Category Archives: Charter Schools

Georgia Charter Schools

Charter Incubator Program

A first-of-its-kind initiative in Georgia aims to develop more higher-achieving charter schools.

A charter incubator program is being launched by the nonprofit advocacy group Georgia Charter Schools Association. It is not getting state funding, but the initiative has the support of the state Department of Education, and marks a key development in the evolution of charter schools in the state. Backers expect it to drive creation of such schools by training and preparing school administrators interested in establishing charters.

The charter school incubator, New Schools for Georgia, is designed to particularly assist charters in their infancy, often their most challenging time, by helping them establish effective governing boards, boost financial sustainability and develop clear missions.

“It’s (incubator) going to significantly help with the quality of our charter schools, which is good for kids,” said Lou Erste, associate superintendent for policy and charter schools at the Georgia Department of Education. “We need higher quality (charter school) applications if we want to have higher quality schools.”

Some teachers and education observers question, however, whether such an effort will detract from putting needed resources into traditional public schools.

State legislation in recent years has pushed for more charter schools and alternatives to the traditional public school model, but state educators and others say they have not seen enough high-qualified groups applying for charter schools to fill the demand.

Georgia has 115 charter schools, close to 4 percent of the schools in the state; five years ago, the number was 110. Charter advocates and state education officials say the number of charter schools should be higher.

“I’ve seen a number of charter schools that have opened and run for a few years and then just basically faltered because they were unable to focus on their mission and vision,” said Allen Mueller, executive director of the new incubator, who previously was director of innovation for Atlanta Public Schools where he helped authorize the creation of charter schools in the district. “They were unable to … focus on serving kids because they were too busy trying to figure out how to deal with facilities or how to run a board meeting or how to deal with open records requests or how to hire good staff.”

State education leaders including Erste urged the Georgia Charter Schools Association to develop ways to boost charter development, and the incubator is a significant step in that direction, said Mueller. Education experts say similar incubators in other states including Tennessee and Louisiana have helped support charter school growth.

“How they (charter schools) perform in their first few years really sets the stage for how they’re going to perform,” and incubators can play a key role in helping, said Marisa Cannata, senior research associate at Vanderbilt University, who’s written extensively on charter schools. “If they get off to a strong start, they’re likely to continue on that trajectory. If they get off on a weak start, they usually continue to stumble.

“That startup year is a really hard time financially for schools. I think it’s also working through inabilities to access capital funding, funding for transportation, those are also key things that need to be in place for charter schools to really take hold in a community.”

Tracey-Ann Nelson, government relations director with the Georgia Association of Educators, said one concern with the incubator is that it could divide communities vying for limited money for schools. Both charters and traditional schools are funded by taxpayers, but charter schools manage themselves and have more flexibility over their academics.

“For me … that is the problem with the movement of charter schools is that it’s about fighting and dividing, not collaborating and strengthening public schools as a whole entity,” Nelson said. “No matter what, we’re all trying to make sure we deliver quality education to kids.”

One of the most recent examples of charter schools failing to make it in metro Atlanta involved Fulton County school board members denying the renewal of charters for a high school and elementary school in the district, citing weaknesses with governance and problematic finances.

Members decided to cut ties with Fulton Science Academy High and Fulton Sunshine Academy elementary by the end of this school year. Fulton school district staff cited poor governance that “resulted in the default on a $19 million bond, a self-perpetuating board membership structure that has been dominated by individuals who did not represent the community,” and a “general lack of transparency.” Leaders of the charter schools have denied any wrongdoing.

Superintendent Robert Avossa of Fulton schools said the incubator should help guide charter schools in their development.

“The state could use more high quality charter schools that are tending to the needs of the most at-risk kids. That’s the area we’ve not been able to do well in,” said Avossa. “I think charters play an important role in public education. I don’t see them as a silver bullet. It’s hard to run a charter school from scratch. That’s where the incubator will play a critical role. You’ve got plenty of charters doing good work and some that aren’t doing good work and can tarnish the effort of the other group.”

Ehab Jaleel, executive director for Amana Academy in Alpharetta, a K-8 Fulton charter school with close to 700 students, says the incubator should help bolster charter schools in Georgia, where “there’s been this kind of pent-up demand” for them. “People are very interested in school choice.”

Jaleel thinks the charter incubator “would have made a world of difference for us” when the school started nearly nine years ago. “We’ve kind of had to learn as we’ve grown, and the growth period is extremely difficult.”

“I think having an incubator would have exposed us to a more structured approach to learning these things very quickly so that from the beginning we would have been set up for success. I feel like we … kind of learned as we went. It’s a steep learning curve, and I think we could have benefited a lot from the incubator.”

