Saturday, December 3, 2011

Charter Schools: Making Public Schools Private

Glass, Gene V (2008-06-01). Fertilizers, Pills & Magnetic Strips The Fate of Public Education in America

From Chapter 8: Eight Reforming the Schools: Making Some Cheap and Others Private

Historically, elite private schools were the refuge for the privileged classes seeking special treatment or escape from the public schools. Religious private schools have been a prominent feature of the American education landscape for well over a century. For many decades private school enrollments held steady, somewhere between 10% and 15% of all K-12 students. From 1900 to about 1920, roughly one tenth of children attending school in Grades K through 12 were enrolled in private schools. By mid-20th century, Catholic religious schools accounted for as high as 90% of the parochial school attendance in the U.S. But largely Catholic parochial schools waned as Protestant parochial and nonreligious private schools grew in size and number in the latter half of the 20th century. In very recent years, the private school share of the student population has begun to drop.

Noteworthy in the 10-year trend in private school enrollments is that the private school share has dropped in three regions of the country but not in the South where post-1954 private schools sprang up as a means of avoiding court ordered segregation.

What is significant in contemporary U.S. education is that private school enrollments are declining slightly as a percentage of enrolled students. The White middle class is seeking to fund a disguised form of private (quasi-private) education within the public school system by means of vouchers, charter schools, tuition tax credits, open enrollment, homeschooling and the like. Although homeschooling is the fastest growing alternative to traditional public schools because of its smaller share of the population, charter school enrollments represent the largest alternative to the traditional public schools. At the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year, approximately 3,000 charter schools were in operation in 37 states. Approximately 1.5% (or more than 800,000) of public school students nationwide are enrolled in charter schools. The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of students enrolled in charter schools (11.35%), followed by Arizona (6.04%) and Delaware (4.35%).

Wherever charter school programs have been analyzed, the troubling specter of racial segregation has risen its ugly head. There is little question that to the person on the street, state funded charter schools are seen as “private” in spite of the fact that they are indeed public, that is, they are required to admit all students for whom there is space, adhere to federal laws governing special education and the like, and receive their funding from state revenues. “Charter school students across all racial groups in most of the sixteen states are more likely to attend intensely segregated minority schools than are public school students”19 There is evidence that in such states as Arizona, charter schools are being used for “white flight” from high minority public schools.20

In California, the same is true to a lesser extent, and some homeschoolers will cooperate to form a “charter school” in name only. Where “choice” is prominent, the resegregation of the American public school system is not far behind.21 In 1996-97, Arizona had nearly one in four of all charter schools in the U.S.

My colleague Casey Cobb and I undertook an analysis that involved a series of comparisons between the ethnic compositions of adjacent charter and public schools in Arizona’s most populated region and its rural towns. This method differed from the approach of many researchers studying ethnic segregation in charter schools in that it incorporated the use of maps to compare schools’ ethnic make-ups.

The ethnic compositions of 55 urban and 57 rural charter schools were inspected in relation to their traditional public school neighbors. Nearly half of the charter schools exhibited evidence of substantial ethnic separation. Arizona charter schools not only contained a greater proportion of White students, but when comparable nearby traditional public schools were used for comparison, the charters were typically 20 percentage points higher in White enrollment than the other publics.

Fees Middle School in southern Tempe, Arizona (a suburb in the metropolitan Phoenix area) enrolled 50% minority pupils in 1996, while the Tempe Prep Academy, a charter school two blocks distant, enrolled only 17% ethnic minority students. Moreover, the charter schools that had a majority of ethnic minority students enrolled in them tended to be either vocational secondary schools that did not lead to college or “schools of last resort” for students being expelled from the traditional public schools. The degree of ethnic separation in Arizona schools was large and consistent; it has grown in succeeding years; and it is ignored by politicians and policymakers in the state. In Exhibit 8.2 appears a map of charter and traditional public schools located in west Mesa, Arizona, with the proportions of White pupils enrolled in each school. Charter schools are indicated by triangles and traditional public schools by circles. For example, Holmes, a traditional public school in the lower right hand corner of the map, had 813 students enrolled, of which 46% were White. The adjacent Sequoia School, a K-12 charter school with 752 students, was 90% White. Two traditional public schools in Exhibit 8.2, Franklin West and Franklin 7&8, show very high percentages of White enrollment: 89% and 81%, respectively. The census tract which encompasses Franklin West, Franklin 7&8, and Mesa Arts Academy was 37% White in 1995. How could the Franklin traditional public schools be so White in an area that was predominantly ethnic minority? For one, the Mesa School District open enrollment policy allows parents to choose among public schools, and the prestigious Franklin schools are an especially popular choice. There is a distinctly lofty status attached to these schools, making them similar to private schools. At least in part, this explains how a public school that is 80-90% White is located in a neighborhood that is principally ethnic minority. In essence, the Franklin schools appear to contribute to separating students along ethnic lines. They are an aberration among the traditional public schools in that area, but as will be seen later, they illustrate still another form of quasi-privatizing public education—open enrollment.

