We are republishing this blog post in the wake of the latest application to the District by a charter school, this time by Choices Charter School, a K-8 school. While the details of this charter’s plans differ, the fundamental question of where we want our scarce public tax dollars to go remain the same. Many people remain confused about what charter schools are, and how they differ from public schools, and we plan to focus energy over the next few weeks on answering this question. Stay tuned!
Have you noticed that everywhere you go these days, people are talking about charter schools? I hate to be cynical, but it reminds me a bit of the discussion my seven-year-old son and I had about why (in his words) “nobody makes a big deal about Thanksgiving.” My answer to him, in a nutshell, was “there is not a lot of money to be made from a holiday that celebrates wholesome values.” In other words, money not only talks but also has a lot of sparkle, and sadly, public education is not that glamorous these days.
In fact, public education has a lot of challenges in front of it, and over the past year or so, it seems like school choice proponents have caught on to the idea that they can slip privatization in the back door disguised as “charter schools” while public schools try and figure out how to stay afloat. Although proponents of charter schools claim that they offer realistic alternatives to the public schools, what is not always understood is that charter schools are often for-profit ventures. The businessmen (and women) who run charter schools stand to make a significant amount of money every time a new charter school starts enrolling students. And in Pennsylvania, the opportunities are even more robust because charter schools in Pennsylvania don’t have to adhere to the same rules and regulations as the state’s public schools. Furthermore, the folks in charge in Harrisburg have been working hard to keep it this way, under the leadership of Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis and Governor Tom Corbett. Of note, Vahan Gurgegian, who has contributed over $300,00 to the campaigns of Corbett ( http://thenotebook.org/sites/default/files/Contributions%20to%20CORBETT%2C%20TOM%20%26%20CAWLEY%2C%20JIM%20From%20GUREGHIAN%2C%20VAHAN%20H%20%7C%20Follow%20The%20Money.pdf ) is also the founder and CEO of Charter School Management, Inc. (CMSI), who runs several for-profit charters across the state of Pennsylvania. He and his like certainly stand to benefit from the administration’s decidedly pro-charter policies. A Google search of terms such as charter schools, privatization, money, and profit, will turn up results from various publications, including: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/private-firms-eyeing-prof_n_1732856.html; http://www.propublica.org/article/charter-schools-outsource-education-to-management-firms-with-mixed-results ; http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/09/29/80-of-michigan-charter-schools-are-for-profits? ; http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/education/pennsylvania-charter-public-schools-not-always-bound-to-same-rules-648697/ ; http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2012/10/charter_schools.html ; http://www.citypaper.net/authors/daniel_denvir/2012-09-06-news-chartering-a-course-governor-corbett.html .
I went to the hearing last week at the Upper Darby High School, for round two of Delco Community Charter School’s application to start a charter school for the District in Clifton Heights for the 2013-14 School Year. To be fair, Delco is being launched as a not for profit charter. Still, the first proposal was unanimously voted down by the School Board in September. Not to be deterred, the head of the Delco Charter, Mr. Tim Sagar, and his team rewrote the entire model for their program and presented it to the School Board on November 20, 2012 in the hopes of getting approval this time around.
I should say that I do have empathy for the families who came to support Delco Charter and Mr. Sagar, as I believe that these families are hoping in earnest to find an educational setting in which their children will succeed. I assume that these parents expect their children will be getting a better education in charter schools, but many may not know the outcomes of research, which show that “17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.” (http://credo.stanford.edu/reports/National_Release.pdf ) I assume many families who choose charter schools are also unaware that they have a history of going out of business due to financial instability associated with the real costs of running a credible educational institute once the initial flow of cash begins to trickle dry. If and when this happens, families are often given little notice and children are left ill prepared to reintegrate back into their neighborhood public school http://www.blackradionetwork.com/what_happens_when_charter_schools_fail_; http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2105733,00.html ). Families who are simply looking for a magic answer that will cure whatever has ailed their experience in public school up until now may well be disappointed in the charter experience in Upper Darby, if what was presented on November 20th is any indication of what is to come.
Indeed I wondered, as I sat and listened, if the families who came to support Delco Community Charter realized that Mr. Sagar essentially scrapped his entire school plan that he stood so proudly behind in September and made up a new one in the course of two months, apparently willing to say whatever it takes to get approval from the School Board. Based on the questions that were asked during the presentation, it was clear that some people in the audience saw right through his ruse. With this thought in mind, I came up with the following questions, which were inspired by the information that Mr. Sagar provided last week:
1) Mr. Sagar, do you know that “I’m fascinated to see if it will work” as a public statement about your new classroom arrangement does not inspire confidence that this is a well thought-out plan?
2) Mr. Sagar, do you know that I would not want my child having physical education in “something like a Planet Fitness Facility” and that I do not consider an elliptical trainer “State of the Art”? Is your plan to employ actual instructors certified in physical education, or is this essentially self instructed exercise time? How will children be given instruction in body awareness and control, development of gross motor skills, catching, throwing, running, dodging, and so forth, which are part of a physical education’s core learning goals?
3) Mr. Sagar, do you know that I agree with the District lawyer that allotting 45 minutes at the end of EACH DAY for children to have detention and do the homework they didn’t do the night before actually defeats the point of homework in the first place? In fact, what it says to me is that you plan on having no expectations of the children who are coming to your school, and that you are more than willing to cater to them to make sure they complete all schoolwork so your outcomes look good on paper.
4) Mr. Sagar, do you know that casually naming Rosetta Stone as your primary tool for supporting your ESL/ELL students in a district where more than 90 different languages are spoken is frankly inexcusable?
5) Mr. Sagar, do you know that the Myers-Briggs personality inventory is written at a 7th grade reading level and above, and that most adults get frustrated when they take it? So, an adolescent with any sort of learning challenge, or who does not speak English as his or her primary language, might need some support in understanding the questions, and that is not an unreasonable concern for the District attorney to raise?
6) Mr. Sagar, do you know that you should probably proofread your proposals before they are submitted so they don’t say that your “not for profit” board members will get raises and bonuses?
I am actually a very caring person, not inclined to public outbursts, but like many stakeholders in this School District, I am paying close attention. Mr. Sagar pointed out to the Board and Administration that Philadelphia and Chester were “full” as far as space for charters go, and that Upper Darby is “wide open”. To paraphrase, he told us that “whether you like it or not, charter schools are coming….wouldn’t you rather have someone you trust?” If Mr. Sagar is a soothsayer, and this terrible wave is in fact coming to our District to drain our public schools of tax dollars, I would have to agree with him here. Yes, we would rather have someone whom we trust. The question for the School Board is whether he is the one in whom to place that trust. I encourage them to offer Mr. Sagar and his plan a zero-confidence vote.
After posting this blog, I was asked to share this valuable information with the readership and I gladly do so. That our state leaders would request charters have more lenient standards for evaluation of student achievement speaks volumes. Please follow this link to learn more: http://www2.wnct.com/news/2012/nov/22/pa-told-to-re-evaluate-charter-school-test-scores-ar-2804294/