By Rose French
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Is Education Just a Funding Mechanism?

“Are you saying public education is just a funding mechanism? … Is all education now public [and parents] can just choose?” asked Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice during oral arguments over the constitutionality of Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship Pilot Program.

The case has brought forth a question that has been at the forefront of state and national debates over school choice: What is the definition of “public education,” anyway?

“It is important to distinguish between ‘schooling’ and ‘education.’ Not all schooling is education nor all education, schooling,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. “The proper subject of concern is education. The activities of government are mostly limited to schooling.”

School choice separates financing of education from delivery of services. Educational opportunity through school choice empowers parents with the ability to direct education funding toward a schooling option that best fits their child. Education is publicly funded, but parents can choose from a variety of delivery options.

School choice programs make sense: They operate with the conviction that every child is unique and has unique learning needs, and one-size-fits-all government-run schools have their limits and can’t always meet the needs of every student.

Although education choice is spreading rapidly–more than 300,000 children are now benefitting from private school-choice options–some states and school districts, such as Douglas County, Colo., are facing lawsuits over the constitutionality of school choice.

When the Douglas County Board of Education unanimously voted to create the Choice Scholarship Program in March 2011, it enacted the first district-level school choice program in the nation. Voucher programs are traditionally approved by state legislatures, but in Douglas County, the local district supports the funding and administration of the program. Subject to annual renewal, the program provides 500 tuition vouchers to students who are residents of Douglas County and have been enrolled in a Douglas County public school for at least one year. Eligible students can apply for the scholarships through a lottery system.

But in June 2011, the scholarships were rescinded when the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the National ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and others filed suit, claiming the scholarship program violated the Public School Finance Act and six provisions in the Colorado constitution, including the establishment clause.

The ACLU won a preliminary injunction in district court. But in March 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, rejecting the plaintiffs’ establishment clause claims. The appellate court applied the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Colorado Christian University v. Weaver, 534 F.3d 1245 (10th Cir. 2008) which held the First Amendment was infringed when financial aid was provided to students attending sectarian institutions but not to students attending “pervasively sectarian” institutions.

According to the decision, “In assessing facially neutral student aid laws, a court may not inquire into the extent to which religious teaching pervades a particular institution’s curriculum.” In other words, asking how “religious” a school is that receives funding is itself a form of anti-religious discrimination.

The Supreme Court of Colorado has a chance to uphold the first locally established school choice program in the country, but it also has a chance to reaffirm what the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld: that public education is about educating students, not the physical space in which that education takes place. Above all, it’s about parents being empowered to choose options that are right for their children.

Other courts have decided this question already.

In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ohio’s Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, holding that a state-sponsored voucher program is not per se unconstitutional when the program is neutral with respect to religion and the “money follows the child.” This is so even where parents themselves choose to use the voucher monies to send their children to religious schools.

And in a landmark state ruling last year, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voucher program stating that the program did not violate the state’s prohibition against using state funds to benefit religious institutions because the primary beneficiaries of the vouchers were the families who used them.

Hundreds of families in Douglas County, Colo., have waited three years to use their scholarships because of this suit. The Colorado Supreme Court has a chance to give those families the opportunity to direct their child’s education.

COMMENTARY BY
Brittany Corona
Brittany Corona is a research assistant in Domestic Policy Studies at The Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation. Read her research.

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Darn Good Charter School

The school, which opened in 2000, set out to refute the myth that poor and minority students can’t learn. 

By Bill Torpy | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A visit to Fulton County court this week was a reminder of all that was sordid about Atlanta Public Schools: teachers correcting wrong answers on tests to make students appear good on paper; unrelenting pressure from higher-ups using a “No Excuses” mantra to instill a culture of cheating; administrators stonewalling, prevaricating and threatening when asked to investigate what was happening.

And, of course, there were the students, the kids left behind, the ones cheated out of a shot at a future because their academic weaknesses were papered over. Gov. Sonny Perdue, who testified Monday about all this, once described it as a conveyor belt to prison:

“That is like cancer; it does not get better in and of itself when that student goes from the third grade, to the fourth grade, to the fifth grade, to the sixth grade. Those are the students you see lining up at Crim (High School) in the ninth grade and then, the next time we see them is in the Department of Juvenile Justice and in our corrections system.”

Crim sits on Memorial Drive and is the collection point for low-achieving students who don’t fit in elsewhere. Alonzo A. Crim, the first black school superintendent of a major Southern city, has the unfortunate “honor” of having his name become shorthand for all that is wrong with an urban school district.

