Category Archives: Charter Schools

New Report Reveals Illegal Admissions Policies at Charter Schools

Source: ACLU Southern California Press Release, August 2, 2016

More than 20 percent of all charter schools in California have enrollment policies in place that violate state and federal law, according to a new report released today. Among the myriad violations cited in “Unequal Access” are policies that establish admission requirements in violation of the California Charter Schools Act, which plainly requires charter schools to “admit all pupils who wish to attend,” regardless of academic performance, English proficiency, immigration status or other factors. … The study by the ACLU SoCal and Public Advocates examined policies at most of the state’s 1,200 charter schools and found that at least 253 violated students’ rights by:

  • Denying enrollment to students who do not have strong grades or test scores;
  • Expelling students who do not maintain strong grades;
  • Denying enrollment to students who fail to meet a minimum level of English proficiency;
  • Selecting students based on onerous pre-enrollment requirement such as essays or interviews;
  • Discouraging or precluding immigrant students from attending by requiring information about the    pupils’ or their parents’ immigration status;
  • Requiring parents to “volunteer” or donate money to the school.

In 2013, Public Safety Academy in San Bernardino ran into trouble after it sent letters to 23 students whose grade-point average had fallen below a 2.0 in a semester advising them to enroll in another school. Officials at the school changed their policy after being contacted by the ACLU SoCal. In 2014, Public Advocates released a report documenting the practice among charter schools of requiring parents to volunteer “service hours.” The report led to new guidance from the California Department of Education explaining that requirements for volunteer hours are illegal, but today’s report shows the practice still continues in places. …

How charter schools in Michigan have hurt traditional public schools, new research finds

Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, July 15, 2016

How do some charter schools affect the traditional school districts in which they are located? Disastrously in some cases, as a new study about Michigan schools shows. The study, “Which Districts Get Into Financial Trouble and Why: Michigan’s Story,” finds that among Michigan districts, “80 percent of the explained variation in district fiscal stress is due to changes in districts’ state funding, to enrollment changes including those associated with school choice policies, and to the enrollment of high-cost special education students.” A working paper was released last November and the study will be published in the fall edition of the Journal of Education Finance. …


A Sea of Charter Schools in Detroit Leaves Students Adrift
Source: Kate Zernike, New York Times, June 28, 2016

The 1993 state law permitting charter schools was not brought on by academic or financial crisis in Detroit — those would come later — but by a free-market-inclined governor, John Engler. An early warrior against public employee unions, he embraced the idea of creating schools that were publicly financed but independently run to force public schools to innovate. To throw the competition wide open, Michigan allowed an unusually large number of institutions, more than any other state, to create charters: public school districts, community colleges and universities. It gave those institutions a financial incentive: a 3 percent share of the dollars that go to the charter schools. And only they — not the governor, not the state commissioner or board of education — could shut down failing schools. For-profit companies seized on the opportunity; they now operate about 80 percent of charters in Michigan, far more than in any other state. … Operators were lining up to get into the city, and in 2011, after a conservative wave returned the governor’s office and the Legislature to Republican control for the first time in eight years, the Legislature abolished a cap that had limited the number of charter schools that universities could create to 150. … In fact, the law repealed a longstanding requirement that the State Department of Education issue yearly reports monitoring charter school performance. … By 2015, a federal review of a grant application for Michigan charter schools found an “unreasonably high” number of charters among the worst-performing 5 percent of public schools statewide. The number of charters on the list had doubled from 2010 to 2014. …

Charter schools multiplying in Mich.
Source: Shawn D. Lewis, Detroit News, July 26, 2013

…While enrollment in traditional public schools has fallen in Michigan over the past two decades, charter school enrollment has increased more than 500 percent since the first school in the state opened in the mid-1990s. The state had less than 4,500 students in 41 charter schools in 1995; more than 130,000 children attended 277 charter schools this past year…

…But a Royal Oak-based think tank cautions gains by Michigan’s current charter schools don’t mean the new schools will be equally effective… The Stanford study, which included 27 states, shows that in learning growth for math, Charter Schools USA, which has 58 schools in seven states, rated slightly below traditional public schools….

What Can We Learn from Charter School Lotteries?

