Archive for the ‘School Choice’ Tag

A school for the kids: It’s still calling me….   Leave a comment

You know how you have this one thing you really, really wanna do? But no matter how well planned your plan is, road-blocks and obstacles always seem to find their way in your way. Sometimes the plan is so grand and the vision so intense that you can’t sleep or you find yourself drawn to it at weird hours of the day.  There may have even been a time (or five) where you thought: “To hell with this; it’s a waste of my time. I could be doing XYZ with those 16 hours I spend researching, writing, making phone calls, etc.” Surely, I can’t be the only person who has felt that way at some point or another, right?

When I get to feeling that way, I start thinking about Langston Hughes‘A Dream Deferred’ poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

It may sound simple, but that poem provides me with some motivation. Why? Because I don’t want to ever get to the point where I sit around thinking, ‘I wonder what would have happened if….’ Life is too short and precious to be filled with ifs. (Can I get an ‘Amen?’) Well, my dream was to open a Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I know there are many people out there who are against charter schools, but for some of us, they are our only option. I will add that I am against these faux, non-profit predators organizations opening-up schools in low-income and predominantly minority neighborhoods, promising parents that their kids will succeed and go to college. Hell, depending on your definition of ‘succeed’ anyone can promise that. Furthermore, I can take a bus load of kids to a college campus, let them step foot on the campus and then proclaim that they went to college. Just when we thought the last thing our communities needed was a liquor store on every corner, but I digress.

Our organization is truly a grassroots group, made-up of parents (Black, White, Latino, etc.), teachers, and community members. We had the passion, purpose, vision, and research bases covered. We had no idea we’d be expected to turn water to wine raise a ridiculously large sum of money in such a short time. We were all discouraged, and rightly so I do believe. No such demands were placed on other groups. That is when I decided to walk away (after I raised more than my fair share of hell, of course). So when I learned of the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling on the Charter Commission, here is what I thought initially: ‘Like I always say, God don’t like ugly.’ And by ‘ugly’ I mean the way our group was treated as well as how other grassroots groups were dismissed because they did not have the name recognition of EMO/CMO groups, or because their boards actually reflected the communities they planned to serve. Yep, that’s how it went down. Even uglier, then-State School Superintendent Kathy Cox chose not to address the issues. Charter Commission members ignored emails, as did the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Yep, those organizations created to help charter school developers turned their backs on us. They turned their backs on our kids. I guess because our school model was not controversial enough to garner national attention, we were not worthy of their support or even an offering of mediation. Ok. I see you. But now the entire (education) community sees you and your obvious lack of research and knowledge of the law, even though the individual responsible for drafting the language has a law degree and graduated from TFA. Laughable, but I digress.

So, this whole experience/desire to open a school with a well-developed arts program is coming full-circle now. As I was speaking with a student, who is also a single parent, I learned about the Arete Scholars Fund. As it turns out, people and businesses that owe taxes to the state of Georgia can donate those funds to a scholarship fund to pay tuition at a private school. Hmmmm. This is obviously a well-kept secret, or at least it was until I found out about it. I shied away from opening a private school because I knew that the students I wanted to serve would not be able to afford private school tuition. Now there is a way to open this school, without the bureaucracy and politics of public education. Most importantly, I don’t have to deal with short men with Napoleon complexes who expect me to kiss their arses….as if.

My, how the tides have turned. Assembling a dream team of educators. Time to change the game. Dream not deferred, just re-imagined. Stay tuned.

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Don’t Make Me Angry…..You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry   1 comment

Yes, I am channeling my inner 80s child..but I am oh-so serious right about now. Let’s just be honest: I am a lot pissed right now. That is part of the reason why I haven’t written since my last blog about why I do what I do as a mamma. Sometimes it may seem that most 99.9% of my writing comes from a place of anger, but it really doesn’t. Ok, maybe a little bit. But there are three things of mine that I caution people NOT to mess with: 1. My kids. 2. My family. and 3. My money. And yes, I am serious. So as I logged in to write this post, I noticed that I haven’t written anything on more than 2 weeks. Yikes! That’s a long time considering how much I used to write, but then I have to remember that I am actually employed now but still…..I don’t know. Anyway, the reason why I decided to write….

I have spent almost 3 weeks going back-and-forth with the school and district about his damn credit recovery class my son had to take because he failed Integrated Geometry the first semester. I had finally decided to let them (educrats) sweat bullets for a while and I left the issue alone..that is, until two more things happened. Yesterday I had to take Boy Wonder to B.F.E. to take his ‘performance final’ for the credit recovery class. (BTW: WTH is a ‘performance final’ any damn way?) So we get to the testing location early, which for me means 15-20 before any scheduled event. Not only was it hot as hell in the building, but there were a lot of people there and the educrats weren’t even ready. They didn’t start checking-in kids until 10-15 minutes before the tests began. ‘Why is that a big deal?’ you might ask. Well, the final was scheduled for 4 PM. Like I said, I. DON’T. DO. LATE. Since I knew a lot of running around and being given the runaround would be involved (otherwise it wouldn’t be the Gwinnett County Public Schools), I decided to spare myself a little grief by not working yesterday. (Nope, I won’t get paid either) I picked-up Boy wonder at 1:00, after driving around Alcatraz the school to get to the Attendance Office. Yes, you have to go outside the main building and drive around, past the football field and across from the scoreboard to get to the Attendance Office. After we left his school, we headed over to the elementary school to pick-up two little old ladies. Yep, I had to check them out of school early because: (1) I do not have family here to babysit; (2) I only work part-time and cannot afford after-school programs; and (3) the largest school district in the state, which also won $1 million from the Broad Foundation, does not offer any after-school programs. Not even at the Title I schools. Did I mention that the testing site is about 40 minutes from my house? Almost forgot that point.

