Saturday, February 13, 2010

How the charter end game will hurt public education

A NYC parent writes:

I have no problem with charter schools per se. I have a real problem with them entering public school spaces, enforced ‘sharing’ of facilities and having cluster rooms of public schools taken away to give space to Charter schools. I don’t mind Charter schools I just fiercely refute the idea of public schools being the poor cousin, with space and energy being stripped away. If it was mandated that charter schools had to find/fund their own facilities, with no access to public school space, I believe in that system far more! Also, I want more oversight of charter schools, and more parental involvement within them. How does one gauge whether a CS is failing?

Lots of questions still to ask…

GEM's Seung Ok responds:

There are several important reasons why charter schools not only harm public school children, but are a direct threat to public education as we know it. The harm is not ideological in nature, it is direct. I just attended the expansion hearing of KIPP into PS 195 in Harlen this Monday - and it is heartbreaking to hear that PS 195 students have class in the cafeteria. The teacher must ask the other students who are having lunch to quiet down, so instruction can happen. And if this isn't unbelievable enough, KIPP is expanding from its current grades of 5-8, to K-8.

More than a few PS 195 teachers got up to demand that KIPP teachers stop threatening charter school students with the admonishment,"Do you want to be like them?" The lesson hammered into these children every single day in that partitioned environment is one of segregation. The public school students are made to feel less, and the charter school children learn that personal advantage gained by harm to others is not only an entitlement of their talent, but a necessity.

But let's assume the above injustices to public school students were not happening, and charter schools obtained their own space - there is still a troubling aspect to the charter school movement - and that is its endgame. If the ultimate goal is to help the vast majority of minority students; and we can believe the sincerity of the billionaires and politicians who are steering this movement, than I'll support charter schools full heartedly.

The actions of these NYC charters however tell a much different tale than the benevolent words they speak. They are invading spaces of A rated schools (examples, ps. 15 in Redhook Brooklyn, ps 123, and ps. 195 in Harlem, etc.) If the claim is to want to help the neediest children, then why are they choosing building with A rated public schools that are successfully helping their communities. And when you see the comparisons between the two co-located schools in the same building, why is it, that the charter school has significant lower special ed and ELL students than it's counterpart - when they both seemingly draw from the same community?

The answer is that charter schools in NYC are not so much a solution for closing the achievement gap but a deceptive horse and pony show for another more ambitious agenda - and that is to convince us to privatize the whole public school system. Imagine a city where the law limiting the number of charter schools was removed. All those years of pent up frustration by privileged parents spending thousands for private schools can be released with one great sigh of relief. We will start to see mostly white charter schools arise in neighborhoods like the Upper West Side. Let's not forget how expensive real estate is in NYC. A public school building is a million dollar gift.

And a unique and surprising thing will happen. All that private money funneling into black and Latino charter schools will dry up. The money that once surprisingly made its way to Harlem and Brooklyn, will support the charter schools that the millionaires' and billionaires' children attend. There is a finite amount of private money - and it's just a matter of practicality to ration it out if charter schools litter the educational landscape; the donors must prioritize their wads of money, and human nature being what it is - they will fund their own neighborhood's charter schools than not.

So, where will Black and Latino communities find themselves - a place much worse than they were before. Their successful public schools having been decimated - closed and phased out, their struggling schools left overcrowded, and their abandoned charter schools left under funded - all destroying the gains made in the past several decades of hard earned work by so many stakeholders.

Doesn't this have a familiar ring to it? Just think back to a recent phenomenon, that of sub prime mortgages. In the beginning, it was sold to America by the likes of George Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Phil Gram as a civil rights issue of getting minorities into houses. Mortgage companies made billions making loans to people that could not afford them. If anyone could go back in time and demand these loans be stopped, they would be labeled a racist, and be ridiculed.

And now these same political characters mentioned above are pushing the charter school agenda: Now they declare that education is the civil rights issue of our times. Coincidence? And in President Obama's defense, his mother sent him to the best international private schools in Hawaii and abroad - no wonder that his knowledge of public schools seems as ill formed as President Bush's. So while Obama tries to convince the nation to curtail the worse aspects of a privatized health care system, he is conversely promoting the worse aspects of privatization to the delivery of education in Chicago, and now, the country.

So the fight to defend public education against charter schools, is more than about space, teacher unions, or a lottery system; it is to stop the manipulation of Black and Latino communities as chess pieces in a game to benefit the elite classes in our society. While the struggling parents in impoverished areas are positioned to fight each other for the scraps of space and funding that has been allotted by our society, the privileged lay waiting in the sidelines until all the energy is sapped out - and the doorway to unregulated access to taxpayer money opens.

Seung Ok

More from Seung Ok on the CREDO Sanford Charter school study:

The Credo study on NYC Charter schools is an academic sham. Here is the proof: If you click the link at the end of this email and go to the bottom of page 4, under the heading: School Level Comparisons, it notes:

"The test for New York City schools was slightly different than the test employed in CREDO’s earlier national study. Because all the NYC schools are drawn from the same education market, there was no need to control for market differences across all the schools, as was the case in the earlier national analysis.Instead, it sufficed to use simple t-tests of each pair of schools; that is, that charter school performance against the performance of its associated comparison group. The student learning gains were averaged for each school and then compared for statistical differences.""

So, this test did not control for the fact that charter schools send out invitations to level 3 and level 4 students? It doesn't control for the fact that charter schools use a self selecting lottery system versus open enrollment? It doesn't factor in class size and building overcrowding? It doesn't factor in per pupil spending? It doesn't factor in how charters release students who they feel don't measure up to their "contract" standards?

So basically, in this study's perspective, all Black and Latino students are pretty much the same. Forget that there are talented students, strugglings students, students in shelters, students with two parents, students with one parent...etc. Wow, how can Stanford University put their name to such a flimsy piece of so called "scientific" study. Any high school science student can tell you that the experiment group and the control group must control for all possible variables except the one being tested.

So, there are two possibilities here. Either Credo/Stanford University are ignorant of these "marget differences" or they are biased supporters of charter schools. Either way, shame on them.

Seung Ok - GEM, Grassroots Education Movement

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