Thursday, November 13, 2014

Charter school churn leaves students and families in turmoil

"A lot of people in the school choice movement like the idea of accountability, but when accountability hits home, it's really hard to maintain your focus on results," said Brandon S. Brown, the director of charter schools for the Indianapolis mayor's office. "It's the authorizer's responsibility to hold an absolute bar for performance, which means that, sometimes, low-performing schools will not continue to operate." -- EdWeek
Privately-run charter school networks try and operate on a corporate business model, even though they are supposedly public entities, supported with public funds and accountable to public oversight. While their original charge was one of collaborating with their public school cousins to drive innovation and school improvement, their business model is one that puts competition ahead of collaboration and market measures ahead of public good.

In order to attract both public and private investment, charter operators need to manipulate competitive market measures, such as test scores and other comparative indicators of school success to show that they are supposedly outperforming, not only public schools, but competing charter chains as well. This high-stakes competitive drive has often led to a lack of transparencytest cheating as well as cooking the books and other forms of financial mismanagement.

Such market competition requires a continuous process of weeding out "low performers" in order to boost average measurable outcomes, gathered in various research studies and performed by willing academic or private research organizations. In the process, overseen by so-called authorizers,  thousands of children's and families' lives are disrupted as schools are closed and teachers fired (without due process) and new ones open. These children and families are often the ones most in need of stability. Teachers and students (overwhelmingly poor and students of color) become the flotsam and jetsam of charter school failure.

In 2011, conservative pro-charter Center for Education Reform reported: " Of the approximately 6,700 charter schools that have ever opened across the United States, 1,036 have closed since 1992."

It's a system that operates much like giant retailers Wal Mart, Target and Starbucks, which turn over their entire work force on average, nearly every six months. 

Edweek reports that in cities like Indianapolis, "failing charters closing abruptly, blindsiding parents and sending them scrambling to find new schools" has become a major problem.
The charter sector has long stood by the premise that if the independently run public schools fail to perform, they are shut down—an idea often referred to as the "charter bargain." But as the movement matures, it increasingly faces the messy reality of closing schools—a situation that could become more common.
In Ohio, according to the report, when the time between the announcement of a charter closing and the actual shutdown stretches the full academic year, it is referred to as a "zombie year." Teachers and administrators learn as early as September that their school—as well as their jobs—will cease to exist come May or June. That situation is generally a product of Ohio's closure law, which mandates the automatic shutdown of the state's poorest-performing charter schools, as well as the timing for when student-assessment data gets released.

The most telling piece in the charter school-closing puzzle is, that despite all the intentional disruption and churn, the great majority of privately-run charters fail to out-perform traditional public schools on every important measure.


  1. Any parent knows that stability is the most important factor in a child's life. Closing schools, churning staff, and squeezing low performing children out of schools is no way to educate a populace. As a society, we need to stop creating instability in our children's lives. That is precisely what opening and closing charter schools do. The profiteers who create charter schools and then churn their staff to minimize costs are doing a great disservice to the children they serve. Disruption in children's lives, be it a closed school or teachers who don't stick around for more than a few years, is destructive to our children as well as our society.

  2. Mike,

    You and Jay Rehak are dead-on when you point to the destructive impact of school closings.

    While you have written often about devastation caused by public and charter school closings in Chicago, you have missed the third prong of the city's school closing trident aimed at poor and communities of color -- Catholic schools.

    The Chicago Archdiocese has just announced that it will close 9 more inner-city schools by the end of the school year and reconfigure 2 others. 1,280 students will be affected and more than 200 teachers and staff will be displaced.

    As thousands of white, wealthy and middle-class parishioners have left the city for the suburbs, Catholic schools have become populated by poor and immigrant kids and families who can't afford increasing tuition and other costs. Even though these schools are subsidized by taxpayers, market factors still drive charter and private school operations (as you point out in the post above, Mike). Catholic schools have also been abandoned by many parishioners who prefer secular education. So as the archdiocese considers its bottom line, it continues to close inner-city schools, it opens more and more in the white wealthier suburbs.

    According to the National Catholic Education Association, 1,856 Catholic schools either closed or were consolidated between 2004 and 2014, with urban areas the hardest hit. The number of Catholic elementary schools in the 12 largest cities has declined 29.5 percent since 2003.

    Now, outgoing Cardinal George is poor-mouthing us, claiming that the archdiocese can't sustain current funding levels" -- But he won’t say how much money these closings will save nor will they say how much money its currently losing.

    Without going any further into this now (I hope to write something more in-depth for you blog soon) it's plain to see that Chicago has become the national center for school closings in poor neighborhoods. I guess the cost of the Church's child-sex scandal has drained its coffers somewhat. But its still one of the great centers of concentrated wealth in the city (and the nation).

    It's also clear that so-called "school choice" in our city means no-choice for those who can't afford it.

    As Jay Rehak says, " As a society, we need to stop creating instability in our children's lives." This applies to Catholic schools as well.



Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.