But a mile east on Memorial Drive is another school, one that has become synonymous with hope and renewal: the Charles R. Drew Charter School, Atlanta’s first charter school and a civic effort that is touted as a way to guide low-income minority kids to achievement. Charles Drew, a black man, was a surgeon whose pioneering work in blood storage helped save untold lives during World War II.

Thursday, the Washington-based Education Trust made Drew’s namesake one of three schools nationally to receive the 2014 “Dispelling the Myth Award,” which goes to schools helping to bring high achievement to minority or low-income students. The myth the award refers to is that those kinds of kids can’t perform as well as kids born with more advantages.

Drew Charter opened in 2000 after an urban revitalization project tore down East Lake Meadows and replaced the hellish housing projects with The Villages of East Lake, a mixed-income community nested next to the historic East Lake Golf Club. It was a then-radical idea shepherded by Atlanta development mogul Tom Cousins and seconded by not-yet-mayor Shirley Franklin.

When it opened, all but two of the school’s 240 kids were black and almost all came from poor families with sad back-stories.

The school overcame the inherent low expectations and, with community buy-in and the help of a lot of rich folks’ money, created what board chairwoman Cynthia Kuhlman calls “a cradle-to-college pipeline.” Its a place where students have access to many social-service bells and whistles not available in your typical public school.

Drew started out with elementary grades, grew to junior high and then, two years ago, despite some APS resistance (Superintendent Erroll Davis argued there was a glut of empty high school seats) went on to build a $55 million high school that resembles an ultra-modern airport terminal.

Currently, some 1,500 kids are enrolled, with the oldest in the 10th grade.

The school, which gives first chance at admission to kids from the adjoining Villages of East Lake and then to residents of the East Lake and Kirkwood communities, pushes STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics — and slowly has coaxed, driven and inspired students to excel. The school has longer days, longer school years, uniforms, airy study spaces, computers, robots and classes where students break up into work groups to tackle projects.

“We’re past meeting standards; we’re starting to exceed standards,” Kuhlman said. Drew’s most recent scores on the infamous Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT, the venue for the APS’s cheating) show that science was the only subject in which fewer than half the kids got “exceeds.” And 49 percent got “exceeds” in science. For most subjects, the number of kids scoring “does not meet” is in the low single digits.

Students like Simone Obleton, a 10th-grader, and Anna West, 7th, have embraced the less regimented style of learning, one that often puts students into groups and has them resolve problems. The idea behind it is that that’s what you’re called upon to do in real life, so why not start here?

Often, they must report back to their class with what they have learned, which is harder than memorizing an answer, because when you’re explaining it to your classmates “you have to know what you’re talking about,” said Anna. Truly a life lesson many adults haven’t mastered.

In recent years, the school has grown more “diverse” in that it’s drawing white kids from families in the surrounding, and increasingly gentrifying, neighborhoods. More than a quarter of the newest kindergarten class is white. That’s a good sign, because it’s a long-standing tradition that white folks won’t put their kids in a mostly black school unless it’s on an upswing.

The success of the school has bolstered charter school fans who argue, “Hey, looky here, this works. Let’s break down the horrible monolithic school system.”

But not all charter schools do well. And when they do, it may be partly because the participants are self-selected. The kids going to charter schools, even those coming from low-income families, have parents with enough wherewithal to bother to sign them up to something they see as special. If the parents go through that trouble, there’s a good chance they’ll help Johnny or Shauna do their homework, too.

Charter boosters talk about replicating the school’s model, but there is a limit. In fact, you’d need 33 more Drews to give all 50,300 APS students the same environment and resources. The problem is, there aren’t 33 Tom Cousinses or 33 historic golf clubs to go around.

Still, it’s a start.

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Just Run for School Board if Your School Isn’t Working

