From One Washington to the Other

This is by Erich Martel.

November 5, 2012

Charter Expansion (Ballot Initiative I-1240) Will Harm, Not Help, Public School Students in Washington State:  Insights from the Other Washington, the Washington (DC) Public Schools

-     Charter schools are private schools on the public dole:

-     Unlike real public schools, they are not obligated to keep and teach the students they enroll

-     They boost their standardized test scores and graduation rates by transferring unwanted students back to the real public school system or LEA.

-     Charter advocates, like the Walton & Gates Foundations, aim to break up public schools and replace them with a lots of charter schools, run by charter boards that report to an appointed authorizing body over which neither the public nor the state legislature has oversight authority.

-     They view the public the same way they view teachers’ due process rights:  obstacles to arbitrary management control.

-     They are bipartisan or, more accurately, a faction within both major parties. James Madison description of a faction in Federalist #10 fits them very well:

“a number of citizens …, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” 

Dear Fellow Washingtonians,

Tomorrow, you will be voting on whether or not to authorize charter schools to operate in Washington State.  I thought I would share some details about charter operations from our experience in Washington, DC, where charters already enroll over 40% of our public school students.

I am a retired Washington, DC public high school social studies teacher. This past year, I have been working with community groups to stop the mayor and DCPS chancellor from closing or transferring to charters 37 public schools. Charters already enroll over 40% of our public school students.  .

Our public schools, especially our urban ones, desperately need improvement, but stigmatizing veteran teachers, stripping them of due process protections by giving control of the schools to self-promoters like Michelle Rhee or to charter operators has not improved our schools.  For more than 20 years, as a teacher, I have exposed mismanagement, including falsification of students’ grades, social promotion and graduation, bullying of teachers, toleration of disorderly student behavior, and undermining academic integrity by putting unprepared students in advanced classes, creation of “credit recovery” shortcuts to receive graduation credits, while refusing to provide students with viable vocational options.

In this letter, I describe how charter promoters and authorizers inflate standardized test results and graduation rates and, just like Ballot Initiative I-1240 intends to do, established an appointed “DC Public Charter School Board” (like the proposed “Washington State Charter School Commission,” “independent” of public oversight, but possessing discretionary authority over public education and facilities funds.  Finally, I appended excerpts from Ballot Initiative I-1240, followed by comments.

 

1.   Charter schools inflate standardized test results and graduation rates by transferring students with poor behavior and poor academic performance and who are more likely to drop out; therefore:          Charter Schools are Private Schools on the Public Dole.  Here is why:

Thurgood Marshall Public Charter School is a 4-year high school, located in Ward 8, Washington, DC’s poorest ward, and a favorite of the Walton Foundation and other foundations.

If you look at the total enrollment it appears to be a very stable school from year to year:

School year           Total Enrolled      Change

2006-2007                               361

2007-2008                               365                                          +  4

2008-2009                               377                                          +12

2009-2010                               390                                          +13

2010-2011                               388                                          –   2

2011-2012                               390                                          +  2

When one follows the enrollment numbers, broken down by color-coded grade 9 cohorts, it no longer appears stable (the colors allow one to follow each cohort from grade 9 to grade 12):

Enrollment Broken Down by Grade Level

Thurgood Marshall Academy        
Year Gr9 Gr10 Gr11 Gr12
2005-06 139 109 49 24
2006-07 125 123 65 48
2007-08 129 117 73 46
2008-09 138 99 81 59
2009-10 146 100 73 71
2010-11 167 96 75 50
2011-12 148 100 74 68

Annual Enrollment Decline by Grade Level cohorts

Thurgood Marshall Academy         Enrollmt
Year 9 10 11 12 Change
2005-06 > 2006-07   -16 -44 -  1 - 61
2006-07 > 2007-08   -  8 -50 -19 - 77
2007-08 > 2008-09   -30 -36 - 14 - 80
2008-09 > 2009-10 - 38 - 26 -10 - 74
2009-10 > 2010-11 -50 -25  -23 - 98
2010-11 > 2011-12 -67 -22 - 7 - 96

How charter schools inflate their NCLB Tests:  They transfer Low Performing Students Back to DCPS, the

School “of right.”  Notice the second Grade 10 Column:  April NCLB Test, Gr10

Thurgood Marshall’s audited enrollment drops from Gr9 to Gr10 (October); it drops again in the

Six months between the October audit and the April administration of the DC CAS (NCLB) Test.

