Selected readings on US charter schools
The next year, the south side charter school accepted its first class of 3-year-old kindergartners to work on literacy skills at earlier ages, while older students with low scores had to attend extra tutoring sessions. Some children were sent to participate in a special reading program at Marquette University’s School of Education.
By the fall of 2011, scores were on the rise.
Bruce-Guadalupe could implement changes so quickly in part because of its status as an independent charter school, or a public school that operates outside the authority – and bureaucracy – of the local school district.
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget aims to make it easier for more schools to have that kind of flexibility and contains provisions that haven’t received a lot of attention but are controversial, including:
• Establishing a Charter School Oversight Board, attached to the Department of Public Instruction, that would approve more nonprofit entities around the state to authorize more independent charter schools.
• Creating a special license that would allow professionals with subject-matter knowledge but no formal teaching background to teach in charter schools.
• Allowing a school board to convert all of its public schools to charter schools.
• Granting district-authorized charter schools sole discretion over the school’s budget, curriculum, staff training and hiring.
• Increasing the annual per-pupil amount for independent charter schools to $7,852 in the first year of the budget and $7,931 in the second year of the budget, up from a current $7,775 per-pupil annually.
People in favor of school choice tend to support the proposals, including many Republicans and the Wisconsin arm of Democrats for Education Reform.
Those lining up against proposals include state Superintendent Tony Evers, teachers unions, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and some key Senate Republicans, including Education Committee Chair Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). Olsen has also expressed reservations about Walker’s voucher proposals.
Research is mixed on whether students in charters perform better than their peers in traditional public schools overall. And because students in independent charter schools are not counted as part of the enrollment of districts, districts would lose state aid for each child who left for an independent charter.
Independent charter schools do not have to employ unionized teachers, either, which alarms many people aligned with unions.
Take Bob Peterson, head of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association union. At a recent Marquette University forum, he characterized independent charters as schools run by elites who think they’re smarter than everyone else.
He’s particularly critical of national operators of charter schools, several of which have recently set up shop in Milwaukee, which he likened to franchise chains.
“Charters operate at the margins of public reporting,” Peterson said. “They’re the conservative ideologue’s dream: They can kick out teachers at will.”
The broader debate is about whether students are better educated in a single public school system, or by a network of choices.
Wisconsin has 238 charter schools statewide, and most are not controversial because they are authorized by school districts and staffed with district employees.
Independent charters currently exist in Milwaukee – authorized by the Milwaukee Common Council or the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee – and Racine, which has one independent charter school.
Milwaukee Public Schools authorizes charter schools with district and nondistrict staff, but the Milwaukee School Board has an agreement with the teachers union that caps the percentage of MPS students that can be educated in charter schools with nonunionized teachers.
Walker’s proposed Charter School Oversight Board would open the door for more independent charter schools by acting as an authorizer of authorizers. That means the board would grant power to nonprofit entities in local communities to approve the creation of new charter schools.
Members of the board would include the state superintendent and two of his or her appointments, and other nonpolitical members appointed by the governor or by lawmakers.
A similar proposal for a state charter schools board failed in the last legislative session.
Evers, the state schools superintendent, is opposed to the statewide charter board because he said charter schools are working just fine under the current laws.
“There isn’t much evidence that local school boards are turning down quality charters,” he said. “I’m not sure what problem this is solving.”
Supporters say the statewide board would help oversee the quality of authorizers in local communities, to make sure they establish and maintain quality schools.
As for a special charter license for professionals without a teaching background, many in the field of traditional teacher preparation have opposed measures that place adults with limited experience in teaching positions.
But Sean Roberts, the head of Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, said the license could allow charter schools to more easily recruit professionals with subject-matter experience in other fields.
“We offer independence in exchange for results, and we’ll hold teachers accountable in the same way,” Roberts said. “We shouldn’t keep potentially great teachers from being able to teach” because they don’t have a traditional license, he said.
Roberts also points to local test scores that show students in independent charter schools in Milwaukee outperforming traditional MPS students.
Nationally, results of charter school performance are mixed.
The most comprehensive studies to date have been carried out by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University. Director Macke Raymond said its research shows “consistently bad” results in Florida and Texas, but strong results in New Orleans.
Charter school students have outperformed their public school peers in New York City, and results are strong in Minnesota and New Jersey, especially in Newark.
Boston’s charter school students have shown big gains in reading and math, and Indiana and Michigan charters have also shown gains in reading, Raymond said.
Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, operated by the United Community Center on Milwaukee’s south side under a contract with UWM, outperforms most local neighborhood schools.
UCC Executive Director Ricardo Diaz said that’s partly because the school has the flexibility to dive deeply into problems and try new things.
“This is not like instant coffee,” he said. “It’s a long process. But I think that deep dive is what the charter school movement allows you to do. Is it an individual teacher who is not functioning? Do we need to offer more training and additional resources? Or do we need to make a personnel change?”
Source: The Journal Sentinel – by Erin Richards