Originally posted by the Friedman Foundation:
As an organization “solely dedicated to advancing…school choice for all children,” obviously we at the Friedman Foundation agree wholeheartedly with gabbyhayes—who couldn’t have described school choice any better.
However, JeeryBaiter has a point, too. Parents can indeed run for school board to try to encourage change in the public school system.
So neither commenter is wrong, really. There are certainly parents who have the means, time, and interest in running for and being on a school board. Others, however, don’t.
If parents could take only JeeryBaiter’s preferred path, here is what they’d have to do:
  1. Find anywhere from a minimum of $1,500 to—get ready—more than $128,000 to run for school board in Wisconsin. On the low-end, such funds likely would be hard to find for the 350,000 Wisconsin parents whose children qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Middle-income households have their own challenges paying taxes, saving for college, and paying myriad other bills.
  2. Peruse the 69-page election schedules, follow campaign finance requirements, and complete this: 
  3. Devote nights, weekends, days, and months to door-knocking and campaigning.
  4. Win.
And even if a parent were to win her school board race, there’s no guarantee her ideas would be adopted. After all, a proposal has to be presented, considered, and voted on—that itself presents a tremendous challenge, as the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess noted:
First, as in the case of public utility regulation, critics have argued that a lack of attention and electoral involvement makes it difficult for the voters to hold their representatives even loosely accountable. Chester E. Finn Jr. and Lisa Graham Keegan have observed (2004, 15): “The traditional school board is no longer the embodiment of participatory democracy it was intended to be. The romantic notion that local school boards are elected by local citizens has been replaced with the reality that these elections are essentially rigged. They are held at odd times, when practically nobody votes except those with a special reason to do so. For example, in 2002, just 4 percent of registered voters in Dallas turned out to participate in July elections that replaced six school board members.” … Over half the public, including 57 percent of parents, admits not voting in the most recent school board election—a remarkably high rate given the tendency of respondents to overstate their electoral participation (Farkas et al. 2001, 15).
Such electorate neglect and subsequent special-interest control is what led New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to move his state’s school board elections from the more obscure April to the general election in November, hoping to inspire greater public involvement.
But let’s say voter participation were greater in school board elections and meetings. And let’s also pretend someone like gabbyhayes were able to enter and win her school board race and, moreover, get her ideas for her child adopted in her school district. Does that mean those changes will work for every other child?
We suspect not, particularly when parents have different opinions on what their children need.
That is why school choice would be a less costly path for all parents—both in terms of financial costs and opportunity costs. With school choice, decisions over a child’s education are made parent by parent. And although it too requires means and time, it surely amounts to far less than what candidates must put in to a school board race.
Take Georgia’s parents who use the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to choose private schools for their children. Among parents surveyed by the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program—57.3 percent of whom earn less than $60,000 a year—none of their “top five reasons for choosing a private school” came to an overwhelming consensus:

When it comes down to it, parents want to ensure their children’s educational needs are met. The steps required to research and enroll in alternative schooling options that do that are simply more realistic for parents to manage than running for a school board.
As the authors of the GOAL survey pointed out, parents know what steps to take and are prepared to take them:
The survey results indicated that parents who are considered to be disadvantaged are willing to take about as many affirmative steps to gain the necessary private school information as parents having higher incomes. Relevant findings include:
  • Higher-income parents, college-educated parents, married parents, and white and Asian parents are slightly more likely to take more steps to gain the information they desire about schools, with higher-income parents indicating that, on average, they would take 5.3 of the eight positive steps to gain information, whereas low-income parents indicated they would take 4.8 steps.
  • On average, college-educated parents indicated they would take 5.0 steps, whereas those with less than a college diploma indicated they would take 4.6 steps. Married, white and Asian parents indicated they would take 4.9 steps, whereas unmarried, nonwhite and non-Asian parents indicated they would take 4.8 steps.
  • Suburban parents indicated they would take 5.0 steps, on average, whereas rural and urban parents indicated they would take “only” 4.7 steps.
  • Perhaps because of the lack of adequate public and private school options in their neighborhoods relative to the neighborhoods in which higher-income families live, only 38 percent of lower-income parents would seek information about the convenience of the possible private schools as compared with 57.4 percent of higher-income parents.
Even better, those parents expressed confidence in getting their desired information:
No doubt the steps parents must take with school choice is much easier than running for school board.
But again, neither JeeryBaiter’s nor gabbyhayes’ ways for getting parents involved in education is wrong—just as Milwaukee Public Schools’ (MPS) per-student spending is not “wrong” compared with what vouchers cost in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).
Some may prefer MPS funding and running for school board. Others might opt for MPCP voucher funds and researching their children’s schools.
School choice doesn’t cut corners. It’s a way to make our education system more flexible for the millions of families who can’t afford to wait any longer.

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Deal sees statewide charter system as an option

Add a big item to Gov. Nathan Deal’s second-term agenda: The Republican said Wednesday that he wants lawmakers to study a plan for a statewide school district that could significantly increase the number of charter schools in Georgia.

Deal said legislators should consider a system, known in Louisiana as a Recovery School District, that gives the state more powers to take over struggling schools and convert them to charters. The remarks came at an event with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose state pioneered the system.

“We are faced with some of the similar situations that Louisiana is faced with,” Deal said. “We’re continuing to put money into school systems that continue to fail. That is not the end result that we want.”

