You can trust us; we’re from the charter schools (Guest Post by Wendy Lecker)

This truth about the charter school industry grows every day.  Today’s contribution can be found in an investigative story in the New York Times entitled, A Star-Powered School Sputters.  The article explores those associated with the charter school created by Dion Sanders, the pro-football, pro-baseball player turned charter school owner.

Here in Connecticut, we’ve become used to daily coverage of the failures associated with the Jumoke/FUSE charter school company and the exploits of charter school champions such as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe, “Dr.” Terrence Carter, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Steven Pryor, Capital Prep principal Steve Perry, corporate education reformer extraordinaire Paul Vallas  and the others who are pushing the charter school gravy train.

In today’s Guest Post, public school advocate and Hearst Media Group columnist Wendy Lecker responds to a recent pro-charter school commentary piece that appeared in the Connecticut Post.

Wendy Lecker writes,

In an oped in the Connecticut Post on August 7, a board member of the Side by Side charter school in Norwalk, Anne Magee Dichele, complained that in the wake of the Jumoke scandal, and the revelations that state authorities exert little oversight over Connecticut charter schools, Connecticut charter schools are now forced to defend themselves to the public.  She pleaded that the public not judge all charters by the actions of those who break the law.

As a public school parent in an urban district, I see my district and districts like mine unfairly maligned on a regular basis, by state and national officials, by  the media and, of course by the charter school industry.  Public education has become everyone’s favorite punching bag and the excuse to do nothing about the glaring inequality in American society. So I feel little sympathy for a charter school operator who must defend her school.

However, I will give some unsolicited advice to this board member. If you do not want to be treated like other charter schools, do not engage in the same semantic sleights of hand your fellow charter operators love to use.

In her oped, Ms. Dichele proudly proclaims that her school uses an “open lottery” so all children “have an equal chance at coming to” her school.  Clearly, she is trying to create the impression that her school satisfied its duty to integrate. Perhaps Ms. Dichele is unfamiliar with the history of school segregation in our country and with the decades of evidence since the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.   So I will spell it out for her.  Open lotteries result in segregation.  Pure and simple.  In fact, open choice was used as a way of keeping southern schools segregated in the wake of the Brown decision.  And over fifty years of evidence since then proves that unfettered choice segregates schools.  The only way to achieve diversity in a choice system is to carefully design a controlled choice policy that consciously seeks diversity. In my district, Stamford, we abandoned an open lottery for our magnet schools years ago, as we found it that it increased segregation.  Stamford has a mandatory integration policy. When our schools fall out of balance, we redistrict.   Enrollment in our magnet schools is done through a lottery that consciously controls for demographics.   Our schools are integrated because we make the conscious effort to integrate, rather than blindly declaring that “all can attend.”

Ms. Dichele’s Side by Side charter school is a perfect example of how an open lottery works against diversity.  When you compare the demographics of Side by Side charter school to its host district, Norwalk, Side by Side has ten percent less poverty, half the percentage of English Language Learners and half the percentage of students with disabilities that Norwalk’s schools have.  Moreover, while state data show that Side by Side has zero percent teachers of color, Norwalk’s school district has 15.9%.

Side by Side charter has significantly fewer needy children than its host district—which brings me to Ms. Dichele’s other claim: that her school spends less than public schools.  Charter schools do not have to pay for transportation or special education services.  Public school districts have to pay for those services provided to the charter schools.  So, Norwalk is paying for the few special education students served at Side by Side, as well as their transportation- and Norwalk reports this payment as expenditure, even though Norwalk cannot count those children as Norwalk district students.  Under state law, if a charter school has fewer than 20 students who are English Language Learners, it does not need to provide ELL services for its students.  According to state data, Side by Side has 13 ELL students. If Side by Side spends less, one would have to say- of course. It is not required to provide the same services as its host district.

Moreover, the facts show that in Connecticut, charters routinely outspend or at least spend the same as their host districts. Bridgeport charters outspend Bridgeport public schools, and in New Haven and Hartford, they spend comparable amounts.

The hard numbers also show that the public schools districts in which these charters exist have been shortchanged by the state year after year.    Norwalk, for example is owed at least $21.34 million annually– that’s almost $2,000 per pupil annually- by the state. And this conservative amount does not factor in any of the unfunded and underfunded mandates imposed on districts, like the Common Core and teacher evaluations.  By contrast, the legislature forks over massive yearly increases to charters, no questions asked.  For the past few years, Connecticut’s ten neediest districts received increases of less than $300 per pupil per year on average, with strict strings attached mandating that they spend that money only the way Commissioner Pryor wanted it spent. By contrast, in Governor Malloy’s 2012 legislation,   every single charter school in Connecticut received a three-year across-the-board increase of $2600 per child.  Connecticut charters serve one 1% of the state’s public school children.  And ninety percent of Connecticut charters serve a less needy, and therefore, less costly, population than their host districts.

According to state data, Side by Side also performs well below the state average. Side by Side may very well be a nice school whose students and parents are happy. However, that is not the metric by which our public schools are judged, sadly.  If Side by Side and all the other “misunderstood” charters just want to be treated like the rest of us, serve the same children we do, and abide by the same rules.