Thurgood Marshall Academy Oct Audit Oct Audit April NCLB Test Oct Audit Oct Audit Gr9> Gr10 Test: cohort Gr9 > Gr 12 cohort calculation
Year Gr 9 Gr10 Gr10 Gr11 Gr12 Loss Loss
2005-06 139 109 92 49 24
2006-07 125 123 108 65 48 -31
2007-08 129 117 104 73 46 -21
2008-09 138 99 75 81 59 -54 -80 (139-59)
2009-10 146 100 87 73 71 -51 -54 (125-71)
2010-11 167 96 88 75 50 -58 -79 (129-50)
2011-12 148 100  91 74 68 -76 -70 (138-68)
->72 (146-74
Cohort Loss, 6 yr Ave: - 48.5 ->76 (167-100)

This school loses an average of 48.5 students in the 18 months between the grade 9 October enrollment audit and the April administration of the NCLB performance test, called DC CAS.

Over a five year period (2006-07 to 2010-11), all of the DC charter high schools dropped from their rolls an average of 730 students per cohort in the 18 months between the gr9 enrollment audit and the grade 10 NCLB test, an annual average of 40% of their grade 9 enrollment.

Although publicly funded, charters act like private schools: They transfer students at any time.

How charter schools inflate their graduation rates and lower the rate of the regular public school:

Look at TM’s Grade 9 enrollment for 2007-08:  129 students.  By Gr12, the number had declined to 50.  TM reported 43 graduates to the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (DC OSSE) and a 75.44% graduation  rate.  According to that rate, Thurgood Marshall had a grade 9 cohort of 57 students (43/57 = 75.44%).  But there were 129 9th graders:  What happened to 72 students?  Why aren’t they reflected in the graduation rate?

They were transferred, most back to DCPS.  How can they do that, if they are “public” schools?

By fiat, they are pronounced to be “public schools,” entitled to public funding, but only the traditional public school remains the school system “of right.”  The local school district or LEA (Local Education Agency) remains the public school that every student has a right to attend (it’s called “school of right”).  Charter schools are NOT schools “of right.”  They can transfer students out at any time. The right to have the final say-so over who attends a school is the defining characteristic of a private school.

The strategy of the charters is to attract students by promising a safer and better academic environment.  By self-selection, it attracts the more engaged parents.  During the 9th grade year and early 10th grade year, the school determines which students it wants to keep and which ones will do poorly on the test and are in danger of dropping out.

Don’t students drop out of the regular public school?  Certainly.  When they drop out, they are still counted in the school’s cohort (denominator).  A student can only be removed from the denominator/ cohort, if he or she is transferred to another school and enrolled. The regular public school has no equivalent “default” LEA into which it can unload unwanted students.  Since charters are all in the same school zone as the regular public school, they can transfer at will.

After a student has been transferred to the LEA school of right, i.e. the “traditional” public school, he or she is removed from the cohort.  The US Department of Education introduced the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACJR) calculation with the graduating class of 2011.  It starts with the grade 9 enrollment, students transferring in are added; those transferring out are subtracted from the cohort.

When there are multiple LEAs in the same geographical district, but only one is required to enroll all students, the other LEAs have the privilege of cherry picking and then getting rid of students who don’t fit in.  That’s what they all do in DC, including much acclaimed KIPP.

The Grand Foundation Strategy:  Shift Public Policy Functions to semi-private, “independent” commissions or bodies that are accountable to a single high official (mayor or governor) and removed from oversight by city councils or state legislatures.

In Washington, DC, under mayoral control (since 2007), the mayor appoints with “advice and consent of the DC Council, the members of the DC Public Charter School Board, the charter school authorizing body and responsible for charter oversight. Once appointed, they function like an independent agency

On the Washington State Ballot Initiative I-1240, the WASHINGTON CHARTER SCHOOL COMMISSION is termed “an independent state agency,” whose 9 members are appointed 3 each by the Governor, House speaker, Senate president.  This is a pseudo-democratic scheme.  No commission members should be appointed without a public hearing before an elected body.

This would be a most unusual commission, whose members are not required to have a commitment to public education, but only to one questionable form of public education:  “All members shall have demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.”  That amounts to a de facto politicized requirement, a “charter test.”  That only shows how bold and confident the charter advocates are.