In the most extensive and objective study of a state-wide charter school system published to date, Gary Miron and his colleagues at the Evaluation Center of Western Michigan University found convincing evidence that the charter schools of the state of Delaware were contributing to racial segregation.22 The aggregate of charter schools does not differ greatly from the traditional public schools in the state. However, when we look at the data by schools, we find substantial differences in student demographics. Some charter schools primarily serve minority students, and others cater primarily to white students.

  • This pattern of segregated charter schools based on race is also repeated in segregation by class and ability. 
  • On the whole, traditional public schools have higher percentages of low income students, students with special education needs, and students who have limited English proficiency. 
  • Some reasons that explain why the charter schools have become so segregated include the following:    
    • The school may be located in a highly segregated housing market.
    • Parents choose these highly segregated environments for their child(ren) because of their desire for a homogeneous learning environment. 
    • Targeted marketing and recruitment efforts by charter schools. For example, particular cultural profiles may attract a particular ethnic group; and specific offerings such as full day kindergarten may be more attractive to low-income families (Miron et al., 2007, p. 2).

Because individual charter schools enroll students that differ greatly from sending districts, one can argue that charter schools may be accelerating the resegregation of public schools by leaving them more fragmented based on race, class, and ability.23

Like advocates for vouchers, researchers backing the charter school movement search for evidence of the superior academic performance of students in charter schools. None that stands up against the critique of neutral methodologists has been found.24 Again, the best study addressing the question was that of Miron and his colleagues. They looked at the academic performance of charter school pupils in Delaware and compared it with the performance of students in the traditional public schools. The Evaluation Center’s work on this topic benefited from one of the best data sets ever available to study the issue (compiled by the Delaware Department of Education) and from a level of sophistication in experimental design and analysis generally missing from other studies. Fifth grade reading and mathematics comparisons showed that: the 5th grade average math scale score for charter school students was significantly lower than the mean results for matched noncharter students. There is some indication of improvement in math scaled score since 2003-04. [For Grade 5 reading] the results suggest that, overall, charter school students are not performing at levels comparable to their noncharter peers in reading; and the gap appears to be widening.25

Test score comparisons in Grades 8 and 10 showed mixed results with the differences attributed to charter schools’ selectivity in choice of students—“creaming” in some lexicons—in ways that could not be adequately controlled for in the statistical analyses. Although Miron and his colleagues took a rather benign view of the charter school situation in Delaware,26 my own view is considerably less sanguine. It is true that Delaware, running a small and relatively tightly regulated charter school system, may have avoided many of the disasters that have plagues charter schools in other states; nonetheless, it is hard to credit the state with a success when the new system has contributed to racial segregation and done nothing to promote greater academic progress. Charter schools appear to be adopting one of four different characters: White academies run by individual experienced teachers; “drop-out” drill and kill factories run by large companies calling themselves Educational Management Organizations (EMOs); ethnic academies appealing to racial or ethnic loyalties for their clientele; and private/Montessori conversion schools.2728

Super Bowl XXX was played January 28, 1996, in Tempe, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. The National Football League donated $1 million to a newly opened charter school, Espiritu Charter School located in a poor section of Phoenix.

Enrolling primarily Hispanic youngsters, Espiritu spent the money acquiring land, constructing a football field, a parking lot, and a classroom building. In 2007, Espiritu had an enrollment of 800 students. Its test scores had begun to slip. Fewer than one in five students passed the state’s AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) reading test. The school expects a second windfall from the 2008 Super Bowl that will also be played in the Phoenix area. Espiritu Charter School is owned by brothers Armando and Fernando Ruiz. Armando theorizes that charter schools have evolved into two groups: those that take in kids who are behind in their academics and put them through weak courses to accumulate credits to graduate, and those that act as private, elite schools by taking only the brightest.29