The Republican is locked in a fierce re-election battle against Democrat Jason Carter, who relentlessly accuses the governor of failing to fully fund the state’s public education system. The governor has cast an expansion of charter schools as a more cost-effective way to improve schools.

Louisiana voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2003 that created the state-run Recovery School District, but the policy really took root after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Nine years later, Jindal said, more than 90 percent of students in New Orleans are now in charter schools.

“There are too many kids in America who are trapped in failing schools,” said Jindal, a Republican who was in town to boost Deal’s campaign. “And charter schools are simply one more way to give those parents and children another option.”

Under the Louisiana system, the state can intervene in schools deemed “academically unacceptable” for four consecutive years. Those that receive charters receive state funding without being tied to requirements of local school boards. Those that fail to improve or meet standards would lose their charter.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the governor isn’t tied to any specific proposal, but that he wants legislators to study the Louisiana plan as a way to boost failing schools.

The system has earned praise from some parents and community leaders who say the charter schools have spurred rising test scores and allowed administrators more leeway to innovate. State rankings show New Orleans schools rose from next-to-last in the state to the middle of the pack in Katrina’s aftermath.

But critics lament the downfall of neighborhood schools and say that many of the best charter schools still remain out of reach for struggling families. Others say that schools that have improved under the state’s watch have been slow to revert to local control.

Deal has been an ardent supporter of the expansion of charter schools since he took office in 2010. He backed a constitutional amendment, which passed in 2012, that allowed the state to approve charter schools. Opponents, including many Democrats, worried that the expansion would mean less money for traditional public schools.

Republicans see a political payoff, too, as the GOP tries to make inroads with minority voters. Deal and other Republicans have been eager to note that the charter school amendment earned overwhelming support in majority-black counties such as Clayton.

Deal’s critics seem reluctant to join a debate over the merits of charter schools this close to the election. Carter’s campaign said Deal had “no credibility” on education and Senate Minority Whip Vincent Fort of Atlanta, who along with Carter was an outspoken opponent of the ballot item, instead focused his criticism on Deal’s broader education policy.

“Nathan Deal needs to stop his attack on public education, stop the cuts and stop driving teachers out of the classroom,” the Democrat said, invoking Deal budget proposals that included austerity cuts to education. “Gimmicks are not the answer, and that’s all that Nathan Deal has to offer.”

By Greg Bluestein
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Why Conservatives Should Hate School Choice

Conservatives Don’t Really Like School Choice

School Choice

Conservatives often claim they are big fans of school choice. I think they’re wrong. I don’t mean that I want to disagree with them using fluffy progressive liberal arguments. I mean that in the world of conservative values and goals, school choice really doesn’t fit. Let me explain.

Resources and Inefficiency

One of the assumptions of every choice system is that a choice system can operate for the same amount of money– or less– than the current system. This is clearly false.

Which will be more inexpensive and efficient– educating 100 students in one school , or educating them in ten separate ten-student schools, each with its own group of administrative employees and each with its own physical plant and infrastructure. “We’re in serious financial trouble, so let’s take our set of elementary schools and break them into even more elementary schools,” said no school board ever.

There are some functions that government can perform more efficiently. Nobody suggests that we open the door to any contractor who wants to set up a competing system of interstate highways. Nor do we open up each new war to bids from any private army that wants to go in there. Okay, actually that one does happen a little, and you’ll notice that when it does, things get even more expensive really quickly. And when government does allow a spirit of competition, it doesn’t work out all that well. We are still trying to fix the massive disconnect between competing intelligence agencies that made it easy to pull off the 9/11 attacks.

I agree that given infinite resources, a multiple service provider system would look a lot different. But that’s not what we’ve got and it’s not what we’re ever going to have. School choice requires multiple school systems to live as cheaply as one, and they can’t. Yes, there are charters who claim they can do it. So far, they are all liars; any lower operating costs they purport to achieve are the result of simply tossing high-cost students out of the system, and if we’re willing to throw away the expensive children, we can make public schools run way cheaper tomorrow.

No, a school choice system is no financial winner. We end up with waste and inefficiency and duplication of services, and we end up with school systems that either don’t have enough resources, or we simply soak the taxpayers for more money.

Big Government

Because there are not enough resources to go around, we will need some Wise and Powerful Wizard to divvy them all up. That wizard is going to be the state or federal government. For better or worse, under current market conditions starting a new competing school system to compete with the public system will be like starting a new software company to compete with Microsoft Windows. The cost of admission is way too high unless Big Government gets involved.

