Gwinnett’s Asian student population is very small (11%), it is safe to conclude that the majority of students in Gifted Education programs are White (non-minority, if that makes anyone feel better). For the same school year, African Americans and Hispanic/Latino students accounted for 28% and 22% of the district’s total enrollment, respectively. So if our kids aren’t represented in Gifted Education programs, then where are they? Let’s see who’s representin’ in Special Education. For the same academic year, Gwinnett County had a total of 21,202 students in Special Education, with the following breakdown:

  • 33.7% African American (but we are only 28% of total district population)
  • 20.2% Hispanic/Latino
  • 7.8 % English Language Learners
  • 56.4% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible

Well the minorities are certainly in the majority, but not in a good way: African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos account for more than 50% of the Special Education population. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that parents should resign any hope for their children and accept the odds that their children are more suitable for Special Education (remediation, in some cases) than advanced learning opportunities, or even age/grade appropriate learning opportunities. Especially troubling is the fact that district officials (superintendent, special program coordinators, and even state officials) are aware of the disparities, but have done nothing to address them. Hiring a few tokens to work at the district office does not count, FYI. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The more I think about this data, the negative consequences (to those of us who care about our kids being told they are mediocre and should not strive to be anything other than that), and the fact that NO ONE has the cajones to call these people out..the more disgusted I become. I am disgusted with these states and their paltry, half-assed attempts to address the achevement gap by allowing profit-hungry vultures (e.g., some EMO/CMO groups) to open charter schools in ‘the poorest communities,’ but deny those same opportunities to people who actually live there, not just those who commute into the communities. I am equally pissed about these false claims of restructuring education in Race to the Top applications. No one addresses the enrollment disparities of minority students in Gifted and Special Education programs. Even though the research is more than 20 years old, no one says a thing. As if ignoring the problem will make it go away. Unless districts start taking responsibility for perpetuating these exclusionary practices and states do better to hold them accountable, we can forget about making any significant dent in the achievement gap. Period. End of discussion.

Damn. So much for Brown v. Board of Education, huh?

Do you keep pushing when others can’t (or won’t) ‘see’ your vision?   4 comments

Approximately 1.5 years ago our organization, Millennium Scholars Academy (MSA), submitted a charter petition to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. We proposed to open the first K-12 Visual and Performing Arts (tuition-free) charter school in the county. At the time that we submitted our petition, we had enrollment commitments for 160 students, ranging from grades K-9; we even had parents whose children were not school-age who asked us to consider adding a Pre-K program!

The board denied our petition, citing several reasons, including the following: (1) looping/multi-year classrooms were already being implemented in schools throughout the county; (2) our plans for the arts program was too extensive to do during the traditional school day (Kennedy Center Arts Edge Standards); and (3) Understanding by Design was not research based. As required by the state, I responded to the board’s deficiencies. I even went so far as to imply that looping implementation must be based on the zip code of the school because, to my knowledge, none of the schools in my community were participating. Guess whose daughter is now in the only looping classroom in the entire school? I also emailed Grant Wiggins and asked him what he thought about the board’s response to using UbD. He responded as I expected a well-educated and well-respected educational researcher would. I got a good laugh out of his response!

This year’s charter petition deadline is March 25, even though the state’s Charter School Division requires districts to follow its guideline (SMH). I am still debating whether or not to submit the revised petition and pay for 20 copies of a 100 page document, when I know that no matter how much research I cite to support our instructional model and curriculum, it all boils down to whether you assuage the superintendent and the board members. My alma mater did not (and still does not) offer degrees in ass-kissing). Several months ago when I thought about taking a different approach, I contacted the school system to request demographic information for the Gifted and Special Education programs. I was curious. I wanted to know who was being served in each program, by the numbers. After being transferred to the wrong person three or four times, I finally got connected with the correct person. He told me that the district did not have that information readily available; therefore, they would have to create a ‘special’ report to the tune of $400. I thought to myself: Yeah right. Me, being the resourceful person I am (and watching 20 years of Law& Order) decided to submit the same Open Records Request to the Georgia Department of Education. Glad I did! I got the same ‘report’ for $48. People will sure find create a way to keep the public from obtaining damning information.