Source: Julia Chabrier, Sarah Cohodes, Philip Oreopoulos, NBER Working Paper No. w22390, July 2016


We take a closer look at what we can learn about charter schools by pooling data from lottery-based impact estimates of the effect of charter school attendance at 113 schools. On average, each year enrolled at one of these schools increases math scores by 0.08 standard deviations and English/language arts scores by 0.04 standard deviations. There is wide variation in impact estimates. To glean what drives this variation, we link these effects to school practices, inputs, and characteristics of fallback schools. In line with the earlier literature, we find that schools that adopt an intensive “No Excuses” attitude towards students are correlated with large gains in academic performance, with traditional inputs like class size playing no role in explaining charter school effects. However, we highlight that “No Excuses” schools are also located among the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country. After accounting for performance levels at fallback schools, the relationship between the remaining variation in school performance and the entire “No Excuses” package of practices weakens. “No Excuses” schools are effective at raising performance in neighborhoods with very poor performing schools, but the available data have less to say on whether the “No Excuses” approach could help in nonurban settings or whether other practices would similarly raise achievement in areas with low-performing schools. We find that intensive tutoring is the only “No Excuses” characteristic that remains significant (even for nonurban schools) once the performance levels of fallback schools are taken into account.

The Answer Sheet: Why Charter Schools Get Public Education Advocates So Angry

Source: Valorie Strauss, Carol C. Burris, National Education Policy Center, July 25, 2016

When Hillary Clinton mentioned public charter schools in her speech to the National Education Association earlier this month, she was greeted with some boos. Her remarks about sharing “what works” seemed innocuous enough.  So why did the teachers in attendance react so strongly? The obvious answer is the charter sector’s distaste for collective bargaining.  But the antipathy directed at charters runs deeper than that. … Placing the adjective “public” in front of “charter” is an affront to those who deeply believe in the mission of public schools. Charter schools are privately run academies funded by the taxpayer. Many are governed by larger corporations, known as CMOs. Some are for-profit; others are not for profit yet still present financial “opportunities.” … Yet the governance of public schools is one of the purest and most responsive forms of American democracy. Sunshine laws and public meetings allow citizens to have a say in how their children are educated and how their tax dollars are spent. Even in cities with mayoral control, there is some limited voice through the election of a mayor. In 2010, the then-D.C. mayor, Adrian Fenty, lost re-election largely because of his support for the then-chancellor, Michelle Rhee. While Hastings would view that as causing “churn,” communities view elections as a means by which to correct error and chart a better course. …

… The differences between public schools and charter schools go well beyond issues of governance. One of the strengths of a true public school is its ethical and legal obligation to educate all. Public school systems enroll any student who comes into the district’s attendance zone from ages 5 to 21 — no matter their handicapping condition, lack of prior education, first language, or even disciplinary or criminal record. Not only will empty seats be filled at any grade, if there is a sudden influx of students, classes must be opened. In contrast, charter schools control enrollment — in both direct and subtle ways. In 2013, journalist Stephanie Simon wrote a comprehensive report exposing the lengthy applications, tests, essays and other hurdles used by many charters schools to make sure they get the kind of student that they want. Even when some charter chains, such as Aspire, Success Academy and KIPP, have simple applications and lottery entrance, student bodies are not necessarily representative of neighborhood schools. …

Charter School Must Pay California Millions

Source: Don Debenedictis, AlterNet, July 13, 2016

The operator of 14 online charter schools in California must pay the state $8.5 million, provide $160 million in debt relief and reform itself to resolve charges of false advertising and using misrepresentations to increase its taxpayer funding. The settlement should end a July 8 lawsuit the attorney general filed against Virginia-based K12 Inc. and its 14 California schools, and a 2012 whistleblower lawsuit against K12 and its California Virtual Academy @ Los Angeles. … The complaint continues: “The virtual school defendants receive funds from the State of California every year to pay for the education of the approximately 13,000 students attending these schools. Pursuant to the agreements, the virtual school defendants pay significant management and technology fees to K12 based on a percentage of the total funding the virtual school defendants receive. The fees include the cost of using K12’s software to take the Internet classes, for which students must pay, despite the defendants’ offer of a free education, according to the state. Also, K12 et al. advertised that graduates would qualify for the University of California and California State University campuses, though they did not offer classes in several areas required for UC admission, according to the complaint. … The California Charter Schools Association, which usually supports charter operators, praised the attorney general’s actions. “CCSA condemns the predatory and dishonest practices employed by K12, Inc. to dupe parents using misleading marketing schemes, siphon taxpayer dollars with inflated student attendance data, and coerce [the nonprofit schools] into dubious contracting arrangements,” the association said in a statement. …


California Virtual Academies: Bill targeting for-profit operator K12 Inc. clears first committee vote
Source: Jessica Calefati, The Mercury News, June 30, 2016

