Melissa Harris-Perry Show: Demanding accountability from charters

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.


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