Now that I have this data, I am debating on whether to use it as evidence that we (the people in the southern area of Gwinnett County-Snellville, Lilburn, & Loganville, mostly minority) need a charter school within reasonable distance from our homes (less than 45 minutes). Gwinnett County is the largest district in Georgia, serving approximately 160,000 kids. There are currently only 3 charter schools in the entire district: (1) Ivy Prep Academy-an all-girls’ charter school; (2) New Life Academy of Excellence; and (3) Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology-which came under scrutiny because it resembles a magnet school more than a charter. Ivy Prep is unique in that it is the first and only all -girls charter school in the state. The local board denied the petition because they were ‘cautious’ of the potential legal challenges that a single gender school could bring. I guess they hadn’t gotten around to reading that former President George W. Bush authorized single gender education, especially when it was used to address significant achievement disparities. Seeing as how this is a red state, I just knew they were up on his legislation. SMH

So here’s the dilemna: Should I use the data in the petition since our school will implement the Accelerated School model, created by Henry Levin? This model was created as a way to close the achievement gap (long before it became a catchphrase) for minority kids and those from low-income families who did not have access to rigorous curricula and Gifted Education programs (see statistic above about high percentage of SES students in Special Education). Of the 22,138 students served in Gwinnett County’s Gifted Education program last year (2008-09), here is the breakdown:

  • 12.9% African American
  • 6.5% Hispanic/Latino
  • 1.9% English Language Learners
  • 18.8% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible (no break-down of race)

This means that 59% of Gifted Students are either White or Asian. Since Gwinnett’s Asian student population is very small (11%), it is safe to conclude that the majority of students in Gifted Education programs are White (non-minority, if that makes anyone feel better). For the same school year, African Americans and Hispanic/Latino students accounted for 28% and 22% of the district’s total enrollment, respectively. So if our kids aren’t represented in Gifted Education programs, then where are they? Let’s see who’s representin’ in Special Education. For the same academic year, Gwinnett County had a total of 21,202 students in Special Education, with the following breakdown:

  • 33.7% African American (but we are only 28% of total district population)
  • 20.2% Hispanic/Latino
  • 7.8 % English Language Learners
  • 56.4% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible

Well the minorities are certainly in the majority, but not in a good way: African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos account for more than 50% of the Special Education population. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that parents should resign any hope for their children and accept the odds that their children are more suitable for Special Education (remediation, in some cases) than advanced learning opportunities, or even age/grade appropriate learning opportunities. Especially troubling is the fact that district officials (superintendent, special program coordinators, and even state officials) are aware of the disparities, but have done nothing to address them. Hiring a few tokens to work at the district office does not count, FYI. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The more I think about this data, the negative consequences (to those of us who care about our kids being told they are mediocre and should not strive to be anything other than that), and the fact that NO ONE has the cajones to call these people out..the more disgusted I become. I am disgusted with these states and their paltry, half-assed attempts to address the achevement gap by allowing profit-hungry vultures (e.g., some EMO/CMO groups) to open charter schools in ‘the poorest communities,’ but deny those same opportunities to people who actually live there, not just those who commute into the communities. I am equally pissed about these false claims of restructuring education in Race to the Top applications. No one addresses the enrollment disparities of minority students in Gifted and Special Education programs. Even though the research is more than 20 years old, no one says a thing. As if ignoring the problem will make it go away. Unless districts start taking responsibility for perpetuating these exclusionary practices and states do better to hold them accountable, we can forget about making any significant dent in the achievement gap. Period. End of discussion.

Damn. So much for Brown v. Board of Education, huh?

Let me set the record straight…   5 comments

As I was checking the profiles of my new followers yesterday, I noticed that several of the people are affiliated with either KIPP or Teach for America. I figured that they found me due to my incessant use of #hastags. In previous posts I mentioned Michelle Rhee and the other above-referenced companies. I have never minced words about my feelings on Rhee’s leadership style, or lack thereof, because frankly, that’s my prerogative. Once I noticed who was following me, I tweeted the following random message:

A lot of #TFA people have started following me..hope they don’t get their hopes up b/c I ain’t drinkin the Kool-Aid!