A bill that would ban online charter schools from hiring for-profit firms to provide instructional services cleared the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday on a party-line 6-2 vote after a divisive debate about the role private companies should play in public education. … Lawmakers’ efforts a few years ago to crack down on for-profit colleges and universities sent several of the chains into bankruptcy, and if AB 1084 is passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, it would effectively put companies like K12 out of business in the Golden State, too. … But parents couldn’t disagree more about whether companies like K12 should be allowed to operate charter schools in California, and a lobbyist for K12 and two other firms insisted they’re being singled out unfairly. Two mothers who support the legislation testified that the law is needed to force schools controlled by for-profit companies to re-evaluate their priorities and begin emphasizing student achievement above all else, including profit margins and shareholder whims. …

California Virtual Academies defend online charter schools as model of school choice
Source: Jessica Calefati, The Mercury News, April 19, 2016

In a letter sent to teachers Monday afternoon, the schools’ academic administrator, April Warren, called the newspaper’s investigative series “a gross mischaracterization of all of the work that you all do on a regular basis.” But despite their broad condemnations, neither Warren nor other school officials alleged any specific factual inaccuracies in the series. … The California Charter Schools Association and California Teachers Association on Monday said the Legislature should take a hard look at whether for-profit companies like K12 should be operating schools in California and whether the state can do more to ensure charter schools are overseen properly. … Online charter schools only work with a fraction of the kids enrolled in California’s roughly 1,200 charters, but that doesn’t mean they should be held to a lower standard of accountability, said Emily Bertelli, a spokeswoman for the California Charter Schools Association, which publicly called for the closure of a K12-run school in 2011 only to see the school reopened with a new name under the same authorizer. …

K12 Inc.: California Virtual Academies’ operator exploits charter, charity laws for money, records show
Source: Jessica Calefati, The Mercury News, April 18, 2016

California’s largest network of online academies is different: Although the schools are set up like typical charters, records show they’re established and run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., whose claims of parental involvement and independent oversight appear to be a veneer for the moneymaking enterprise. The company — the subject of a two-part investigative series by this newspaper — says the schools operate independently and are locally controlled. But the academies’ contracts, tax records and other financial information suggest something entirely different: K12 calls the shots, operating the schools to make money by taking advantage of laws governing charter schools and nonprofit organizations. … California law is silent on whether for-profit firms are even allowed to run charter schools. So before applying 14 years ago to open the state’s first online academies, K12 treaded cautiously into a new market, creating a series of nonprofit organizations whose names match those of the schools. That means each California Virtual Academy is considered by the IRS to be a charitable organization that need not pay taxes, even though K12 effectively controls the schools by providing them with all academic services. … A close look at the contract between California Virtual Academy at San Mateo and K12 raises questions about why a truly independent board of directors would ever agree to the terms, said Luis Huerta, a Columbia University expert on online schools. Under the contract, which Huerta reviewed for this newspaper, K12 handles almost every aspect of the public school’s operations. It’s responsible for writing curricula, hiring principals, recruiting students and much more. In exchange, the company is entitled to compensation that can amount to as much as 75 percent of the school’s public funding. …

California Virtual Academies: Is online charter school network cashing in on failure?
Source: Jessica Calefati, The Mercury News, April 17, 2016

But the Silicon Valley-influenced endeavor behind the lofty claims is leading a dubious revolution. The growing network of online academies, operated by a Virginia company traded on Wall Street called K12 Inc., is failing key tests used to measure educational success. Fewer than half of the students who enroll in the online high schools earn diplomas, and almost none of them are qualified to attend the state’s public universities. An investigation of K12-run charter schools by this newspaper also reveals that teachers have been asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records used to determine taxpayer funding. … At the same time, K12’s heavily marketed school model has been lucrative, helping the company rake in more than $310 million in state funding over the past 12 years, as well as enriching sponsoring school districts, which have little stake in whether the students succeed. … Each 180-day school year, students are supposed to gain an equivalent number of days of learning in each of their core subjects as measured by standardized state tests. Instead, online charter students nationwide are advancing the equivalent of only 108 days in reading compared with their peers. And they’re not advancing at all in math. The students are learning so little in that subject that it’s as if they hadn’t attended a single math class all year. And in California, the Stanford report shows, the students attending online schools such as those operated by K12 and other smaller companies are falling 58 days of math instruction behind their peers rather than advancing 180 days. …

VIRTUAL PUBLIC EDUCATION IN CALIFORNIA: A Study of Student Performance, Management Practices and Oversight Mechanisms at California Virtual Academies, a K12 Inc. Managed School System
Source: In the Public Interest, February 26, 2015

From the abstract:
This report examines management practices and student academic performance at California Virtual Academies (CAVA), the largest provider of virtual public education in California. Our research shows that students at CAVA are at risk of low quality educational outcomes, and some are falling through the cracks entirely, in a poorly resourced and troubled educational environment.

