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Charters good, bad and mediocre

Those of you tired of my frequent celebrations of good charters (stay on this station for a change of that tune in a couple of weeks) should click right away on this link to my colleague Nick Anderson's deep and surprising story about what may be our most charterized state, Arizona. Nick saw all kinds of charters, and reveals what that very loose system means. I think it creates an unease in some educators: note that the only one of the nation's 20 largest cities not to have a KIPP school (my favorite brand of charter) is Phoenix.

By Jay Mathews  | November 16, 2009; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
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Unmentioned in Nick's piece is the reality and the perception of the district schools the kids might attend but for the charters.

In Detroit not all charters are particularly good but the Detroit Public Schools facilities are notorious for their chaotic, even dangerous, atmosphere. For their incompetent administration and clock-watching teachers.

The DPS provides a performance "umbrella" which shields charters that might not otherwise survive. But is that a bad thing? I don't think so because there are no alternatives. If a charter isn't particularly good it's head-and-shoulders better then the district school.

If you want those charters to get better they have to be made to stand on their own and the crutch of the district has to be taken away. As long as all they have to be is better then the district schools then the district is providing a comfortably easily exceeded standard.

Oh sure, there's KIPP and Green Dot who bring their forceful, internally-derived motivation with them but wouldn't it be better if schools just naturally got better with each passing year? If the motivation to improve upon last year's results were as natural to the public education system as improving on last year's profit results is to the private sector?

Posted by: allenm1 | November 16, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Hi Mr. Matthews,
I thought the article was lacking and didn’t seem in depth at all.
There was…
- No mention of how these schools are performing compared to their neighboring district schools.
- No mention of how the competition has forced the district schools to market and add programs to stay competitive. (Scottsdale and Paradise Valley districts advertise in movie theaters and in parenting magazines to stop the drain to charter schools and other districts under open enrollment)
Speaking of open enrollment, Arizona allows students to attend any district or charter school that with the corresponding state dollars following that student. Districts may deny open enrollment (typically when facilities are full), but needless to say, no district is completely closed to open enrollment. Accordingly, charters not only compete with their neighboring district, then can be competing with multiple districts for students.
- No quotes from charter leaders, the state charter association, or the Arizona Superintendent of Instruction, yet there is a one from the teachers’ unions.
- No mention that charter schools receive less funding than the district schools, receive no facility or building monies, and have no ability to raise taxes for bonds or budget overrides. A lawsuit was recently filed by the charter schools over funding equity.

Is this the first in a series? Let’s hope so.

We would love to know what you found surprising and deep about the story? Is it that a variety of charters have arisen to meet a variety of student needs that district schools are failing to provide?

The article by Mr. Anderson also mentioned the BASIS schools. Have you seen the recent 2 Million Minutes: 21st Centruy Solution film by Bob Compton? It features the BASIS schools as a model for other schools and makes the case for its replication across the country. In fact we find it a better solution than the KIPP model.


Posted by: ccusdwatch | November 17, 2009 12:45 AM | Report abuse

How about student selection? Do the more motivated or better students go to charter schools resulting in better performance simply because they are better students?

Posted by: ericpollock | November 17, 2009 4:59 AM | Report abuse

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