It is not uncommon for me to use sarcasm in my blogs..that’s just part of my personality, especially when everyone with an Ivy League degree claims to be an expert on fixing public education (see, there it goes again). I used the Kool-Aid reference (Jim Jones) to remind people how easily swayed we become when begin worshipping false gods (now that there is from the bible). While I do not discount any progress made by KIPP, TFA, or the teachers and students in D.C.’s public schools, I take issue with the perpetuation of this myth that minorities are not qualified enough to educate minority children. NOTE: I did not say that White teachers could not make a difference. Please read what I wrote. Do not walk away with a different interpretation. Bottom line: I am not a cheerleader for any organization that can set-up shop in some of the poorest minority communities and set the glass ceiling at the principal’s door. Sure they recruit teachers, support staff, and some principals from minority groups, but how many of their upper-level management positions are filled by ethnic and racial minorities? Better yet, look at the boards of KIPP, TFA, and some of the major charter school organizations and count the names that appear more than once. Get back to me on that one. If these companies were genuinely concerned about closing the achievement gap for all ‘disadvantaged’ students, their services would reach beyond the four walls of the school. Perhaps they could ‘color’ their respective boards to reflect the communities in which they serve, and simultaneously make millions each year, per school? Nah..that’s too much like right. Instead, these Ivy League colleagues continue to groom their friends to develop spin-off companies, in turn perpetuating the cycle. Basically, Education-for-profit is akin to the ‘old boys’ network’ still prevalent here in the South. We look out for our own. Unfortunately, when African Americans adopt this same type of attitude, we get branded as separatists or segregationists. Some yahoos even start yelling about reverse discrimination! How in the hell can you have reverse discrimination when African Americans are usually the only ones who acknowledge its existence? Even then, there are ‘those’ (AA) who will deny it, slavery, and anything else to appease the ‘right’ people in power, but that’s another blog entirely. For those who are students and studiers (is that a word) of History, you know exactly what I mean.

As I said earlier, I am not a cheerleader for any person, organization, institution, etc. that perpetuates the obvious system of haves and have-nots, whether it be through employment, education, politics, etc. I will not temper my words to make anyone comfortable because no one is addressing the systemic racism and tracking that is rampant in public education to make sure my kids get a fair chance to make their own opportunities.

I did not intend to write this blog at 2 in the morning, but someone wanted me to explain my comments/feelings about KIPP. More importantly, I know that I would not have slept peacefully with these thoughts in my head. If I had more time, I would have easily added a historical component but alas, the best I can do is direct you to a wonderfully written blog interview with Ira David Socol. If he wasn’t a White guy, I would swear we were related because we think so much alike it’s dangerous…..for someone!

Peace! I’m going to sleep!

An open letter to the Georgia Charter School Commission   Leave a comment

December 12, 2009

Dear Mssrs. Scafidi & Robinson:

For the past few days, I have been reviewing the charter petitions recommended by the Charter School Commission. I must admit that I am disappointed and quite disturbed. Explanations cited by the Commission are in direct contradiction to the legislative intent of charter school law. Furthermore, either White-owned management companies or affluent community groups submitted those petitions recommended. This continual selective practice places minority grassroots groups at a clear and blatant disadvantage. If the true intent of charter schools is to create school choice options for minority and low-income students, close the achievement gap, and involve parents in the educational process, then should not those same individuals have an opportunity at full participation by way of playing an active role in creating schools within their communities?  

I have shared these same concerns with the Charter Schools Division earlier this year, as the State Board of Education did not approve our charter petition because our group neither secured nor raised the entire operating budget prior to approval, as required by Andrew Broy. The charter landscape has only slightly changed since then, as it appears that Commission is placing the same barriers before more qualified charter applicants. An abbreviated list of charter petition discrepancies follows below. As the Commission made the recommendations, I rest assured you are more familiar with the petitions and deficiencies.

  • Board membership
  • Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education
  • Conflict of interest with a board member being a paid school employee
  • Teacher salaries
  • Leadership competency – Contracting with EMO/CMO

 

Parents as Board Members

If I am not mistaken, the Obama Administration is challenging parents to become actively involved in their children’s education. As a parent and educator, it is my opinion that assembling a board comprised of dedicated parents ensures sound decision-making as it relates to children and a quality instructional program. I assume that this is a recent addition to the state’s charter school law and guidance, as Oglethorpe Charter School’s governing board is comprised mostly of parents. Oglethorpe has received federal recognition for the governance structure that includes a high percentage of parents with enrolled students. It is my sincere hope that the application of this rule applied to all charter schools, and not based solely on the proposed location of the school. 

Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education

When drafting a charter petition, it is impossible to state with 100% certainty the school’s composition, unless the proposed school’s location is in a community absent of racial and/or ethnic diversity. This holds true when determining the number of students that will receive services through Special Education. At best, the petitioner can make an educated guess based on the district’s percentage of Special Education participants. Even so, determining the actual programs, e.g., Learning Disability, Emotional Behavior Disorder, etc., must wait until students actually enroll in the school. It is clear to me, a former Special Education teacher, that this is an area of confusion for Commission and State Board of Education members. I do suppose that petitioners can model the practices of traditional districts and track 40-50% of the students into Special Education. I digress.