Editorial: Privatizing government services risky business

Source: The Des Moines Register, July 2, 2016

The role of government is to serve the public interest. The role of business is to serve the interests of owners and stockholders. Yet more and more cities, counties and states are privatizing basic government functions, turning these duties over to private businesses on the theory that profit-driven companies are more efficient than government agencies. … Taxpayers are still footing the bill, of course. The private companies are simply hired contractors, providing a service for a fee in the same way a construction company is hired by City Hall to pave a road. In almost every instance, the promise of savings is what drives the move toward privatization. Elected officials who are loathe to raise taxes to pay for the increased cost of public services can always find someone who claims they can do the job for less money while still generating a profit. … A nonprofit organization called In The Public Interest has examined the not-so-hidden costs of privatization and documented the many ways in which outsourcing can go awry. …


What Government Contractors Really Mean When They Say They’ll Do It Cheaper
Source: In the Public Interest, April 27, 2016

The decades-long experiment of contracting out public goods and services by governments, known as “privatization,” has often had dire consequences for the public, workers, and the environment. Our report, Cutting Corners: How Government Contractors Harm the Public in Pursuit of Profit, details the negative impacts on the public of cost-cutting by contractors across a variety of public goods and services and at every level of American government.  To maximize profit, companies have often cut corners by reducing the quality and accessibility of services, reducing staffing levels, lowering worker wages, and sidestepping protections for the public and the environment. When government contractors cut corners, the impacts often have dire consequences. For example:

  • In 1998, Atlanta signed a 20-year contract with United Water for water and wastewater services. Only five years in, the city ended the contract after the company cut more than half of the workforce and violated federal drinking water standards, including chlorine levels six times higher than levels allowed by the contract.
  • In St.Louis, a private school bus operator recently incentivized employees for every dollar he or she withheld from school bus maintenance. The practice resulted in problems due to underinvestment and lack of maintenance, such as broken heaters, faulty brakes, excessive rust, doors falling off hinges, and tires falling off.
  • California Virtual Academies (CAVA), a network of charter schools that provide online K-12 education, employed one administrator for every ten administrators employed by school districts of similar size. As a result, one in four teachers spent 80 percent of their time on clerical work rather than teaching.

The report concludes with recommendations for public officials and communities to help protect the public and the environment from companies that seek to increase profits and lower costs by cutting corners.

Read full report.

Why Is The Walton Family Foundation Putting Another $250 Million Into Charter Schools?

Source: Maureen Sullivan, Forbes, June 30, 2016

Billionaire sister and brother Alice and Jim Walton have explained this week’s $250 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation to aid in building charter school facilities as a salute to their parents’ emphasis on education. “My parents spent a lot of time with us growing up just enforcing the fact that education is what could really be the great equalizer in the world,” says Alice Walton, the only daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his wife Helen, in a video promoting the initiative. … The foundation describes the Building Equity Initiative as “a first-of-its-kind nonprofit effort to provide charter schools with access to capital to create and expand facilities.” The nonprofit Civic Builders will manage the initiative, which will focus on 17 cities* where the foundation already makes grants. … The new initiative, which is in addition to the $1 billion already announced, will provide low-interest loans to non-for-profit lenders that will help finance school facilities. There will also be more resources made available through real-estate, technical and financial advice. The Waltons say they hope their investment will act as a “vote of confidence” for charter schools and inspire others to follow their lead. …


Walton Family Foundation commits $250 million for new charter school facilities
Source: Emma Brown, Washington Post, June 28, 2016

The Walton Family Foundation on Tuesday announced that it would commit $250 million to help urban charter schools deal with a problem that has sometimes slowed their growth: access to facilities. The money will go to nonprofit lenders and charter school developers, who will use it to help finance buildings for new charter schools in 17 cities, including the District. … The new effort from the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune, is expected to create space for an additional 250,000 students by 2027, according to the foundation, which has played a key role in driving the expansion of charters during the past two decades.

