Charter Op-Ed Misrepresents (Big Tree): My Response That They Won’t Print (Small Axe)

If you are the big tree, we are the small axe, ready to cut you down, to cut you down! Bob Marley

I submitted an Op-Ed two weeks ago to the San Antonio Express News (SAEN) and they have refused to print it. The SAEN has not given the cold shoulder to corporate charter proponents. They printed an Op-Ed by Victoria Rico, a trustee of the George W. Brackenridge Foundation which has poured millions into recruiting and establishing corporate charters to San Antonio. The corporate charters that they are welcoming and desiring? KIPP, IDEA, Great Hearts and BASIS (et al)… Incidentely, each of which have appeared previously at Cloaking Inequity. See:

From Friend to Foe: Austin 1, IDEA 0 and Austin American Statesman’s IDEA fact check

Entire KIPP thread here. Also, “Work Hard, Be Nice?”: A Response to KIPP

Great Heart charters say “Diversity is too hard”

and then there is BASIS: What BASIS?: Nepotism and aggrandizement in charters?

Well, the reality of data and research on corporate charters in Texas and elsewhere did not stop Victoria Rico from proclaiming that “Despite social ills, students in charter schools succeed” The beauty of social media is that the traditional media can no longer silence counter-narrative and dissent. Here is the response to Rico that the SAEN does not want you to see:

Charter proponents do a disservice to the public by misrepresenting what Texas data actually say when comparing charters to traditional public schools, as Victoria Rico did in a Jan. 16 opinion piece in the San Antonio Express-News.

Rico’s opening salvo was to knock public schools for low college readiness rates and college degree attainment. In a study of Texas data I conducted and published on Cloaking Inequity, my educational policy blog, I showed that the vast majority of schools producing college-ready Latino and African-American students in Texas are actually public magnets and traditional public high schools.

Furthermore, Stanford’s CREDO 2013 study found that on average charters in Texas cost kids 22 days of learning in reading and 29 days in math.

On this, we can agree. The achievement gap is real and it must be fixed. But unlike Rico, I don’t believe charter schools writ large have found the magic elixir for a complex problem. Charters are a diverse group with many different models. In recent years, so-called corporate charters have swept onto the scene in San Antonio, dazzling the media, parents and business leaders with high test scores and college-going rates. These franchises include KIPP, IDEA, Great Hearts, BASIS and Carpe Diem.

The reports out of some of these corporate charters of 100 percent graduation rates and a 100 percent of students attending college seem almost too good to be true. They are. A closer look at those shiny numbers show they come at a cost. For example, KIPP has posited that they serve mostly low-income and minority students and still get better results than public schools. What they don’t brag about are the high rates of attrition that help cull their classes to only the most motivated and high-achieving students.

A nationwide study of KIPP by researchers at Western Michigan University criticized the schools’ high attrition rates —about 40 percent for African-American males — and the fact that they serve low numbers of students learning English or with disabilities. Not to mention the fact that KIPP spent around “$18,500 per pupil in 2007-08, about $6,500 more per student than the average for other schools in the same districts,” according to a story in Education Week.

Same story with BASIS. At the original campus of BASIS charter school in Tucson, Ariz., the class of 2012 had 97 students when they were 6th graders. By the time those students were seniors, their numbers had dwindled to 33, a drop of 66 percent.

So what happens to families who get churned out of charters like KIPP and BASIS? They end up back at their neighborhood public schools, who welcome them with open arms as they do all students, regardless of race, class, circumstance or level of ability.

Great Hearts employs a different model. By marketing selectively to high-income parents, not providing transportation or lunch and charging fees for extracurricular activities, the school ends up with a selective and not very diverse crop of students. Such policies make them more akin to private schools than the “open-enrollment” public schools they purport to be. As a spokesman for Great Hearts told the Texas Tribune in November, “For us, diversity is really hard.”

Will we hold charters accountable for being diverse even though it is “really hard?”

There is nothing wrong with offering families more choices when it comes to their child’s education. But choice should be open to everyone, not be limited to those who test well or whose families can afford to buy their kids’ lunch every day. And, finally, every parent in San Antonio [and everywhere else] should have the choice to send their child to a traditional public school in their neighbor that is well resourced like the schools that are in Alamo Heights, Northside and North East.

If you are in Austin today— and have paid the $500 fee (!!!!!) for the conference— join us at the The Politics of Charter School Policy panel at It will begin at 1:30 in the Hilton Downtown Salon B.

See all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on charters here.

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Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

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Please blame Siri for any typos.

Small Axe by Bob Marley

Why boasteth thyself
Oh, evil men
Playing smart
And not being clever?
I said, you’re working iniquity
To achieve vanity (if a-so a-so)
But the goodness of Jah, Jah
I-dureth for-I-ver

So if you are the big tree
We are the small axe
Ready to cut you down (well sharp)
To cut you down

These are the words
Of my master, keep on tellin’ me
No weak heart
Shall prosper
And whosoever diggeth a pit
Shall fall in it, fall in it
And whosoever diggeth a pit
Shall fall in it (… fall in it)

If you are the big tree, let me tell you that
We are the small axe, sharp and ready
Ready to cut you down (well sharp)
To cut you down

(To cut you down)

(To cut you down)

These are the words
Of my master, tellin’ me that
No weak heart
Shall prosper
And whosoever diggeth a pit
Shall fall in it, uh, bury in it
And whosoever diggeth a pit
Shall bury in it, uh (… bury in it)

If you are the big, big tree
We are the small axe
Ready to cut you down (well sharp)
To cut you down
If you are the big, big tree, let me tell you that
We are the small axe
Ready to cut you down (well sharp)
To cut you down
Sharpened …

Edit 3/11/14 Thank you for complaining!!: Even at charters, school choice limited – San Antonio Express-News


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