Erich Martel

Retired Washington, DC Public Schools Teacher (High School Social Studies, 1969-2011)

ehmartel@starpower.net

www.dcpswatch.com/martel

http://www.nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Essays/v7n7.pdf

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Excerpts of Washington State Ballot Initiative I-1240 (November 6, 2012)

The Charter Schools Authorization Initiative

November 5, 2012

Comments by Erich Martel, Retired Washington, DC public school (DCPS) high school history/social studies teacher (1969-2011: Cardozo HS, Wilson HS, Phelps ACE HS)

(Note: These comments are not based on a legal analysis.  They are based on a common sense reading of the ballot initiative.  They are also based on experience in the Washington, DC Public Schools and the expansion of the charter school sector of students classified as “public school students,” which has grown to over 40%.)

ehmartel@starpower.net

www.dcpswatch.com/martel

Color Coding Employed in the following excerpts:

Black, not bold:          Original wording, no comments

Black Bold:                Original wording about which I comment

Red Bold:                   Original wording of great importance about which I comment

Blue Bold:                  My Comments enclosed in double brackets [[COMMENTS:  ]]

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Excerpts from Washington State Ballot Initiative I-1240

A charter school can be authorized by one of two bodies:

(vi)       Require public charter schools to be authorized and overseen by a state charter school commission, or by a local school board;

(vii)      Require that public charter schools receive funding based on student enrollment just like existing public schools;

(viii)      Allow public charter schools to be free from many regulations so that they have more flexibility to set curriculum and budgets, hire and fire teachers and staff, and offer more customized learning experiences for students; and

[[COMMENT:            Local schools determine funding, in part, on the costs of teachers’ salaries.  If charterS are funded at the same rate as local schools, but NOT obligated to pay the same salaries as the local teacher contract requires, then they will receive more appropriated funds.  Will those funds go to support school programs or administrators’ high salaries?]]

(5) “Charter school” or “public charter school” means a public school governed by a charter school board and operated according to the terms of a charter contract

(3). . .   Charter schools are not subject to and are exempt from all other state statutes and rules applicable to [public] school districts and school district boards of directors, for the purpose of allowing flexibility to innovate in areas such as . . .personnel, funding(i.e. pay).” Code Rev/SCG:crs 9 I-2563.1/12

[[COMMENTS:  This is the real purpose of the charter:  To blame teachers for poor student performance to justify “flexibility” in hiring, evaluation, teachers’ pay and principals’ pay.]]

NEW SECTION. Sec. 206. CHARTER SCHOOL STUDENTS.

(2)If a student who was previously enrolled in a charter school enrolls in another

public school in the state, the student’s new school must accept credits earned

by the student in the charter school in the same manner and according to the

same criteria that credits are accepted from other public schools.

[[COMMENTS:  What is to prevent a charter school from transferring a student after the October enrollment audit, that establishes school funding, but before the April administration of the state test that is used to meet NCLB/RTTT requirements?

NEW SECTION. Sec. 207. AUTHORIZERS. The following entities are eligible to be authorizers of charter schools:

(1)  The Washington charter school commission established under section 208 of this act, for charter schools located anywhere in the state; and

(2)  School district boards of directors that have been approved by the state board of education under section 209 of this act before authorizing a charter school, for charter schools located within the school district’s own boundaries.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 208. WASHINGTON CHARTER SCHOOL COMMISSION.

(1)  The Washington charter school commission is established as an independent state agency whose mission is to authorize high quality;

(2)  The commission shall consist of nine members, no more than five of… the same political party. Three … appointed by the governor; three … by the president of the senate; and three … speaker of the house of representatives.

(3)  Members appointed to the commission shall collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance; management and finance; public school leadership, assessment, curriculum, and instruction; and public education law. All members shall have demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.

[[COMMENT:  This is the key to the chartering process and goals:  Establishment of a publicly appointed body, that, for all intents and purposes, can operate like a private corporation, all but immune from public and stakeholder accountability.        

Even the option of local school board’s having charter authorization power is designed to give a quasi-democratic impression.  Most of the charters will be authorized by the commission.  They are probably already lined up to snatch all but a token handful of the 40 charters that can be authorized.]]

NEW SECTION. Sec. 209. AUTHORIZERS–APPROVAL. (1) The state board of education shall establish an annual application and approval process and timelines for entities seeking approval to be charter school authorizers. The initial process and timelines must be established no later than ninety days after the effective date of this section.

