Keep Calm and #Drink #Charter #Kool-Aid

Are charters headed for the same long-term, low-result arc that has plagued No Child Left Behind? I remember about fifteen years ago when Bush and Paige went to Washington that almost everyone was drinking the Kool-Aid on the Texas-style accountability and high-stakes testing bandwagon. There were some that weren’t. Early on Linda McNeil, Angela Valenzuela, Walt Haney, Linda Darling-Hammond, David Berliner, etc warned of what was really happening with accountability at the school level (gaming, teaching to the test, etc). The idea that NCLB didn’t work and was harmful is now part of the common discourse. The failure of high-stakes testing and accountability policies to do what was promised after more than two decades (close achievement gaps, college readiness, etc) is no longer under debate— it’s 2014 and our nation is not 100% fully-proficient. I believe that most have come to believe that NCLB was a failure. Except Arne Duncan who strangely both acknowledged the failure of NCLB with the waivers and at the same time doubled down on similar approaches.

I suspect that charters are heading for the same long-term, low-result arc. There is lots of empirical peer-reviewed data out there (as opposed to data and rhetoric released by National Alliance for Public Charter Schools etc.) for communities to mine on what is actually going on in charter “sector” (More soon about community audits of charters in an upcoming Cloaking Inequity post). Will we really have to wait two decades for people to tune in to the data and reality of charters and “choice” as we did with NCLB?

The recent passage of HR 10 in the US House of Representatives sends the signal that our policymakers are continuing to drink the Kool-Aid on the charter bandwagon.

Why you ask? Because with this bill the House had the opportunity to address the malfeasance, equity, access, democracy, and quality issues (For research and data addressing each of these issues see all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on charters here) that plague the “choice” and charter movement. Did the House choose to do so? No.

So where does that leave us? With a Bible verse.

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Matthew 7:16

In the post Is Teachers’ Union Right on H.R. 10 Charter Bill? #edreform I had some optimism that the Congress would address the not only gross malfeasance, but also equity, access, democracy, and quality.  I was disheartened when a source from DC sent along the following about what happened behind the scenes with HR 10 in DC.

The House Rules Committee disallowed amendments to HR 10, the charter bill, addressing the following key issues, with Congressional heroes and heroines who submitted them, in the face of intense pressure not to, noted in parentheses:

Democracy: Caps (to stop penalizing states that use them, or decline to lift themHouse Education Committee Chairman Kline apparently considers anti-cap provisions acceptable federal intrusion, in contrast to many transparency and accountability amendments he considers unacceptable federal intrusion) (Reichert/Larsen/DelBene)

Democracy: Open charter Board meetings (many states do not require their charter schools do comply with open board meeting requirements applicable to all other taxpayer-funded schools; see Reed Hastings video) (Tierney)

Malfeasance: Financial conflict of interest guidelines, applied to *all* charter schools via state regulations, and not just the small minority of charter schools which receive federal assistance (the amendment they did allow, Castro, had it passed, sought to address only this smaller subset) (Grijalva/Honda)

Equity: Disclosure of private funding amounts and duration of commitments for each school (Grijalva/Honda)

Accountability: Charter board access to EMO detailed financial information (what White HatInc. denied  to a charter board that hired it in Ohio, a subject of litigation with White Hat, Inc. losing the first round and appealing) (Tierney)

Access: State audits of charter school outreach practices to deter creaming (Velazquez)

Accountability and Quality: A member who sought unambiguous bill language on charter schools audits (the current language includes loophole-inviting language that could be used to dodge audits) was pressured into not doing so.

Equity and Access: There is no language in the bill banning another creaming practice some charter schools use, the use of parent contracts.  These require, as a condition for application, parents or guardians to commit to volunteering a certain number of hours helping at the school.  Many parents and guardians are not in a position where they have leave availability from their jobs enabling them to meet this requirement.

These are some of the issues the charter industry lobby does not want parents, communities, and taxpayers to know about their product, the one the big-money charter sector movers and shakers devote such enormous resources to marketing and image-polishing for parent, policymaker, and public consumption.  If they come across as a business telling you what they want you to hear, and not what you need or want to know, well, that’s because that’s part and parcel of their model.  Students, parents, communities and taxpayers pay for, and as a result of, this slick marketing.

If you haven’t read already the post Reframing the Refrain: Choice as a Civil Rights Issue, please check it out.

In conclusion, there is still a chance HR 10 without serious accountability won’t pass the US Senate. Call and email your Senators!!! Ask for charters to be accountable for malfeasance, equity, access, democracy, and quality.

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Please blame Siri for any typos.

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