Charter School Experiment FAILURE Documented Again

17 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/17/2020

Marketing and lack of oversight have obscured the failure of the charter school industry. The latest research reported by Carol Burris and her team at the Network for Public Education (NPE) documents the atrocious going out of business rate among charter schools.

The United States Education Department (USED) has invested more than $4 billion promoting the industry but has not effectively tracked the associated fraud, waste and failures. After 25-years of charter schooling, Broken Promises is the first comprehensive study of their closure rates.

Charter School Myths and Promises

Former American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union President, Albert Shanker, is often cited as the father of charter schools. His Wikipedia entry says, “In 1988, Shanker was the first to propose charter schools in the U.S.” He was not, nor was he central to charter school development.

Five years before Shanker’s famous 1988 speech in which he mentioned charter schools, the Reagan administration had published the infamous A Nation at Risk. In his speech, Shanker was clearly responding to that report as well as President Reagan’s call for choice in education and his own belief that American education was not serving the majority of students well.

At the time, Shanker was reading Ray Budde’s book from which he appropriated the terminology “charter.” In his 1988 speech, Shanker proposed,

“The school district and the teacher union would develop a procedure that would encourage any group of six or more teachers to submit a proposal to create a new school.”

“That group of teachers could set up a school within that school which ultimately, if the procedure works and it’s accepted, would be a totally autonomous school within that district.”

“I would approve such a proposal if it included a plan for faculty decision making, for participative management; team teaching; a way for a teaching team to govern itself; and a provision that shows how such a subunit would be organized so the teachers would no longer be isolated in the classroom throughout their professional lives, but would have the time to be available to share ideas and talk to and with each other.”

The actual development of charter schools was far different. Education Writer Rachel Cohen described what arose,

“At its outset, the real power in the charter coalition was what might be termed the ‘technocratic centrists’: business leaders, moderate Republicans, and DLC members looking for Third Way solutions that couldn’t be labeled big-government liberalism. While charters have drawn praise from other quarters—for instance, some educators and progressive activists see them as tools for racial and economic justice—these groups have never formed the heart of charters’ power base.”

In 1991, Bill Clinton – then Arkansas Governor and Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) – embraced the technocratic version of charter schools as a “Third Way” solution. Shanker would later complain, “It is almost impossible for us to get President Clinton to stop endorsing [charters] in all his speeches.”

By the time charter schools were birthed in Minnesota, Albert Shanker had agreed with several of the main points presented in “A Nation at Risk.” In accord with the DLC, Shanker stated,

“The reforms that resulted from A Nation At Risk and the other reports constituted a much-needed corrective to the softness of schools in the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s. Yes, we needed schools that had standards, and we still do.”

However, the public school failure belief was based on little more than illusion.

While writing an NPR article on the 35th anniversary of “A Nation at Risk,” Anya Kamenetz discovered that the report “never set out to undertake an objective inquiry.” Two of the authors admitted to her that they were “alarmed by what they believed was a decline in education, and looked for facts to fit that narrative.” The dubious evidence presented in their report would have never withstood a rigorous peer review process.

Some powerful evidence points in the opposite direction and indicates that the results from US public schools in the 60s and 70s were actually a great success story.

One measuring stick demonstrating that success is Nobel Prize winners. Since 1949, America has had 383 laureates; the second place country, Great Britain, had 132. In the same period, India had 12 laureates and China 8.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis report on education achievement gaps states, “The gaps narrowed sharply in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, but then progress stalled.”

The digital revolution and the booming biotech industry were both created by students mostly from the supposedly “soft public schools” of the 60s and 70s.

In his 1999 book, The Schools Our Children Deserve, Education writer Alfie Kohn described the philosophy of current education reform saying it “consists of saying in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner and we’ll have a better country.”’

Corporate groups, Third Way Democrats and the AFT all called for manufacturing style standards to be applied to public education. Unfortunately, standards based education has proven to be toxic; leading to jejune classes and the sundering of creativity. Children are learning to hate learning.

In his book Winners Take All, Anand Giridharadas calls modern social reform based on the belief that business leaders and market forces are the sure way to a better society “MarketWorld.” Charter schools are a “MarketWorld” education reform that has brought disruption, harm to public schools and accelerating segregation. They have produced superior marketing not superior education.

Broken Promises

Broken Promises opens by quoting the words of student mother Elouise Matthews to the Orleans Parish School Board:

“I am a parent of Mary D. Coghill [Charter School]. For the last three years I have had to place my kids at different schools each year because the schools keep closing. My child was attending MCPA, that school closed. He then went to Medard Nelson, that school closed. Now, he is at Coghill and y’all are trying to close that school. I am tired of moving my child every year because y’all are closing schools.”

In the modern era of school choice, the one choice New Orleans parent do not have is sending their children to a stable public school. New Orleans is a 100% privatized school district. It is the epitome of “MarketWorld” education reform.

“Broken Promises” looked at cohorts of newly opened charter schools between 1998 and 2017. Ryan Pfleger, Ph.D. led the analysis of charter schools closures utilizing the Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD).

Before 1998, the massive government data base did not uniquely identify charter schools and the last complete data set available for all schools in America was 2017.

Startup charter school cohorts were identified by year and the cohort closure rates were tracked at 3, 5, 10 and 15 years after opening. The overall failure rates discovered were 18% by year-3, 25% by year-5, 40% by year-10 and 50% by year-15.

The NPE team discovered that half of all charter schools in America close their doors within fifteen years.