(2) At a minimum, each applicant must submit to the state board:

(a) The applicant’s strategic vision for chartering;

(b) A plan to support the vision presented, including explanation and evidence of the applicant’s budget and personnel capacity and commitment to execute the responsibilities of quality charter authorizing;

(c) A draft or preliminary outline of the request for proposals that the applicant would, if approved as an authorizer, issue to solicit charter school applicants;

(d) A draft of the performance framework that the applicant would, if approved as an authorizer, use to guide the establishment of a charter contract and for ongoing oversight and evaluation of charter schools;

[[COMMENT: Each charter authorizer can have a different set of criteria for a charter contract, oversight and evaluation?  By what set of standards will the state department of education oversee these different charter authorizers?

How effectively has the state department of education employed its oversight authority over the public school system so far?]]

(e) A draft of the applicant’s proposed renewal, revocation, and nonrenewal processes, consistent with sections 219 and 220 of this act;

(f) A statement of assurance that the applicant seeks to serve as an authorizer in fulfillment of the expectations, spirit, and intent of this chapter, and that if approved as an authorizer, the applicant will fully participate in any authorizer training provided or required by the state; and

(g) A statement of assurance that the applicant will provide public accountability and transparency in all matters concerning charter authorizing practices, decisions, and expenditures.

(3) The state board of education shall consider the merits of each application and make its decision within the timelines established by the board.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 210. AUTHORIZERS–POWERS AND DUTIES. (1) Authorizers are responsible for:

 (2) An authorizer may delegate its responsibilities under this section to employees or contractors.

 

(3) All authorizers must develop and follow chartering policies and practices that are consistent with the principles and standards for quality charter authorizing developed by the national association of charter school authorizers in at least the following areas:

(a) Organizational capacity and infrastructure;

(b) Soliciting and evaluating charter applications;

(c) Performance contracting;

(d) Ongoing charter school oversight and evaluation; and

(e) Charter renewal decision making.

[[COMMENT:  national association of charter school authorizers - This is the name of an association.  Why isn’t its name in caps?  Taxpayers’ funds will be administered by an “independent” board, that will be guided by a charter-friendly, traditional public school- hostile association of charter authorizers.  

Analogy:  a deviously named association of hedge-fund traders will be responsible for “principles and standards for quality hedge fund authorizers”!]]

(4) Each authorizer must submit an annual report to the state board of education, according to a timeline, content, and format specified by the board, which includes:

(a) The authorizer’s strategic vision for chartering and progress toward achieving that vision;

(b) The academic and financial performance of all operating charter schools overseen by the authorizer, including the progress of the charter schools based on the authorizer’s performance framework;

(c) The status of the authorizer’s charter school portfolio, identifying all charter schools in each of the following categories: Approved but not yet open, operating, renewed, transferred, revoked, not renewed, voluntarily closed, or never opened;

(d) The authorizer’s operating costs and expenses detailed in annual audited financial statements that conform with generally accepted accounting principles; and

(e) The services purchased from the authorizer by the charter schools under its jurisdiction under section 211 of this act, including an itemized accounting of the actual costs of these services. Code Rev/SCG:crs 15 I-2563.1/12

(5) Neither an authorizer, individuals who comprise the membership of an authorizer in their official capacity, nor the employees of an authorizer are liable for acts or omissions of a charter school they authorize.

[[COMMENT:  This gives the charter authorizers a free hand to experiment with students.  In essence, this greatly limits their accountability.  What recourse will a parent or teacher have for acts or omissions that damage students’ education, but that don’t constitute overt violations of statutes or other regulations?  Is this the same standard that Washington State LEAs are currently held to?]]

 

SECTION. Sec. 211. AUTHORIZERS–FUNDING.

 (4) An authorizer may provide contracted, fee-based services to charter schools under its jurisdiction that are in addition to the oversight duties under section 210 of this act.

[[COMMENT:  CONFLICT OF INTEREST:  How can a charter authorizing body conduct fair and impartial oversight over a charter school with which it has “contracted, fee-based service(s)”?]]

NEW SECTION. Sec. 212. AUTHORIZERS–OVERSIGHT. (1) The state board of education is responsible for overseeing the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers approved under section 209 of this act.

(2) Persistently unsatisfactory performance of an authorizer’s portfolio of charter schools, a pattern of well-founded complaints about the authorizer or its charter schools, or other objective circumstances may trigger a special review by the state board of education.

(3) In reviewing or evaluating the performance of authorizers, the board must apply nationally recognized principles and standards for quality charter authorizing.

