Charters Say They’re Public Schools. Are They?

If there’s no difference between charter schools and public schools — why do we make a distinction in name? Charters love to say they’re public, but should we believe them? 

Eastfallslocal collage a closer look at charter schools

The answer is an artful obfuscation. Charters say “yes,” public school supporters say “no.”  This is no clearer example of this than what has happened here in Germantown as the School District of Philadelphia and the SRC infiltrators attempt to privatize Philly schools along the lines of New Orleans schools.

Miraculously last week the School District took the resolution to turn Wister over to Mastery Charter OFF THE TABLE!  This was a total surprise to all involved, and it seems especially so with Mastery because they placed several articles in the Lenfest-owned (what happened with that this week?) papers decrying the change of plans.  Mark Gleason declared it “wrong” and slammed Wister students in the same sentence.  Him claiming it was “special-interest politics” is the height of irony.

eastfallslocal collage dummies charter public school

This week’s events around Wister as played out in the media is a primer in why charters aren’t public schools.  It also gives one a hunch as to how things would roll out in L.A. if Eli Broad is successful at both owning the L.A. Times and turns half of the L.A. school system into charters.  That is the reason a free press is essential in a democracy.

But back to the subject at hand.  At Wister community meetings & the November SRC meeting (School Reform Commission, Philly’s “school board” — appointed, NOT publicly elected) the “charter is public” message is broadcast.  Superintendent Hite said “let me make this clear – charter schools are public schools.”  A member of Kenney’s Education team said at her meeting to convince Wister parents that Mastery was our savior “charters are public schools -don’t get confused (this gal was confused however about what ESSA stands for – Early and Secondary School Act AKA Every Student Succeeds Act – she should know that.)

Commish Bill Green expressed concerns at the December SRC meeting in response to PA Bill 805. Their unbridled growth, lack of transparency, and oversight concerns him- and he really, really, likes charters.  Here’s some new research which looks at charters as the new sub-prime mortgage bubble around the corner.

Public school supporters know charters play by different rules. Example #1: pushing, or “counseling” students out if they don’t follow rules.

The Charter School Lobby says charters are open to all children, don’t charge tuition, and are publicly funded. Lobbyists go out of their way to convince the public that charters are public schools.  Kind of like Citizen’s United decision convincing us that corporations are people too.  (I’m not convinced, are you?)

Those of us fighting against this Chicago School Economic plan (Do accept Wikipedia links dear readers? Otherwise you can read  Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, but be ready to get depressed!) now where was I? oh yes. . .   for Education say Charters are NOT Public schools. The Census Bureau agrees as does the National Labor Relations Board. (That link is to another blog – Jersey Jazzman – an education blogger, not a primary source, but let me tell you – government reports makes my eyes glaze over.  I couldn’t get through it, so let Jazzman do the Executive Summary.)

Charters have gone to courts and said they are NOT public schools when they want freedoms from regulations public schools have to follow.  Kind of like yoga studios that want to be declared religious schools to get tax exemptions, but say they aren’t religious so they don’t lose out on getting into schools.

At Wister we are still feeling the pressure of the Mastery juggernaut, feeling like underdogs, fighting for students’ & families’ rights & the truth – literally the truth.  Even though we have won this battle, the war is not over and Steel Elementary parents and community who won against Mastery last year when they were actually given a chance to vote to stay public or go charter are still concerned and vexed with rumors that Mastery will take another stab at them.  We are looking at the map of the area and plotting which schools we need to ward – John B. Kelly, Lingelbach, Mifflin.

Bogus enrollment data has been exposed. (See my Last Post) The District sent an apology letter to parents but didn’t exactly tell the whole truth – that they used data from another school NOT Wister’s!  Outrageous.  Another reason the district gave for closing Wister – low test scores.  This “reason” has been used way too often to declare public schools failures.  Yet charters across the country show minor, if any, improvements on the same tests.  But test scores – that’s another story.

Last week’s Philadelphia School Progress Report shows Wister ranked 29th out of 59 schools with similar demographics. There goes another reason for the need for turnaround.

