Melissa Harris-Perry Show: Demanding accountability from charters

PTII Education Nation

During the second segment of the Melissa Harris-Perry Show at MSNBC’s Education Nation 2012, we discussed access to charter schools. Charters are “public” schools that are run by a variety of organizations such as intergovernmental (UT-Austin), community groups (Making Waves), large privately-operated corporate networks (KIPP). Regardless of who runs the charters, the current public consciousness is that charters are visions of excellence, innovation and choice (The narrative pushed by the films Waiting for Superman and The Lottery). However, charters are quite different from each other. My thoughts in brief (because I have a stack of papers to grade).

Even Jonathan Alter admitted at Education Nation that there is a large variation in the success of charters (However, that didnt stop his call for lifting caps regardless of the fact that 83% of charters don’t perform better than tradition public schools). In Texas, TEA has determined 8.5% of charter districts are rated exemplary relative to 4.4% of traditional public school districts— a gap of 4.1%. This seems like modestly good news until you consider that 17.6% of charter districts are rated academically unacceptable relative to about 4.9% of traditional public school districts— a gap of 12.7%. Notably, Ed Fuller, a Penn State professor, looked at the data and found that on average charters take in students with higher achievement levels in Texas.

Student Enrollment
In Texas and across the nation, Blacks are even more segregated in charters than they are traditional public schools. Charters typically have lower enrollments of special populations (students with disabilites, ELL). My comment at Education Nation in the second segment of the Melissa Harris-Perry show was that one school in Texas proffered that they didn’t serve ELLs because “they weren’t set up to be a Bilingual school.” Other charter operators have told Amy Williams, my graduate student, in her dissertation work that they are able to counsel out special education students from attending a charter school by telling them that they really don’t offer many services for special education services and the traditional public school would be a better choice for their child (She is looking for a job for next year, hire her). Charters do this because it is a cost issue for them.
How about KIPP? An Edweek article sums up a WMU study on KIPP enrollment of special populations:
During the 2007-08 school year, the new study found that 11.5 percent of KIPP students were ELLs, compared with 19.2 percent of students in their local school districts. The numbers for special education students showed an even wider gap for that school year; 5.9 percent of KIPP students had disabilities, compared with 12.1 percent of students in the local school districts.
Even a Mathematica study, who KIPP has cited in the past as being “independent” finds that ELLs and Special Education students are underrepresented in KIPP schools. Edweek states:
A comprehensive study by Mathematica Policy Research released in June, while using a completely different set of data, also concluded that ELLs and special education students are underrepresented in KIPP schools.
The most discussed barrier to access to charters is lotteries and long waiting lists (again, the narrative pushed by the films Waiting for Superman and The Lottery) However, there are many other barriers. There are winners and losers in any market based system (i.e. charters and vouchers). It all depend on what “capital” you bring to the table. This means that student have differential experiences on gaining and keeping access. Here are a few more barriers to consider:
  • Disciplinary issues can disqualify students at application Example: Chapter 37 in Texas
  • Transportation Example: Long documented problems with commutes and availability of busing.
  • Charter typically choose their footprint Example: What zipcode you live in.
  • Student contracts and codes Example: Academic and disciplinary expectations can cause students to be asked to leave.
  • Required parental involvement Example: A Vanderbilt study found that charter school leaders required “parent contracts” specifying the number of volunteer hours (ranging from 10 to 72 hours)
  • Special populations As discussed above, and in yesterday’s post, special populations have additional challenges accessing charters.
Again, I dont consider myself an opponent of charters. I am a former charter school instructor and I am currently a charter school board member and parent. We must demand accountability from those charters that are not truly serving the public. Here is one example from New York where charters can be closed if they don’t meet ELL targets. Sometimes reform needs reform.


Categories: Charter Schools, English Language Learners, KIPP

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning researcher and teacher. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State Sacramento.

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17 Comments on “Melissa Harris-Perry Show: Demanding accountability from charters”

  1. September 27, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    Great post. Other barriers are applications in only English and the requirement for a parent to provide a social security number.

  2. October 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    I watched the show and found it very interesting. I only wish that you would have had more time to speak!

  3. December 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Your comments are thoughtful and I wish more people will become informed of the weaknesses with the argument that charters will be the solution to the public school ailments. The problem is that there are certain highly visible policy actors that think that the market will fix the problem and as you have pointed out this is not the case. We must continue to hold these schools accountable despite efforts by so called reformers to look the other way and only focus on the challenges faced by the public schools.

  4. John Young
    March 23, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  5. July 15, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    Reblogged this on Exceptional Delaware and commented:
    And we thought Delaware was the only state where people opposed charters…. Looks like Texas does too!


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