The only way to extend the reach of choice schools will be to extend the reach of big government. And since the choice schools will be accepting government money, they will be accepting government oversight. Yes, I know they’ve battled it back for now, but they will lose that war. The government will declare, as it has with public schools, that it has a responsibility to see that it’s money was spent appropriately. Some choice school will get caught doing something spectacularly egregiously stupid, and big gummint will have its opening.

You know what a good example of small, local government is? Locally elected school boards. Yes, many are less than perfect. But at what point did conservatives join the chorus of, “We need to just tell the electorate what to do. It’s for their own good.”

Competition Does Not Foster Quality Products

I’ve written about this before, comparing charter schools to cable channels. The big money is in the big markets, so the big players compete for the muddled middle. Education has two particular problems– there’s not much product differentiation, and a big chunk of your market is people who don’t really want your product.

The lack of product differentiation (particularly if all schools are using the same CCSS to teach to the same Big Tests) means that the game will belong to the person with the best marketing. Trot out your own examples here (I like Betamax vs. VHS) of superior products that did NOT win the marketplace because they were out-marketed by somebody else.

In a choice system, schools will compete, but not by being the highest quality educators. They’ll offer programs that appeal to students who don’t find school appealing (“Welcome to No Homework High!!”), and they will offer really cool and glitzy marketing. You may say, “Fine. Let the jerks send their kids to crappy schools and that will just leave my kids at Really Quality High with the other cool kids.”

Except. First of all, Really Quality High has to accept you. Every admission’s decision will be a marketing decision. If your child is too expensive, we don’t want him. If he is going to screw with our scores, we’re sending him back to you. Here’s your competition– you will compete with other parents to pull strings, make it rain, and otherwise score your kid a seat at Exclusive High (pro tip: you won’t compete by making your kid suddenly smarter or a better student, because you can’t do much about those things, and I bet you won’t say, “Oh well, you’re just not as smart as the Smith kid, so we’ll settle for Average Shmoe High.”)

And second of all, Really Quality High has to exist. In the early days of cable, there were some really classy channels. I liked Bravo for broadway shows and Arts&Entertainment for its highbrow culture offerings. But there wasn’t enough of me to make those approaches profitable, so now Bravo and A&E broadcast the same basic sort of dreck as every other channel.

Competition Does Not Foster Competition

One of my favorite history books is The Robber Barons, a history of the great money-grubbers of the 19th century written by a 1930s-era socialist. Matthew Josephson really wants to hate these guys, but at the same time, he clearly admires them because they are economic collectivists. Rockefeller, Carnegie, et al didn’t really have a beef with centralized control of an entire industry, as long as they were the people in charge.

Unbridled competition leads to centralized control. Let, say, the phone company just suck up every other phone company, and you get the telephone monopoly of the 1970s, run by a corporation just as impersonal, uncaring, inefficient, unresponsive and insulated from competition as any sector ever run by Big Gummint. What does it take to keep such monopolistic centralization from happening? Why, hello there Big Gummint!

You think this won’t happen in choice schools? Of course it will– it already is. Pearson is already assembling a vertically integrated powerhouse of Rockefellerian proportions (and do I need to remind you that they aren’t even American, that as upset as we were when the Chinese were buying up America bit by bit, Pearson has already done much the same with American education), and in may states, the only charter players are the big players. And like every power centralizer before them, they did not conquer their world simply by being so much better than everyone else. They use money and influence and, when necessary, the tool of Big Government to get their way.

This is not meritocracy in action. This is corporations and big government teaming up to display exactly why conservatives who rail against Big Government have a point.

Caveats and Etc

Are there pockets of charter schools who have avoided all these pitfalls? Absolutely. But look at today’s corporate-dominated landscape and tell me if you really think there’s room for a small, creative edupreneur.

Do I have ideas for alternatives? You know I do, but this is already running long. But conservatives– you need to stop promoting school choice, because you don’t really want it. You just haven’t figured that out yet.

By Peter A. Greene

Peter Greene is a veteran teacher and

has a blog called “Curmudgucation.”

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Charter school’s strategy breaks barriers of poverty

School Choice
Fulton County Schools

When the glass and white Drew Charter School opened in 2001, it was the pristine hope for an Atlanta neighborhood stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty and violence.

It started as the city’s lowest-ranked elementary school, with most students far behind in reading and math. Their East Lake community was known as “Little Vietnam.” Only 13 percent of residents in the area’s housing project held a job in the mid-1990s.