  • Mary Gallucci

    A superb analysis by Wendy Lecker. No one ever comes to the defense of an entire school population, such as Windham’s, when the state and the Commissioner trumpet that Windham schools are “failing” and that its students are low-performing.
    Every child in the so-called under-performing districts of this state–the under-funded schools to which the state has abdicated its responsibility–knows that State and local officials maintain this opinion about them. I cringe every time my children mention the favorite talking points of people like Steven Adamowski and school administrators who want more $$, that most students are “3 grades” below basic or below normal or sub-human, whatever is the most media-worthy formulation. Every tax-paying (or dodging) landlord in a “low-performing” district also uses this rhetoric to vote down school budgets.
    No charter school takes on the burden that every public school is required (legally and morally) to assume: the education of every child in the district. It is an enormous tragedy and national shame that in this country there are so many people who are committed to segregation–because that is the reason this problem continues and that inadequate bandaids like charter schools are tolerated. Of course, most charter schools are outright frauds–but the segregation of this state and of the US in general allows them to exist.
    The charter school shills are marshaling their forces this week–Anne Dichele, Dacia Toll–actually, Toll is not only a shill but someone who profits handsomely from the charter schools she and Stefan Pryor have founded through Achievement First.

    • Terry Marselle

      Wendy – I’m so proud of you! After reading that – I need a cigarette – and I don’t even smoke.
      Terry Marselle – teacher in West Hartford

    • Mary Gallucci

      when I mentioned school admin which wanted more money, I did not mean that they fight for the money that students deserve–I meant, that they want a piece of the consulting dollars, the technology funds, and all the stuff people like Adamowski and Pryor waste tax payer funds on–MassInsight, Edupioneers, TFA, the so-called extended day evaporating dollars, etc.

  • Guest

    What an excellent piece. Well said and spot on!

  • Charlie Puffers

    Ms. Lecker has plainly and clearly exposed the lies and half truths in th Op-Ed piece written by Ms. Dichele. How is it possible that Ms. Dichele who is a college professor does not read and use research before writing? Is it wrong to expect more of a college professor than made-for-reality TV types like Perry, Rhee, and Brown?

  • Castles Burning

    Excellent research and analysis as always from Ms. Lecker. I hope that many are reading.

  • jrp1900

    Great piece by Wendy Lecker. The argument is clear and persuasive. Anne Magee Dichelle offers a defense of charter schools on the grounds that the Jumoke/FUSE debacle cannot be taken as typical of charter schools as a whole. Fair enough: this seems to be a reasonable contention. However, when we consider charter schools in their generality what do we find? We find schools that are hyper-segregated by race; and we find schools that do not reflect the cultural and economic profile of the communities in which they are situated (for as Ms Lecker reports charter schools underserve English language learners and they often underserve the most economically disadvantaged children, as measured by eligibility for free and reduced lunches). Ms Dichelle says that an open lottery ensures that “every child has an equal opportunity of coming” to her school. She misses the more significant point that every child ought to have an EQUAL OPPORTUNITY AT GOOD EDUCATION. Charter schools do not bring on equality; in fact they EXACERBATE INEQUALITY, as they tend to skim off the higher-performing students, leaving the regular public schools with a greater concentration of troubled children. And more fundamentally, the very idea of a charter school is premised on the acceptance of inequality, as the open lottery decrees that not everyone will get “to go to heaven.” Its a simple reality that some children will have to be “damned in hell,” by being forced to go to the “dreadful” public schools. This is the way markets work: some win, many lose.
    Ms Dichelle should read some American history. It might make her skeptical of the notion that the richest people in the United States (the backers of charter schools) are suddenly taken with the educational plight of poor children for purely altruistic reasons. History shows that African Americans and other people of color have waged a heroic fight to achieve PUBLIC education for their children. But now we are told, by right wing conservatives who despise social democracy, that public education is an evil and that the best thing for the poor is to get their children into a charter school, nominally public, but typically managed by a private charter school management company (backed by Wall St money). Something about this scenario does not ring right: the student of American history will immediately recognize that the charter school movement is an updated version of carpet-bagging.
    Wendy Lecker notes that the state of Connecticut provides more money for charters than for regular public schools. Why is this? Could it have something to do with the fact that powerful social interests have access to the State government, whereas the concerns of the ordinary populace are more or less irrelevant to the formation of public policy? Charter schools in CT are not being funded more per pupil because they are more successful than their public counterparts; these schools get more money for the simple reason that their promoters have more power and influence than the average CT family. In short, money talks.
    Ms Dichele is

    • Not Born Yesterday

      Terrific work, Wendy, and an equally profound response, jrp1900! Together — and with the other reader comments — these postings ought to be REQUIRED READING for every candidate seeking state office. Legislators, in particular, need to educate themselves on these issues and stop being blindsided by the constant misrepresentations and blatant lies of the charter cabal. Not only are these schools segregationist and intended as elitist schools (never mind that they fail to deliver elitist-quality education), but also they suck millions of dollars away from the REAL public schools each year. They are a divisive cancer eating away at the heart of urban communities, hastening the collapse of already fragile school systems that are barely surviving the state’s punitive interventions and broken school funding system.

    • robertds47385

      umiru bolno..

  • Bluecoat
    Can’t trust anyone with the teaching of our children today
    What the heck is wrong with us?
    I am surprised the CREC International Magnet School of Global Citizenship in South Windsor didn’t make Malkin’s list if stupid schools we have allowed

  • msavage

    Just had a chance to read this. Fantastic piece, and I agree with the other poster–should be required reading for all legislators and wanna-be legislators in the state.

  • Tom Burns

    Thank you Wendy and Jonathan–my children need you–Tom

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