Conflict of Interest of Board Members

The Internal Revenue Service provides specific guidelines on developing a Conflict of Interest policy for non-profit organizations. If the Commission has a policy beyond that of the IRS, it is imperative that petitioners have access before assembling their boards and hiring key personnel. I noticed that several petitioners received feedback regarding the potential conflict of interest of a board member who was also a potential employee of the charter schools. This is especially troubling considering that several charter schools in existence have individuals serving as founding members and employees. These charter schools have been approved by the local and state boards. In fact, one charter school in Gwinnett County has a husband and wife receiving compensation form the charter school. That, to me, sounds like a clear conflict of interest. Furthermore, other charter schools employ founding members. I digress.

Teacher Salaries

Neither the Commission nor the Charter School Division provides any guidance on setting teacher salaries, or salaries for other employees for that matter. I personally addressed this same issue with Andrew Broy, Clara Keith, and Kathy Cox earlier this year. As none of these individuals is directly involved with an organization’s efforts to recruit qualified and dedicated staff, neither they nor the Commission should have the authority to determine appropriate teacher salaries. The benefits of charter schools are numerous. One of them is the ability for teachers to have some creative freedom within their classrooms, as opposed to teaching to the test. Many teachers are willing to sacrifice a few thousand dollars for the opportunity to work in an environment where they will be treated as professionals and adults; traditional schools tend to devalue the importance of those liberties. It is quite possible that several charter school petitioners already secured verbal commitments from individuals wishing to work at the proposed schools; however, Georgia law stipulates that a teacher cannot sign a new contract while teaching under contract with another school system. As Education experts, all Commission members should possess this information.

Leadership Competency

“Neither does (insert charter school name here) propose to contract with an educational management organization for the provision of experience in educational services.” Again, if petitioners are required to contract with educational management organizations, then the Commission should make that information available to petitioners before they dedicate months and years to community outreach, marketing, researching, and writing the petition. Furthermore, many grassroots organizations oftentimes spend their own money to cover expenses associated with creating a charter school. If it is the intent of the Commission, legislators, Charter Schools Division, and Kathy Cox to create an  EMO/CMO-only charter environment in Georgia, please extend a professional courtesy to students, parents, and educators and make those intentions known locally and nationally.

In closing, I would like to point out the fact that for-profit management companies masked as non-profits have the upper hand here in Georgia. This is evident in their policies of locating schools only in districts where 60%+ of the students qualify for Free and Reduced priced meals, yet none of the parents are directly involved in the creation, management, or daily operations of those schools. That smacks of blatant racism. The laws, State Board of Education members, and Charter School Commission members are perpetuating the unspoken belief that minorities are not qualified to educate their own children, let alone anyone else’s. Spare me the rhetoric of your best friend being (racial/ethnic) or being married to a (racial/ethnic minority), as anyone who recognizes these policies, but says nothing to change them, is just as guilty as those who wrote them.

I have written this letter with an open mind and clear conscience. I am expressing concerns on behalf of those who still have an interest in resubmitting their petitions for future consideration. After spending more than 2 years of my life and time researching and developing a petition, I have accepted that changing Education from the inside may not be correct choice for me. As long as my principles and integrity remain non-negotiable, I am confident that the kind of radical change necessary for Georgia’s families must come from the outside. The Center for Education Reform was obviously extremely lenient in assigning a grade of ‘C’ to Georgia’s charter school law.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider these observations.

Good day,

Monise L. Seward, Ed.S.

Parent-Educator

Georgia’s Charter Commission: Same story, different day   Leave a comment

In 2008, legislation was passed to the create the Charter School Commission in Georgia. Formally known as House Bill 881, the Commission was created in response to the high number of charter denials by local boards of education (LEAs) throughout the state, particularly in the metro-Atlanta districts. This past summer, the Commission approved its first charter schools: Ivy Preparatory Academy, an all-girls’ school in Norcross, GA; and Charter Conservatory of Liberal Arts & Technology in Statesboro, GA. Since both schools are now Commission-approved, they will receive full state and partial local funding. Despite the intent of House Bill 881, charter schools still receive less per-pupil funding than traditional schools. This is one reasons Georgia’s charter school law received a ‘C’ on the Center for Education Reform’s annual charter school report card.

Although it appears (to outsiders) that Georgia has made some strides with its charter school policy and authorization, I can’t help but wonder: Is the process really any better with the newly-formed Commission? During the most recent charter cycle, the Commission approved five (out of 35) new charter petitions: 2 CMO-based schools; 2 community-based schools; and 1 petition that was resubmitted to receive Commission approval, after being approved as a State Special Charter School earlier this year.