Reason #6 according to the district wonk I had conversations with – the guy I call The Man Who Speaks in Circles  – literally you ask a question, he talks for 3 minutes, you forget your question –  charter schools can hire roughly 2 teachers for every public school teacher.  A two-for-one teacher special. Sounds like cut-rate teachers. Is that what parents want for their children?  I’ll ask them.  Do you?

Eastfallslocal facebook and protest image collage

Last Friday we had a celebration of our success and had a host of legislators come to our auditorium to see student performances and enjoy the 15 different crockpot dishes staff and students prepared.  We hosted Helen Gym, Rosita Youngblood, Councilperson at Large Greenlee, and State Senator Haywood.  This week’s task: keep the legislators’ eyes on us as we have the first of a series of community meetings to figure out next steps.  We need the community’s eyes on us also to maintain any hope of fairness and transparency.

Mastery wants a whole district (they think they can transform education with their “No Excuses” mantra.)  So the whole district needs to be vigilant.

Research shows that demographics — particularly parent education and income levels — correlate with test scores more than anything.  So how does a “No Excuses” corporation or charter company like Mastery propose to deal with poverty? Oh, they don’t – No Excuses – Mastery methods take students’ actual lives out of the equation. Here’s a depressing example from Gratz.  The foundation of public education, to create an “enlightened citizenry” (Beautiful phrasing, but you knew that was Thomas Jefferson didn’t you?) is lost in when the focus is only on “workers of tomorrow.”

Collaboration is touted by business-types as THE quality of future work but the Mastery model of rigid conformity is not.

This is a private-versus-public issue, not an education one – don’t get confused. There’s been approximately 20 years of education and “No Child Left Behind” reforms.  Is the achievement gap going the way of segregated water fountains?  Heck no.  This Villanova Prof describes the scene well.  Charters have cornered the notion that low-performing students have been failed by public schools and its bureaucracy. No excuses for poverty or a lack of “grit.” (That’s another story.) It’s all about tomorrow’s workers not tomorrow’s citizens.

BUT if charter school lobbyists are really concerned with the plight of poor students, are they also interested in their underserved parents when it comes to voting rights and a fair wage?  Are charter lobbyists advocating for raising the minimum wage? Are they fighting against Voter ID’s?   Hate to polarize, but ARE they?  Doubt it.

At Simon Gratz our counselors fought for 10’s of thousands of scholarship dollars yearly, but when Mastery came in they told the community – right to our faces – THEY were going to get all kids into college. Like we hadn’t.  That HURT. They are PR geniuses –  they spend lots of $$ on PR. In the Wister fight Mastery has hired a big PR firm. Look at this footage of Mastery College Signing Days – quite slick.  Like the shiny postcards coming to my neighborhood.  And check out Mastery’s Facebook page to see the ploy for Wister that’s still playing out.

mastery postcard

This manufactured crisis at Wister, at Huey in West Philly, at Cooke in Olney, in Camden, in Chicago, is how they move their Trojan Horse into our public school systems.  Agreed, public schools have a long history of unequal access, inadequate and unequal resources, segregation, classism, sexism, racism, as well as factory &/or banking  models. But let’s solve those, not throw the baby out with the bathwater – sorry 2 B idiomatic.

Let me – right here – connect you to Diane Ravitch who was in Bush’s Ed Department.  She makes a clear case that charters aren’t public schools.

Heard an ad on NPR from the Walton Foundation K-12 they support “high-quality” schools.  If you have to wonder if Walmart is behind charter schools because they are public schools then you’d have to wonder why Walmart encouraged “associates” to sign up for Medicaid instead of giving worker’s benefits or paying them a fair wage. 

When the Walton Family gets excited about charter schools I get worried.  They are funding the lobbyists for charters. Mark Gleason of the Phila.School Partnership got some money from them.

We need a public dialogue around this issue.  What is the public good today?

Next time I’ll describe how it feels to be a teacher these days. In preparation you should watch the movie Gaslight. I just read this analogy though it sounds like the blogger didn’t see the movie — her friend described the life of a teacher as “being gaslighted” — the neologism that came from the movie.

Eastfallslocal collage in cold blood gaslight

Gaslight was my Grandmother’s favorite movie, which scared me, but then again she also gave me In Cold Blood to read when I was 10. It scared me too.  If you want to watch Gaslight I have Grandma’s VHS tape – Charles Boyer! Ingrid Bergman!

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