Since then, Drew has become a model for achievement among students from low-income backgrounds, putting up test scores competitive with those at schools in the wealthiest neighborhoods. Its strategy is being copied across the country.

Drew, which was Atlanta’s first charter school, is now expanding with a second campus that was built through a $73 million fundraising effort. By adding high school grades, the school and its partners plan to nurture students from as early as 12 weeks old through 12th grade.

How does Drew do it?

Students attend classes longer and on more days than their peers in traditional public schools. They start schooling sooner with early childhood education programs. About one-third of them attend after-school programs, where they can receive extra help on their school work.

As the school made its gains, development transformed East Lake into a safer place. East Lake Meadows, the housing project, was demolished and replaced in 2001 with the Villages of East Lake apartments, where half of residents receive financial assistance and half pay market price for rent. Nearby, a Publix grocery store, Wells Fargo branch and coffee shops sprang up.

“You have to have an integrated, holistic and comprehensive approach,” said Danny Shoy, president of the East Lake Foundation, which was founded in 1995 to improve the area. “I don’t think Drew would be as much of a success if it were placed in a neighborhood where housing was in tremendous disrepair or where there weren’t other resources.”

Beating the odds

Charles R. Drew Charter School, named for the surgeon who developed blood storage and transfusion techniques during World War II, was conceived in the heart of East Lake’s revitalization effort in the late 1990s.

The neighborhood needed a quality school to get people to live there, and the school needed stronger families and tranquil streets.

It took a few years, but 98 percent of the 1,300 students now meet or exceed standards in reading, math and language arts on the state standardized tests.

Though 62 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, Drew’s students in grades K-5 recorded the sixth-highest achievement scores in the city on the state’s school report card released last month. The five K-5 elementary schools ahead of Drew had between 7 percent and 15 percent of students eligible for free or discounted meals.

Students at Drew, who wear uniform hunter-green shirts, receive about 2 1/2 years more instructional time from grades K-8 than students in traditional public schools, said Principal Don Doran. The school day lasts about an hour and a half longer, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the school year is 185 days instead of 180.

Because Drew is a charter school, it can require more classroom time and spend less on administration, he said.

“The hardest thing is to get students engaged and taking responsibility for their own learning. This school is more successful than other schools I’ve been associated with in that piece,” Doran said.

Kids stay excited about school by participating in programs such as robotics, harp, swimming and golf on a course near the East Lake Golf Club, where the PGA Tour Championship is played, he said.

Doug Peters, a 22-year-old preparing to graduate from Georgia Southern University with a master’s degree in higher education administration, attended Drew from fifth through eighth grade. He said it had a profound impact on his academic and social progress, including teaching him how to swim and play golf.

Before he transferred from a now-defunct elementary school to Drew Charter, “I came home from school one day and told my mom that the kids can’t read,” Peters said.

Now, “I can speak to any high-level executive about golf and interact with them.”

Community building

Where many saw desolation in East Lake 20 years ago, developer Tom Cousins saw opportunity.

“From the very beginning, we knew that safe, decent housing and a great school would be the key drivers of transformation,” Cousins said.

He said Drew Charter School is a big reason the mixed-income approach to public housing succeeded.

“Every family, from the poorest to the most well-to-do, wants to live where the best schools are,” he said.

Partnerships between the school, a YMCA and the Sheltering Arms early childhood education program helped children even before they reached school.

Reaching kids early plays a major role in making sure they are prepared to read and write, said pre-K teacher Charisse Tate-Upshaw. She said the school exposes children to more words because studies have shown that children in poverty hear fewer than one-third of the words heard by children from higher-income families during their first four years of life.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap in the learning curve before third grade,” she said. “We really work on their vocabulary and how to use it in the right way.”

Safira Yasin, parent of a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader at Drew, said tutoring outside of class, longer school days, after-school programs and an involved community all help.

“There’s not too much space for kids to mess up. The home is here, the school is there and the community is there,” said Yasin, who lives in The Villages of East Lake apartments. “It reminds me more of an intensive private school that pays close attention to the children.”

Growth ahead

The changes in East Lake are a well-known example of rebuilding a neighborhood by building a school, said Jeffrey Vincent, deputy director of the Center for Cities & Schools and the University of California Berkeley. The initiative showed that significant investment in buildings, combined with extensive services for families, can increase urban population growth and help remove the barriers poverty creates, he said.

“We need to be cautious about promoting that only charter schools can work in these situations,” Vincent said. “What we haven’t seen enough of are traditional public schools doing an East Lake type of project. A big bureaucracy of a large organization like a public school district is something we need to make more nimble.”