One of the CMO-based school raises concerns. In the budget submitted with the charter petition, National Heritage Academies proposes fees totaling more than $1 million dollars the first year of operation. The school plans to enroll 500 students during the first year. Basically, National Heritage Academies will receive their guaranteed fees off the top of the school’s revenues, including grant funds and Title I allocations. Hmmmm. Interesting. None of the grassroots groups that submitted charter petitions included management, licensing, or facilities fees in their budgets; only one community-based group was approved. This particular group is comprised of affluent parents in an established DeKalb County neighborhood.

I must admit that I am completely dismayed and utterly disgusted at the blatant profiteering occurring within the charter school community. The state’s quest for Race to the Top funds puts traditional grassroots groups (Read: minorities without access to large sums of capital, whose children will likely attend said schools) at a clear disadvantage. The charter school culture continues to cater to for-profit companies masked as non-profits. I posed the question: Have Charter Management Organizations run amok? in another blog post. I stand corrected: There is no need to frame that statement in the form of a question. It is painstakingly obvious that they have had a considerable amount of help and for all intents and purposes, it’s perfectly legal. Well, at least for now it is. The most damning affect, in my opinion, is the perpetuation of this implied ‘Great White Hope’ theory or attitude much like the ones we have seen in D.C. and New York. despite media hype or lore, Blacks are qualified and competent enough to educate kids, and not just our kids. As long as there are implied barriers (e.g., if you don’t have $1 million dollars – don’t apply) are in place and supported by politicians, the governor, the State Superintendent of Schools, and the Charter Schools Commission, minorities may as well sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else ‘race’ to the top.

Georgia's Charter Commission: Same story, different day   Leave a comment

In 2008, legislation was passed to the create the Charter School Commission in Georgia. Formally known as House Bill 881, the Commission was created in response to the high number of charter denials by local boards of education (LEAs) throughout the state, particularly in the metro-Atlanta districts. This past summer, the Commission approved its first charter schools: Ivy Preparatory Academy, an all-girls’ school in Norcross, GA; and Charter Conservatory of Liberal Arts & Technology in Statesboro, GA. Since both schools are now Commission-approved, they will receive full state and partial local funding. Despite the intent of House Bill 881, charter schools still receive less per-pupil funding than traditional schools. This is one reasons Georgia’s charter school law received a ‘C’ on the Center for Education Reform’s annual charter school report card.

Although it appears (to outsiders) that Georgia has made some strides with its charter school policy and authorization, I can’t help but wonder: Is the process really any better with the newly-formed Commission? During the most recent charter cycle, the Commission approved five (out of 35) new charter petitions: 2 CMO-based schools; 2 community-based schools; and 1 petition that was resubmitted to receive Commission approval, after being approved as a State Special Charter School earlier this year.

One of the CMO-based school raises concerns. In the budget submitted with the charter petition, National Heritage Academies proposes fees totaling more than $1 million dollars the first year of operation. The school plans to enroll 500 students during the first year. Basically, National Heritage Academies will receive their guaranteed fees off the top of the school’s revenues, including grant funds and Title I allocations. Hmmmm. Interesting. None of the grassroots groups that submitted charter petitions included management, licensing, or facilities fees in their budgets; only one community-based group was approved. This particular group is comprised of affluent parents in an established DeKalb County neighborhood.

I must admit that I am completely dismayed and utterly disgusted at the blatant profiteering occurring within the charter school community. The state’s quest for Race to the Top funds puts traditional grassroots groups (Read: minorities without access to large sums of capital, whose children will likely attend said schools) at a clear disadvantage. The charter school culture continues to cater to for-profit companies masked as non-profits. I posed the question: Have Charter Management Organizations run amok? in another blog post. I stand corrected: There is no need to frame that statement in the form of a question. It is painstakingly obvious that they have had a considerable amount of help and for all intents and purposes, it’s perfectly legal. Well, at least for now it is. The most damning affect, in my opinion, is the perpetuation of this implied ‘Great White Hope’ theory or attitude much like the ones we have seen in D.C. and New York. despite media hype or lore, Blacks are qualified and competent enough to educate kids, and not just our kids. As long as there are implied barriers (e.g., if you don’t have $1 million dollars – don’t apply) are in place and supported by politicians, the governor, the State Superintendent of Schools, and the Charter Schools Commission, minorities may as well sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else ‘race’ to the top.

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.