The brief history of charter schools in America is replete with stories of theft, corruption, and ethical failure. The with-drawal of strict government oversight of charter schools was supposed to unleash powers of creative innovation. It seems to have unleashed instead a torrent of greed and duplicity. Regulations governing charter schools in Arizona were egregiously lax. The lifting of bureaucratic burdens was an invitation to exploitation that some charter school organizers could not resist. It was possible within the letter of the enabling legislation to spend charter school funds to acquire property and then hold personal title to the property in the event the school failed, as many did. Raymond Jackson founded ATOP Academy with two campuses—one in Phoenix and the other in Tempe—in 1997 as a K-8 charter school that was reported to have a combined enrollment in 1997-98 of more than 350 mostly poor African American students. Disinterested visitors to the school described a rigid, almost military style of “drill and kill” teaching. Textbooks were actually authored by Dr. Jackson himself and bought by the school. Within 5 years the ATOP Academy found itself at the center of a scandal over falsified reports and the school’s charter was revoked. Jackson—who listed himself as Dr. Raymond Jackson, but even a Google search could find no evidence of his having earned a doctorate—later surfaced as principal of a K-8 school on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Northern Arizona for 1 year. In the late 1990s, one of the earliest and largest charter schools in the nation, Citizen 2000 in Phoenix, Arizona, grew to more than 800 students in its second year of operation, largely by playing on the sympathies of its African American clientele. The school was closed suddenly in the spring semester of its second year. Students and teachers were abandoned by the school’s founder without notice. It was later learned that the founder and principal, whose salary far exceeded that of any other principal in the state, had hired her sister as assistant principal, had used school funds to pay her divorce lawyer and her mother’s mortgage on a condominium in the most exclusive area of town, and had left the state to relocate in Chicago. The Arizona Attorney General’s office chose not to prosecute. In 2004, auditors for the state of Arizona uncovered attendance counting problems at more than half of the 345 charter-school companies operating charter schools in the state. Attendance counts are the basis of state reimbursements to the charter schools. One company, Renaissance Educational Consortium operating several charter schools in the state, was discovered during the 2005-2006 school year, to be misreporting its enrollments by nearly 50%. Almost half of their student count was either not enrolled, regularly absent, or had dropped out of school altogether. The company received more than $100,000 from the state to which it was not entitled betwee June and October.30 The Franklin Arts Academies, operator of three charter schools in the Phoenix suburbs, were notified in Match 2007 that their charter was about to be revoked for misreporting of student enrollment figures. Actual enrollment was fewer than 130 students, while 170 was the number reported to the Arizona Department of Education. Fraudulent reimbursements amounted to nearly a quarter million dollars a year. Morningstar Academy principal Carolyn Kennedy managed to keep her job as principal of the Apache Junction Arizona charter school even though she failed to report an incident of a teacher molesting a girl in his class. The teacher, Bobby Kennedy, 28, was the principal’s son. The decision to keep Ms. Kennedy in her position as principal was made by the charter school owner, C. Steven Cox. A reporter for the Arizona Republic discovered that Mr. Cox was under indictment on 112 counts of theft and misuse of charter school funds in California.31 Charter school graft is not confined to the state of Arizona. Anne Lesley Kane was arrested on November 12, 2007, by the Boulder (CO) City Police. Ms Kane, founder and former lead teacher of the Horizons K-8 Charter School in Boulder, Colorado, was charged with four separate felonies: theft, attempting to influence a public servant, forgery, and embezzlement of public property. Approximately 90% of the students attending Horizons Charter School are White and from middle class families. Kane was alleged to have misrepresented her salary, allowing her to collect unwarranted retirement money from the state retirement fund.32 Ironically, when these schools collapse amid scandal and malfeasance, charter school proponents trumpet the failures as successes of the market at work. Jeanne Allen, head of the conservative Center for Education Reform, hailed the collapse of the ATOP Academy as a triumph of the free market: While Ray Jackson and ATOP have been a savior for hundreds of families, at no time should poor management be tolerated in any school. This case shows the power of the charter concept. If there are problems, these schools can be shut down. Such accountability is rarely seen in traditional Arizona public schools.33 The implication is that incompetence and duplicity exist in the traditional public schools but are never uncovered because of the public school monopoly. When a charter school fails, it is hailed as a triumph of the market place and presented as evidence of the superiority of those that remain open. When a public school runs into difficulties, it is cited as evidence of the failure of the entire public education “semimonopoly.

Poor performance and illegal behavior exist in the traditional public school sector, and they are frequently dealt with.34 But they are usually dealt with in subtle ways that protect the dignity of the individuals involved while protecting the integrity of the school. Accurate figures do not exist on felonious and unethical behavior in the schools; however, the rate of felonious and unethical behavior certainly appears to greatly favor the charter school movement. It is difficult to see that anything other than the White voting public’s desire to simultaneously cheapen public education and create quasi-private schooling for their children is driving, in its larger part, the charter school movement. Private schools being increasingly outside the financial reach of all but the most well-to-do Americans, something akin to private schools but funded by public tax monies become the preferred alternative. Charter schools are evolving into the public version of the nonparochial private academies. That they symbolize to those parents who choose them a sanctuary from the menacing poly-cultural environments of the traditional public schools is an added attraction.

Glass, Gene V (2008-06-01). Fertilizers, Pills & Magnetic Strips The Fate of Public Education in America (Kindle Locations 3053-3054). IAP - Information Age Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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