All Cohort Failure Graphic

Graphic from Broken Promises Showing Charter School Failure Rates

Many charter schools close within their first year of operations. “Broken Promises” shares the story of several of these quick failures. The following story was based on a TV newscast in North Carolina:

On a Thursday morning in September of 2014, parents dropped their children off at the Concrete Roses STEM Academy charter school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Families were handed a notice that the school would close the very next day. The school had claimed (and was funded for) an enrollment of 300 students although actual enrollment was only 126.

 Concrete Roses STEM Academy was open for only one month.

Because Concrete Rose STEM Academy closed before officially reporting attendance to the federal government in October, they do not count as a failed school. In the CCD database, they never showed students thus did not meet the criteria for having opened.

Burris and team document close to a million students being displaced by school closures. These displaced students then put tremendous pressure on public schools which are required to take them in.

“Broke Promises” also cites National Education Association research showing that “52 percent of students displaced by charter closings receive free or reduced-price lunch.”

Census tract maps collated with charter school closures were utilized to understand where the closures were happening. In Detroit for example, they noted that between 1998 and 2015 245-charter schools opened of which 106 had closed (43%) by 2017.

The report states, “Fifty-nine percent of the failures were located in tracts with 30 percent or above rates of poverty, although there were a far greater number of tracts with lower levels of poverty.”

Census Tract Map Showing High Poverty Neighborhoods with Highest Charter Churn.

Mounting Evidence Shows Charter Schools Are Bad Policy

As charter schools started becoming a more significant part of local school districts, fiscal impacts mounted. In 2014, researchers Robert Bifulco from Syracuse University and Randall Reback from Bernard College published a study of the fiscal impacts in the public schools of Buffalo and Albany, NY. They estimated that the net costs in Buffalo were between $633 and $744 per pupil and in Albany between $976 and $1,070 per pupil. Thus, public school students were suffering reduced fiscal support in order to finance charter schools.

In 2016, Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers University produced Exploring the consequences of charter school expansion in U.S. cities for the Economic Policy Institute. In the summary of this report he stated,

“Other reports have shown how high test scores and popularity of charter schools could be the byproducts of using data from cherry-picked charter schools that serve cherry-picked or culled populations. This report adds further insights for the debate on how expanding charter schools as a policy alternative achieves the broader goal. Specifically, it shows that charter expansion may increase inequity, introduce inefficiencies and redundancies, compromise financial stability, and introduce other objectionable distortions to the system that impede delivery of an equitable distribution of excellent or at least adequate education to all children.”

In 2017, NPE Executive Director Carol Burris produced “Charters and Consequences.” In it she stated,

“… nearly every day brings a story, often reported only in local newspapers, about charter mismanagement, failure, nepotism or outright theft and fraud.”

“This report … is the result of a year-long exploration of the effects of charter schools and the issues that surround them.”

To accompany the report, NPE started an ongoing web page, #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal, which catalogues and makes available the horrific charter industry record of fraud and malfeasance.

In 2018, Professors Helen F. Ladd of Duke University and John D. Singleton of Syracuse University published The Fiscal Externalities of Charter Schools: Evidence from North Carolina. Like the study of Buffalo and Albany they found powerful evidence that it was costing schools in Durham, NC $3600 per student lost to charters. The paper also stated, “We find smaller, though sizable, Net Fiscal Impacts in the non-urban districts and considerable heterogeneity across them.”

That same year professor Gordon Lafer of the University of Oregon published Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.” Lafer stated,

“In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District. The California Charter School Act currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications.”

Last year, NPE published two investigations of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). In Asleep at the Wheel, they stated, “We estimate that program funding has grown to well over $4 billion. That could bring the total of the potential waste to around $1billion.” At a congressional hearing, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaking about the report testified, “The report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda.”

In response, NPE redoubled efforts and in December published Still Asleep at the Wheel where they documented that their conservative claims in the first report under-reported the extent of wasted money and negligence associated with the CSP.

Time to join with the NAACP in their 2018 call for a charter school moratorium. With the industries record of creaming, advancing segregation and self-dealing, charter profiteering can not be accepted. Charters have not delivered significant education improvements just disruption, community harm and fraud. School chartering is a FAILED experiment.

4 Responses to “Charter School Experiment FAILURE Documented Again”

  1. peachymeyer August 18, 2020 at 5:47 am #

    Re Shankers’s proposal: We did try to do that – a group of six teachers with a group of students with specific needs and the lowest academic standing in the school (I think the entire district). A study by the county office of ed praised our school within a school based on their study of the subsequent academic and psychological success of the students. It was a singularly positive experience for the teachers and the parents, who were also involved. We called it a family, and that’s what it felt like. Sadly, the project was short-lived; the institution of uber-testing and blanket test prep combined with new admin in line with the latter to do away with it. The district later claimed that the documentation of this project did not exist, and several years later, a commercial charter came in with a hot new idea, basically a water-down version of our “family.” I have no idea what happened with that. This was not an experience unique to us. Teachers know their students and their students’ needs and how to address them; they are uniquely qualified in this regard, especially when they can work with a similarly-qualified group of colleagues.. Perhaps one of these days, when the interests of greed are eradicated from our schools, teachers everywhere will take over and do what needs to be done, as per the original concept of the charter school.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. drext727 August 23, 2020 at 10:10 pm #

    Reblogged this on David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education.

    Like

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    […] Thomas Ultican, who retired last year as a teacher of advanced math and physics in California, has studied school reform in many districts. He concludes that charter schools, created supposedly to improve education, especially for the neediest children, is a failed experiment. […]

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