This open letter is written to Dr. Terry Stoops, the Director of Research and Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation, particularly in reference to his March 3, 2016 perspective in EdNC.org entitled “Charter schools are here to stay, so deal with it.”
Again, public education is a focal issue in this election cycle, and like you, I am very vigilant in investigating the claims and plans that each candidate and influential body makes concerning the teaching profession.
I tend to read education op-eds produced by the John Locke Foundation (and its many associated entities) regarding education with great interest because those writings do spur discussion and thought. I also read those same op-eds with great concern, because I find the reasoning and rationale behind many of the arguments to be weak, politically motivated, and built on platitudes.
However, I read your March 3, 2016 perspective on EdNC.org (“Charter schools are here to stay, so deal with it”) not with just great interest or concern; I read it with great confusion.
Considering what happened in Haywood County and the closing of Central Elementary School and the reports of fiscal mismanagement coming out of the Charter School Advisory Board meetings, I would have expected more concrete evidence to buttress your claims about charter schools.
Throughout your perspective you claim that “there is greater knowledge and acceptance of charter schools among North Carolina families, most of whom welcome educational options.” With all of the numbers and statistics you sprinkle throughout your op-ed, you neglect to really show how that could be true. You simply state it and rest on that.
If you are speaking of options and choices, there are other possibilities that are utilized far more in NC than charter schools. There are private schools, many of which have received taxpayer funds from the Opportunity Grants (that’s a whole other issue), and homeschooling, which encompasses more students in our state than private and charter schools.
And then there are our traditional public schools, the very institutions our state constitution stipulates that our GOP-led General Assembly must maintain and protect.
You claim that charter schools create choice for those families who believe that public schools are not servicing their students well. Ironically, your chairman at the John Locke Foundation, John Hood, recently touted our public schools’ success in his February 15th op-ed on EdNC.org (“North Carolina schools ranked seventh”). If our schools are doing so well under these criteria, then why would so many charters need to be created? Just for choice’s sake?
This past February, I wrote an op-ed for the Winston-Salem Journal (“Defending Public Education”) concerning school choice and the uncontrolled rise of charter schools in North Carolina. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (who homeschools his children) had just attempted to stop a DPI report on charter schools that did not shed a favorable light on the very entities that you (and Lt. Gov. Forest) claim are doing wonderfully. That op-ed stated,
“The original idea for charter schools was a noble one. Diane Ravitch in Reign of Error states that these schools were designed to seek “out the lowest-performing students, the dropouts, and the disengaged, then ignite their interest in education” in order “to collaborate and share what they had learned with their colleagues and existing schools” (p.13).
But those noble intentions have been replaced with profit-minded schemes. Many charters abused the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and did not benefit students. If you followed the debacle surrounding the DPI charter school report this past month and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s effort to squelch it, you might know that the charter schools in North Carolina overall have not performed as advertised. Furthermore, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC is staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.”
There are charter schools that do work well within the scope of providing alternate educational approaches not used in public schools. Perhaps a couple you highlighted in your op-ed fit that description. There is one in my hometown of Winston-Salem, the Arts-Based School, which does exactly what charter schools were originally intended to do. But those tend to be more of the exception than the norm.
The withdrawal of students from NC virtual schools has also been very much in the news of late. Look at the Pilot Virtual Charter Schools Student Information Update published this month. It seems that more and more families are not choosing that option. Yet, Dr. Stoops, in your op-ed, you praise having virtual schools here in NC because they offer options despite their results.
You define “charter school deserts” as areas that do not have many students serviced by charter schools. Ironically you use a term, “desert”, that many use to describe socio-economic conditions, the most common being “food desert”.
A desert itself connotes that something is lacking. You do make a great correlation between lack of choices and deserts because a desert may be indicative of a more pressing problem in the regions you talk about, like a symptom of a deeper problem. I would be more concerned with food deserts or economic deserts or cultural deserts than charter deserts. I would be more concerned with the physical, mental, and emotional health of the students and the economic health of those very regions rather than how many charter schools they have.
And the GOP-led General Assembly can do something about people’s quality of life because that has an impact on student achievement in any school. Just refer back to Mr. Hood’s aforementioned op-ed. He stated,
“Whenever test scores come out for schools, districts, or states, officials hasten to explain that there are many factors known to shape the results. They are right to do so. The characteristics of the families within which students grow up — household income, parental education, marital status, etc. — clearly affect student performance. Race and ethnicity exhibit statistical correlations with performance, as well, perhaps reflecting not only those family-background variables but also factors such as neighborhood effects, cultural norms, or discrimination.”
I actually agree with that. Ironically, Mr. Hood retracts a bit from that statement later in his op-ed.
If the means to obtain the basic needs for families in these “deserts” were provided, then the health of the local public school district may not even be an issue unless there is just a profit-minded motive behind charter school construction. And even if the construction of charter schools in these rural “deserts” were just to create choice, then why do many charter schools detrimentally affect traditional public schools? That’s not creating a choice; that’s removing choice by monopolizing resources.
Just refer back to the situation in Haywood County and Central Elementary School. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds; the financial impact can be overwhelming. That creates an even bigger desert. Talk about your man-made “climate” change.
And speaking of financial impact, the Summary of Charter School Financial Noncompliance issued on January 28, 2016 lists over 25 charter schools as not complying with laws and regulations concerning finances. Those finances are tax-payer funded and have been taken away from traditional public schools.
You conclude your argument with a glossy and baseless claim that the numbers of charter school proponents vastly outnumber those who defend public schools. You state,
“Without a doubt, school district officials and public school advocacy groups will continue to grouse about the number of students enrolled in charters and the funding that goes with them. But charter school parents, students, employees, and advocates vastly outnumber them and are beginning to find the voice to champion and defend their schools of choice.”
If that voice to champion their cause has to be enabled with shadowy deregulation, political intervention, and profit minded groups, then that does not represent the true voice of the people. In fact, the withdrawal rates from some of those charter schools listed in the Summary of Charter School Financial Noncompliance report are quite eye-opening. That itself speaks volumes.
If advocating for public schools (like our state constitution does) in light of this educational landscape is in your view “grousing,” then will I proudly continue to complain, grumble, quibble, bemoan, protest, and quarrel on behalf of our public schools because they are here to stay.
Deal with that.