Brooklyn School’s Supporters Say the City Bet Against Its Progress

Source: Kate Taylor, New York Times, June 30, 2016

When the New York City Education Department put a new Success Academy charter school in a building housing a troubled Brooklyn middle school in 2012, many believed the middle school was on its way to closing. The school, Junior High School 50, known as John D. Wells, had struggled for years. In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, included it on a list of 94 chronically low-performing schools that the city was infusing with money and social services. Only 49 students were admitted last year. But instead of dying, J.H.S. 50, in the Williamsburg neighborhood, is showing signs of revival. … Now, in a twist, even as it grows, J.H.S. 50 will have to give up five classrooms next year, because the Success Academy school is expanding to fifth grade. Supporters of J.H.S. 50 are accusing the Education Department of betting against a turnaround. Last year, when it approved Success’ expansion, the department drew up a plan assuming that J.H.S. 50’s enrollment would continue to decline, to as few as 165 students next year. The department is now projecting that the school will have around 230 students. … Mr. Honoroff is worried about losing dedicated space for some of those activities as the school struggles to fit into a smaller footprint next year. J.H.S. 50 will probably have to turn its dance studio into a regular classroom. It is likely to lose a new computer lab Mr. Reynoso financed. And several rooms will need to do double duty, as both a classroom and a music room, for instance. To be sure, many schools in the city, both public and charter, struggle with space constraints. And the elementary school to which J.H.S. 50 is losing space, Success Academy Williamsburg, performs much better on state tests. Last year, 80 percent of its third graders — then its top grade — passed the reading tests and 99 percent passed the math tests. (The charter school has more white students and middle-class students, and fewer disabled students and students not proficient in English, than J.H.S. 50.) …

High Test Scores At A Nationally Lauded Charter Network, But At What Cost?

Source: Anya Kamenetz, NPR, June 24, 2016

Since its inception nearly a decade ago in Silicon Valley, Rocketship has been among the most nationally applauded charter networks, hailed as an innovative model of blended learning. Founder John Danner, who made a fortune in Internet advertising, originally envisioned enrolling 1 million students by 2020, relying on the strength of three pillars — “personalized learning” with software, excellent teachers and parent involvement — to raise the achievement of underserved students. Today there are 13 Rocketship schools, with 6,000 students, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Nashville, Tenn., and Milwaukee, with one scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., this fall. The students, largely low-income and Hispanic, outperform their peers on state tests. … Yet despite its successes, as Rocketship has pushed to expand, some parents, teachers and community members have objected in public meetings, raising concerns about the school’s tech-heavy instruction model, student-teacher ratio, and student health and safety. In interviews over the past two months, current and former employees at Rocketship Schools emphasized the pressures on employees and students. They recounted instances of inadequate supervision, bathroom accidents and even infections due to denial of restroom visits. And they voiced concerns about a disciplinary measure the company calls Zone Zero. Several current and former staffers said this practice, in effect, amounted to hours of enforced silence. A handful of the employees also reported, and internal emails corroborated, a practice of having students retake standardized tests to increase scores. The current and former educators linked that practice to the company’s policy of tying 50 percent of teachers’ pay to growth in student test scores. ….


Is a charter school chain called Rocketship ready to soar across America?
Source: Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post, July 29, 2012

…. This is Rocketship Discovery Prep, one of five charter elementary schools founded by Danner that are bridging the achievement gap — the staggering difference in academic performance between poor and privileged children. …But some wonder if five-year-old Rocketship is producing miracles or mirages. Will a model that succeeds in San Jose also flourish in Nashville? Can a strategy that works for a handful of schools be expanded across the country? And can the achievement gap be eliminated? …. For two hours each day, students are taught by computers designed to meet children at their particular level and drill them in rote skills like addition or subtraction. … Computers shave 25 percent from Rocketship’s labor costs — savings used to extend the school day to eight hours, pay higher salaries to its nonunion teachers and to construct its own school facilities, among other things. … Stephen McMahon, president of the San Jose teachers union, worries that a dual system is developing: One filled with charters that attract motivated families and another of traditional public schools populated with reluctant learners….

After 25 Years, What’s Next For Charter Schools?

Source: Claudio Sanchez, NPR, June 28, 2016

What began with a single state law in Minnesota has spread to a national movement of nearly 6,800 schools, serving just under 3 million students. But at its annual meeting, the National National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is also using the moment to call for a fresh look at how these innovative public schools are managed and how they’re held accountable. Among the concerns is whether the failure rate of online charter schools is hurting the credibility of the movement in general. … Which makes it a good time to talk with Ted Kolderie, one of the architects of the nation’s first charter school law in 1991. In his new book, The Split Screen Strategy: Innovation and Improvement, Kolderie argues that public education is cursed by the notion of the “one best way to do education better.” The problem, he says, is that it’s impossible to generate a political consensus for radical change. …