As we were standing in line (and sweating), I noticed that there were a large number of kids taking credit recovery classes. And not just black and brown kids either. There were a lot of white kids, with money, there too. Yeah, I knew they had money because they drove more expensive (and newer) cars than me. SMDH. And guess what? A lot of the kids with resources were also taking credit recovery for Integrated Geometry. Interesting. But here is the reason why I have been steaming for the past week: Not only did I have to drop $100 for this credit recovery class, for a subject in which a lot of kids are failing and blowing their chances of getting the HOPE Scholarship, but I found out that the Georgia Department of Education provides an entire credit recovery curriculum to all districts for FREE. I don’t think I need to let that marinate with you all…free is free. After speaking with a knowledgeable little birdie, we came to the conclusion that Gwinnett likely contracted with an outside software/curriculum company to get curriculum for their credit recovery program. Basically, they are passing the cost of that program on to students. Black, White, Brown. Rich, poor, etc. I am not ashamed to say that $100 is a lot of money to me; it can go a long way if you are careful about how you spend it. I have come to the conclusion (and I keep re-visiting it) that Gwinnett County can pretty much do whatever the hell it wants to do and no one is willing to call them on their SHAT. Well, like the saying goes: All crooked good things must come to an end. And who better to put an end to this crap than me?

I will spare you all the details of the gazillion emails I exchanged with the talking-head principal, Math Curriculum Coordinator (or whatever the heck his official title is), and some other unqualified, overpaid, and apathetic district official. Long story short: I started asking questions about money, specifically Title I money, and I may have mentioned something about contacting the U.S. Department of Education. Suddenly I get a response from the above-referenced underqualified, overpaid person about a refund. I never asked for a refund, but instead, I want someone to explain to me why I had to pay for the class in the first place when they knew my financial situation. I guess I need to wait two more weeks for a response to that question. In their defense though, they are dealing with these allegations of shady land deals. My little $100 contribution is of little significance right now. And besides, I think I included enough links to make a point without risking the eye safety of my legion of five blog readers. Besides, I’m sleepy.

Over and Out. *Cues ‘Incredible Hulk’ theme.

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?

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

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.

Have Charter Management Organizations run amok?   3 comments

More than a decade after the first charter school was created to foster an environment of teacher autonomy and school choice, ‘charter school’ has become a household phrase. Even television sitcoms such as ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ have given shout-outs to charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools have more flexibility with regard to educational model, school calendar, uniforms, and requiring parental involvement through mandatory volunteer hours. The Obama Administration’s push to improve public education by supporting charter schools through replication and conversion of failing public schools has catapulted the free school choice option to the forefront of the Race to the Top competition.

Some entrepreneurs have discovered that providing free school choice is a lucrative business. Charter Management Organizations (CMO) such as Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and Imagine have demonstrated that students from low-income backgrounds, typically minority, can succeed if given the proper learning environment. While I do not discount the accomplishments of such organizations, I do question the method used to select where the charter schools will be located. For example, some companies only open schools in districts where 70% or more of the students qualify for Free and Reduced Meal Programs. Does that mean students in districts where only 50-60% of the students qualify for those meals are less worthy of a research-based school choice option?

Upon reviewing the list of charter petitions awaiting approval by Georgia’s Charter Commission, many red flags went up. Charter Schools Administration Services (CSAS) has two petitions under review: one for Academy of Fulton County and another for Academy of Lithonia. CSAS presented budgets for both schools with management fees of $609,000 per year, per school. An additional $300K and $400K were added for the leasing of the facilities, respectively. Each school would also pay $56,000 in interest on funds loaned through CSAS. These figures are especially troubling when one considers the fact that only 500 students are or will be enrolled; the average per pupil revenues in the metro-Atlanta area are roughly $8,000. Regardless of additional, unforeseen expenses, the charter schools would have to pay CSAS first. It has been reported that CSAS and other CMO’s are currently under investigation by the IRS, as they operate as non-profit organizations; however, their profit margins say otherwise.

If school districts are genuinely concerned about ‘losing’ students to charter schools (Read: Losing the money), common sense should prevail: Create charters and convert some of the existing schools to charters, thereby providing parents, regardless of income or zip code, equal access to school choice options. Instead, some districts make it impossible for grassroots groups to create charter schools by denying all applications and challenging the state’s ability to authorize additional schools.