Anti-Charter School Nonsense

I heard an ad for this clearly political campaign a few weeks ago, but tonight a postcard arrived in the mail from them. The claims being made are, in my opinion, exaggerated at best, but more often just false. 

I don’t have a lot of experience with either traditional or charter schools yet, but in researching schools for our five year old it was clear that the charter options near here had better results, and spent more of their money in their classrooms. 

Open to All

One of the falsehoods put forward in this postcard & on the associated website is that charters are not open to any students. Instead, they claim charters are discriminating to select stronger students. That was certainly not the case for the charter we selected for our now kindergartener. The selection process was explained to us in writing and at the information night; it was a lottery with priority being given to siblings of existing students. In fact, we had less information about the AUSD process, and had to take time off work (something that is not easy for all parents to do) to attend an in-person meeting at the AUSD offices (which was, frankly, a total waste of my time & could easily have been done online, or via the mail).

It appears that have been a few questionable charters, but that is as much the responsibility of the school districts that are meant to provide oversight of those schools, as it is of the schools themselves. I do agree that having charters overseen by their local district is a mistake, and was bound to lead to cases where that oversight was lacking. It was also bound to set up awkward situations, such as was demonstrated in Alameda where several school board members were decidedly anti-charter on principle. Moving the oversight to a central, state level body seems to make far more sense to me. 

Any charter that is discriminating in enrollment is already breaking the law. Proper oversight would catch that sooner & could have it addressed. 

For Profit Schools

As their domain name suggests, another blatant falsehood being pushed by this campaign is that charter schools are being set up for profit, and backed by “billionaires” for their own personal gains. 

The billionaires concerned, being successful business people & investors, might simply be horrified by the amount of money school districts are spending on overheads. By my estimates, roughly 25% of AUSD’s annual expenses goes towards non-teaching salaries and benefits (about 50% goes towards teaching salaries and benefits). Backing charter schools, which tend to have lower overheads, means more of the money will make it to the classroom. 

If they were looking to get into the business of for profit schools, starting a private school would seem to be a better choice than starting a charter. Perhaps they just care about improving the standards of education in California, which, when I compare it to my UK education is sadly lacking, especially in the sciences. 

Standards 

On that subject, one of the attractions of the charter we picked was that it claimed to be able to keep kids who have attended preschool & have basically covered the kindergarten level work already, interested by having different levels within the same classroom, or even by mixing K & 1 groups based on ability. I have yet to see that happen, but I am certainly going to be asking very soon if we don’t see evidence of it.

Ours also had capped classroom sizes & a full time teaching assistant in each kindergarten classroom in addition to the teacher. All of which leads to better standards. Right now, our five year old has an 11:1 teacher to child ratio.

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