The strategy surrounding Drew was to have the school support the community, and the community support the school, so that the whole would be greater than its parts, said Carol Naughton, senior vice president for Purpose Built Communities, which was founded in 2009 to replicate the East Lake model in other parts of the country. Projects are underway in New Orleans, Indianapolis, Birmingham, Ala., Omaha, Neb., and several other cities.

“There’s never going to be enough government and philanthropic dollars to do this without the business community’s participation,” Naughton said.

When the Drew Junior and Senior Academy opens late this summer, it will house students in grades six through 10, with an additional grade added in each of the following two years.

But even with the expansion, demand for the school far exceeds its capacity.

About 1,500 applications have been received for students to attend Drew next year, but the school only has room for 210 more students.


Atlanta K-5 school poverty and academics

School…Students eligible for discounted meals…State achievement scores

Morningside…8%…58.9

Brandon…11%…58.2

Jackson…7%…57.5

Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School…11%…56.2

Springdale Park…15%…55.2

Drew…62%…52.9

Source: Georgia Department of Education data on free and reduced-price meal eligibility and College and Career Ready Performance Index scores for the 2012-2013 school year.

The cost of development

Drew Charter School opened in 2000 and the next year moved into its current campus, which cost $15 million that was raised by the East Lake Foundation.

The Villages of East Lake, which replaced the East Lake Meadows housing project, cost $50 million to build. The Atlanta Housing Authority invested $17.8 million, with the rest coming from private sources, according to the East Lake Foundation.

The 200,000-square-foot Drew Charter Junior and Senior Academy is being built as the result of a $73 million capital campaign. Donations over $1 million came from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, CF Foundation, Chick-fil-A Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Georgia Power Foundation/Southern Company Charitable Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, The Marcus Foundation, Robertson Foundation, O. Wayne Rollins Foundation and Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. The project also benefited from New Market Tax Credit transactions made possible by PNC, SunTrust, the Low Income Investment Fund, the Community Affordable Housing Equity Corporation and Urban America.

Any child living in Atlanta may apply to attend Drew Charter, but the school gives first preference to residents of the Villages of East Lake. Students living in the East Lake and Kirkwood neighborhoods are eligible to fill remaining spaces, and remaining spaces may taken by other Atlanta residents. Students are selected through a lottery if applications exceed capacity.

The cost of development

Drew Charter School opened in 2000 and the next year moved into its current campus, which cost $15 million that was raised by the East Lake Foundation.

The Villages of East Lake, which replaced the East Lake Meadows housing project, cost $50 million to build. The Atlanta Housing Authority invested $17.8 million, with the rest coming from private sources, according to the East Lake Foundation.

The 200,000-square-foot Drew Charter Junior and Senior Academy is being built as the result of a $73 million capital campaign. Donations over $1 million came from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, CF Foundation, Chick-fil-A Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Georgia Power Foundation/Southern Company Charitable Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, The Marcus Foundation, Robertson Foundation, O. Wayne Rollins Foundation and Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. The project also benefited from New Market Tax Credit transactions made possible by PNC, SunTrust, the Low Income Investment Fund, the Community Affordable Housing Equity Corporation and Urban America.

Any child living in Atlanta may apply to attend Drew Charter, but the school gives first preference to residents of the Villages of East Lake. Students living in the East Lake and Kirkwood neighborhoods are eligible to fill remaining spaces, and remaining spaces may taken by other Atlanta residents. Students are selected through a lottery if applications exceed capacity.

The cost of development

Drew Charter School opened in 2000 and the next year moved into its current campus, which cost $15 million that was raised by the East Lake Foundation.

The Villages of East Lake, which replaced the East Lake Meadows housing project, cost $50 million to build. The Atlanta Housing Authority invested $17.8 million, with the rest coming from private sources, according to the East Lake Foundation.

The 200,000-square-foot Drew Charter Junior and Senior Academy is being built as the result of a $73 million capital campaign. Donations over $1 million came from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, CF Foundation, Chick-fil-A Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Georgia Power Foundation/Southern Company Charitable Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, The Marcus Foundation, Robertson Foundation, O. Wayne Rollins Foundation and Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. The project also benefited from New Market Tax Credit transactions made possible by PNC, SunTrust, the Low Income Investment Fund, the Community Affordable Housing Equity Corporation and Urban America.

Any child living in Atlanta may apply to attend Drew Charter, but the school gives first preference to residents of the Villages of East Lake. Students living in the East Lake and Kirkwood neighborhoods are eligible to fill remaining spaces, and remaining spaces may taken by other Atlanta residents. Students are selected through a lottery if applications exceed capacity.

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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