Past Time for a Charter School Moratorium in California

8 Feb

In December 2015, elected officials and education professionals in Orange County, California joined a growing number of voices across our state calling for a charter school expansion moratorium:

“So today, we are asking Orange County residents to stand with our children and call for an immediate temporary moratorium on charter schools at all levels until there is transparency and accountability on par with public schools.”

 Michael Matsuda, Superintendent, Anaheim Union High School District

Al Jabbar, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Annemarie Randle-Trejo, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Brian O’ Neal, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Anna Piercy, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Kathy Smith, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

 

In their joint declaration, they pointed to concerns about lack of transparency in the use of money by publicly supported charter schools. They also worried that charter schools laws do not sufficiently protect students; stating this example, “The USA though, because of lax charter laws that favor privatization, is the only country in the world that allows public taxpayer money to fund schools operated by foreign nationals.”

 

To this last point, in January, a notice in the San Diego Union about Magnolia Public Schools piqued my interest enough to investigate. To my surprise, I found that Magnolia Public Schools were part of the Gulen charter school empire, the schools governed by the Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gulen. I found that California already has eleven of these schools including one here in my hometown, San Diego.

 

A Little Charter School History

 

In 1974 Ray Budde, who taught educational administration at the University of Massachusetts, presented the Society for General Systems Research some ideas for the reorganization of school districts in a paper he titled “Education by Charter”.

 

Ted Kolderie, one of the original designers of the nation’s first charter school law in Minnesota tells us:

 

“Ray Budde’s proposal was actually for a restructuring of the district: for moving from ‘a four-level line and staff organization’ to ‘a two-level form in which groups of teachers would receive educational charters directly from the school board’ and would carry the responsibility for instruction.”

 

Budde’s idea did not go anywhere for almost a decade and then came “Nation at Risk.”

 

President Regan’s Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, formed a “blue ribbon” committee of businessmen and other luminaries to produce a report on education in America. The committee included Nobel Prize winning chemist, Glenn Seaborg who had been the chairman of the atomic energy commission under three presidents. Seaborg was certainly a brilliant man but you would probably not hire him to be your dentist. It was the same with the rest of the commission, they were not experienced or trained educators.

 

Their report, “Nation at Risk”, asserted that America’s schools were so profoundly failing that the future of the nation was literally at risk. Normally a report of this scope and importance would be peer reviewed and its claims investigated before a government agency would make it an official product. It was, in fact, factually erroneous but its unsupported claims have plagued public schools and educators ever since the US Department of Education published it.

 

It was in this environment, that Albert Shankar, President of the American Federation of Teachers started promoting Budde’s charter school idea. A speech he gave in Minnesota in 1988 started the wheels into motion for the first in the nation charter school law that was enacted in 1991. A year later, 1992, California enacted its version of a charter school law.

 

In a 2012 article about the 20th anniversary of the California charter school law Bonnie Eslinger of the San Jose Mercury News wrote:

 

“One year after California became the second state in the nation in 1992 to pave the way for taxpayer-funded charter schools, a contingent of education officials and parents from San Carlos stepped forward to join the public school reform movement.

“In its application to state officials, the group said it viewed the proposed San Carlos Charter Learning Center “as one aspect of education, the entire community serves as the campus, and the school acts as a headquarters.”

“Today, the San Carlos Charter Learning Center is the longest-running charter school in the state, according to the California Charter Schools Association, which organized a media event Tuesday at the campus to herald the 20-year anniversary of the experiment.”

 

 

California Charter Schools Expand Explosively

Since those early idealistic days of charter school innovation, the charter school movement has enjoyed rapid growth. The California Charter School Association reports this staggering set of statistics:

 

 

  • 1,230: Charter schools in California
  • 80: New charter schools opened in 2015-16 school year
  • California: State with the most charter schools and charter school students in the country
  • 581,100: Estimated number of students attending charter schools in CA as of 2015-16
  • 7%: Estimated percentage by which charter school student enrollment grew in 2015-16
  • 36,100: Estimated number of new charter school students in 2015-16
  • Los Angeles: Region with highest growth in new charter schools
  • 27: New charter schools opened in Los Angeles region
  • North Coast & Bay Area: Region with second highest growth
  • 21: New charter schools opened in North Coast and Bay Area
  • 158,000: Estimated number of students on charter school waiting lists in 2014-15
  • 32: Schools closed in 2014-15”

 

Charter School Negatives

However, everything is not totally positive with charter schools. They were originally sold as an avenue for both education innovation and a way for parents to have choice in their children’s education. Today, the best innovations in education all comes from the public school system and choice is a mirage like those 158,000 students on charter school waiting lists. A recent study by the Texas State Education committee found that in Texas while there is indeed a waiting list most of those on it are applying for a few specific charter schools and that more than one-third of all the states available charter seats go unfilled.

 

As far as school choice is concerned, the education writer Steven Singer recently wrote an article titled “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice” in which he argues that charter schools actually limit parental choice. He noted:

 

“Most public schools are run by a school board made up of duly-elected members from the community. The school board is accountable to that community. Residents have the right to be present at votes and debates, have a right to access public documents about how tax money is being spent, etc. None of this is true at most charter or voucher schools.”

 

The Huffington Post reported in the 2012-13 school year while 109 new charter schools opened in California 28 closed that same year. Stability is well known as a key factor in healthy childhood development and charter schools have a troubled history of instability.

 

The most disturbing aspect of the charter school movement is the amount of fraud and profiteering associated. In December 2015, Bruce Baker, Rutgers University and Gary Miron, Western Michigan University studied some of the prominent ways that individuals, companies, and organizations secure financial gain and generate profit by controlling and running charter schools. They identified these four policy concerns:

 

  1. “A substantial share of public expenditure intended for the delivery of direct educational services to children is being extracted inadvertently or intentionally for personal or business financial gain, creating substantial inefficiencies;
  2. “Public assets are being unnecessarily transferred to private hands, at public expense, risking the future provision of “public” education;
  3. “Charter school operators are growing highly endogenous, self-serving private entities built on funds derived from lucrative management fees and rent extraction which further compromise the future provision of “public” education; and
  4. “Current disclosure requirements make it unlikely that any related legal violations, ethical concerns, or merely bad policies and practices are not realized until clever investigative reporting, whistle blowers or litigation brings them to light.”

 

Conclusion

We are privatizing the public education system built by our forefathers. It was the foundation of the great American social, economic and democratic experiment. We are doing this based on a crisis in education that never was.

 

In a brilliant article by psychometrics expert, Gene V Glass, it says, “A democratically run public education system in America is under siege. It is being attacked by greedy, union-hating corporations and billionaire boys whose success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.” Let’s heed the words of real experts. It is time to put a halt to the privatization of public education long enough to see what we have wrought before we do further damage.

3 Responses to “Past Time for a Charter School Moratorium in California”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Most Charter Schools are Public Schools in Name ONLY | gadflyonthewallblog - February 9, 2016

    […] need a national moratorium on new charter schools. We need to investigate every existent charter to determine if each are […]

  2. Most Charter Schools Are Public In Name Only | PopularResistance.Org - February 14, 2016

    […] need a national moratorium on new charter schools. We need to investigate every existent charter to determine if each are […]

  3. Thomas Ultican: Time for A Moratorium on New Charter Schools in California | Diane Ravitch's blog - May 15, 2016

    […] more than 50% of the students are English language learners and 75% are Title I. In this article, he calls for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter sector in California. That state happens to have more charter schools and more students in charters than any other […]

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