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Charter Schools: Not Public Education Because Not All of the Public Has Access!

February 23, 2013

Stephanie Simon @ Reuters has done an excellent investigative and eye-opening report on Charter Schools and how they ‘selectively’ admit students.  I suggest that if you are involved in the world of public education you take a look at this piece.

You see, charters are billed as ‘open to all’ – which, to those of us in education is Utter Nonsense!  I have personal experience with this at one of the schools where I worked.  At my middle school, we would get a deluge of students from nearby charter school around November of each of the two years I worked at this particular school.  I wondered what was happening and I asked a veteran teacher who opened my eyes to the games that charters play.

The charter would admit students, even special needs students, and then as the year progressed and after they received their funding per child, they would make attempts to jettison and force out any students who didn’t perform well, or had behavioral challenges.  Who was there to pick up the pieces?  Traditional public schools of course.

In this article you see the barriers that some charters put in place for students to get in.  Basically what they are doing is taking some of the top performing students academically and siphoning them out of the public school system which, by law, MUST take ALL students.  When this happens, test scores go up for those charters who utilize this practice, and the public schools suffer.  It is a travesty!  The charter school industrial complex needs oversight to make sure that they comply with THE LAW to allow all students access, only this will level the playing field with public schools.

Below is just a snippet of this important story by Stephanie Simon, I recommend clicking through and reading the whole thing.

Teresa Villanueva (L) and her 11-year-old daughter Laritza receive help on their charter school application from Barrio Logan College Institute counselor Jennifer Pena (R) in San Diego, California, February 7, 2013. REUTERS-Mike Blake

By Stephanie Simon

Fri Feb 15, 2013 8:42am EST

(Reuters) – Getting in can be grueling.

Students may be asked to submit a 15-page typed research paper, an original short story, or a handwritten essay on the historical figure they would most like to meet. There are interviews. Exams. And pages of questions for parents to answer, including: How do you intend to help this school if we admit your son or daughter?

These aren’t college applications. They’re applications for seats at charter schools.

Charters are public schools, funded by taxpayers and widely promoted as open to all. But Reuters has found that across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law.

“I didn’t get the sense that was what charter schools were all about – we’ll pick the students who are the most motivated? Who are going to make our test scores look good?” said Michelle Newman, whose 8-year-old son lost his seat in an Ohio charter school last fall after he did poorly on an admissions test. “It left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Set up as alternatives to traditional public schools, charter schools typically operate under private management and often boast small class sizes, innovative teaching styles or a particular academic focus. They’re booming: There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children.

In cities and suburbs from Pennsylvania to Colorado to Arizona, charters and traditional public schools are locked in fierce competition – for students, for funding and for their very survival, with outcomes often hinging on student test scores.

Charter advocates say it’s a fair fight because both types of schools are free and open to all. “That’s a bedrock principle of our movement,” said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association. And indeed, many states require charter schools to award seats by random lottery.

But as Reuters has found, it’s not that simple. Thousands of charter schools don’t provide subsidized lunches, putting them out of reach for families in poverty. Hundreds mandate that parents spend hours doing “volunteer” work for the school or risk losing their child’s seat. In one extreme example the Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, Illinois, mandates that each student’s family invest in the company that built the school – a practice the state said it would investigate after inquiries from Reuters.

ARRAY OF BARRIERS

And from New Hampshire to California, charter schools large and small, honored and obscure, have developed complex application processes that can make it tough for students who struggle with disability, limited English skills, academic deficits or chaotic family lives to even get into the lottery.

Among the barriers that Reuters documented:

* Applications that are made available just a few hours a year.

* Lengthy application forms, often printed only in English, that require student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records.

* Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law.

* Mandatory family interviews.

* Assessment exams.

* Academic prerequisites.

* Requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs. The U.S. Department of Education considers this practice illegal on the college level but has not addressed the issue for K-12 schools.

Many charters, backed by state law, specialize in serving low-income and minority children. Some of the best-known charter networks, such as KIPP, Yes Prep, Green Dot and Success Academy, use simple application forms that ask little more than name, grade and contact information, and actively seek out disadvantaged families. Most for-profit charter school chains also keep applications brief.

But stand-alone charters, which account for more than half the total in the United States, make up their own admissions policies. Regulations are often vague, oversight is often lax – and principals can get quite creative.

When Philadelphia officials examined 25 charter schools last spring, they found 18 imposed “significant barriers,” including a requirement from one school that students produce a character reference from a religious or community leader.

At Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff, Arizona, application forms are available just four and a half hours a year. Parents must attend one of three information sessions to pick up a form; late arrivals can’t get in. “It’s kind of like a time share (pitch),” said Bob Lombardi, the superintendent. “You have to come and listen.”

Traditional public schools have their own built-in barriers to admission, starting with zip code: You don’t have to write an essay to get into a high-performing suburban school, but you do have to belong to a household with the means to buy or rent in that neighborhood. Many districts also operate magnet or exam schools for gifted students, some of which admit disproportionately fewer low-income and minority students.

Yet most of the charter schools that screen do not set themselves up as elite academies for the gifted. They bill themselves as open to all. For two decades, that promise of accessibility and equity has been the mantra of the charter school movement. It’s proved a potent political argument as well, as advocates have pressed to expand the number of charters and their share of public funding.

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