Leaked documents received by the blogger Michael Kohlhaas (a fictitious name, check it out) at michaelkohlhaas.org provides an interesting insight into the long-term goals of the California Charter School Association (CCSA). At its executive summit that took place last October, CCSA considered several changes to its “Strategic Snapshot,” including a proposed change to its vision statement. Documents prepared for that meeting show that the current vision is “Increasing student learning by growing [sic: “growing” is an adjective, not a verb] the number of families choosing high quality charter schools so that no child is denied the right to a great public education.” The focus of this statement is exclusively on increasing the number of charter schools.
The proposed new vision is “Providing absolutely every young person a great public education by growing the number of families choosing high quality charter public schools and encouraging all public schools to become more charter-like” [emphasis added].
The CCSA documents acknowledge that, up to now, it has been “silent on what is supposed to happen to the rest of public education [and] we have not been able to agree about what we want the public education system to evolve into.” But now that they’re getting “blowback” from people “who assume that the charter school movement is one big replacement strategy” they need a vision statement to allay those concerns. In other words, the purpose of the change is to quell concerns within the traditional school community that the long-term goal of organizations like CCSA is some sort of hostile takeover of all public schools. Quoting again from the document, “By showing that we believe that all public schools can evolve to become more charter-like, we are signaling that we believe the end state we are moving to is one where, yes, all public schools will be charter schools or charter-like schools, but that we believe a part of the equation is that many existing public schools will be able to remake themselves so that they may play an important role in the future of public education.”
The phrase, “we believe that all public schools can evolve to become more charter-like” is both condescending and arrogant. It assumes a superiority for charter schools that does not stand up under close scrutiny and ignores the troubling level of corruption that distinguishes charter schools from traditional schools. In addition, nowhere does CCSA explain what it means to be “charter-like.” This is a curious omission given the centrality of this concept to its new vision statement. Let me take a stab at it.
At the classroom level, there is little, if anything, to distinguish between a charter school and a traditional school. (Of course, I’m excluding virtual schools and charters that are organized as home schools). Both address the same content standards with similar curricula and instructional materials. Both employ certificated teachers. And both are subject to the same state testing requirements.
But apart from the classroom there are some important differences. For example, a “charter-like school” is a school that:
- Is only indirectly accountable to a publicly elected governing board for management and is instead governed by a self-appointed group of individuals.
- Is beyond the reach of a publicly elected governing board to take any corrective action for academic or financial failures short of the “nuclear option” of closing the school through non-renewal or revocation of the charter.
- Can expel a student for poor academic performance.
- Does not have to follow statutory due process procedures when suspending or expelling a student.
- Allows teachers to teach classes for which they are not credentialed.
- Is not required to participate in PERS or STRS.
- Is exempt from the Field Act (earthquake safety requirements).
- Has (on average) a higher rate of suspensions/expulsions.
There may be other differences that don’t come to mind right now. But the point is this is a troubling vision for the future of public education. It will be interesting to see how CCSA responds to this disclosure.