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.