[[COMMENT: What exactly are these “nationally recognized principles …”?

Are they like the oft-heard phrase, “best practices,” often used to silence critics, when there is no independent evidence of success? 

If there are such principles, why aren’t they listed or a link provided?]]

NEW SECTION. Sec. 217. CHARTER CONTRACTS–PERFORMANCE FRAMEWORK.

(1) The performance provisions within a charter contract must be based on a performance framework that clearly sets forth the academic and operational performance indicators, measures, and metrics that will guide an authorizer’s evaluations of each charter school.

[[COMMENT:In other words, each charter can create its own standards of performance, its own definitions of “proficient” etc.  This will make it difficult for anyone to compare one charter school to another or to regular public schools in Washington State or elsewhere.]]

 

CHARTER CONTRACTS–NONRENEWAL OR REVOCATION. (1) A charter contract may be revoked at any time or not renewed if the authorizer determines that the charter school did any of the following or otherwise failed to comply with the provisions of this chapter: /…/

[[COMMENT: So, at any time, e.g. in the middle of the school year, a charter can be shut down. Then, where do the students go?

There is only one place they can go:  To the regular, i.e. “traditional,” public schools, the school system (LEA) “of right” for each school age child.

What about contracts with teachers and staff?  Where do they go?  What are the protections for their retirement funds?]]

NEW SECTION. Sec. 221. CHARTER SCHOOL TERMINATION OR DISSOLUTION. (1) Before making a decision to not renew or to revoke a charter contract, … orderly transition of students and student records to new schools, as necessary, and proper disposition of public school funds, property, and assets….

[[COMMENT:  What about the so-called “human capital assets,” once called teachers:  What provisions are made for them?]]

NEW SECTION. Sec. 222. FUNDING.

(1) Charter schools must report student enrollment in the same manner and based on the same definitions of enrolled students and annual average full-time equivalent enrollment as other public schools. Charter schools must comply with applicable reporting requirements to receive state or federal funding that is allocated based on student characteristics.

[[COMMENT: After the annual enrollment audit conducted by the state department of education, what happens to the funding for students who transfer voluntarily (or “voluntarily”) back to their “traditional” public school system and neighborhood “school of right”?

Does the money follow the student or will it stay in the charter school or does the chartering authority hold it?]]

(2) According to the schedule established under RCW 28A.510.250, the superintendent of public instruction shall allocate funding for a charter school including general apportionment, special education, categorical, and other nonbasic education moneys. Allocations must be based on the statewide average staff mix ratio of all noncharter public schools from the prior school year and the school’s actual full-time equivalent enrollment. Categorical funding must be allocated to a charter school based on the same funding criteria used for noncharter public schools and the funds must be expended as provided in the charter contract. Rev/SCG:crs 30 I-2563.1/12

(9) Any moneys received by a charter school from any source and remaining in the school’s accounts at the end of any budget year shall remain in the school’s accounts for use by the school during subsequent budget years.

[[COMMENT:  Is this true for Washington’s regular public schools?

What is the rationale for a school holding on to appropriated or grant source funds? That could motivate a withholding of funds one year and then using them the next to increase the salaries of favored staff.]]

 

[[COMMENT:  Charter funding would be based on the same per pupil formula as regular public schools, BUT charters are free to pay teachers and staff at a lower rate than the regular public schools.  Thus, a charter with the same number of students and teachers and appropriated funds as a regular public school will have more discretionary funds.

What is to prevent the charter’s board from giving the principal a much higher salary than the traditional public school? ... or through some other mechanism, like bonus awards, giving funds to favored staff?]]

NEW SECTION. Sec. 307. A new section is added to chapter 41.56 RCW to read as follows: …this chapter applies to any charter school established under chapter 28A.— RCW (the new chapter created in section 401 of this act).

Any bargaining unit or units established at the charter school must be limited to employees working in the charter school and must be separate from other bargaining units in school districts, educational service districts, or institutions of higher education.

Any charter school established under chapter 28A.— RCW (the new chapter created in section 401 of this act) is a separate employer from any school district, including the school district in which it is located.

[[COMMENT:  The goal in breaking up the public schools is to end or greatly reduce due process protections for teachers.  Once teachers are intimidated, they will not feel safe in reporting violations of procedures, such as administrative tampering with test results and certification of students for high school graduation]]

- Erich Martel

11/4/2012

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