Charter Schools Are Mostly Okay Despite Misconceptions

A recent Wichita Eagle Editorial Blog post mentioned charter schools in Arizona. A comment writer wrote “Arizona found out, ‘Charter schools tend to be fly by night’ schools operated by entrepreneurs looking for new profit centers at the giant expense of the public school system.”

I looked for evidence that Arizona had trouble with charter schools. I found an Education Week article from 2004 (Progress, Problems Highlighted In Arizona Charter Study) which seems to present balanced news about Arizona charter schools.

It appears that there have been a few problems with charter schools. Certainly not a tendency, as the comment writer suggested.

In fact, it would be difficult to imagine that there could be widespread dissatisfaction with charter schools that would last for any length of time. That’s because, even though charter schools are still government schools, the students that attend them are there by choice. And if the charter school doesn’t meet their needs, they have another choice: return to the regular public school system.

Contrast this with the existing public school system. It operates, at least in Kansas, with a government-granted monopoly on the use of public funds for the provision of schooling. Parents who are not satisfied with these schools have little recourse unless they have enough money to move somewhere else, or unless they can afford private or parochial school tuition — and they’ll still have to pay to support a system they now realize they can’t use.

This type of monopoly power is considered unjust and immoral when wielded by private industry, but is somehow acceptable when possessed by government.

This leads to another complaint expressed, obliquely, by the comment writer: these charter schools are looking to make a profit! I wonder if this writer knows that in the absence of a government-granted monopoly of the type that the public schools in Kansas enjoy, the only way a business can earn a profit is by satisfying customers, and doing so efficiently. And businesses have to earn that profit. They have no guaranteed source of revenue, as do government agencies. They have no stream of customers forced to use their service, as do the public schools.

Finally, the comment writer states that charter schools operate at the “giant expense of the public school system.” Two points: Charter schools are part of the public school system. They could be in Kansas, if we had a better charter school law. Also, charter schools typically receive much less funding per student than do the regular public schools. They almost always operate more efficiently, and therefore save money.

17 Comments

  • Well, Wichita should try private business operated schools. Wait, We did. It wasn’t that long ago. Remember Edison? That worked well!

  • Bob Weeks -

    Your argument is interesting, Tony. If the Edison schools were failures — however you may judge that — they closed. They didn’t live on and on as do government schools.

    That’s the difference between markets and government. Institutions operating in markets where people have choice must meet the needs of their customers, or they will fail and close. That doesn’t often happen with government.

    Is that the case you are making?

  • Great point! How many people have volunteered to help at a school? How many schools have you toured? Have you looked at how the proposed bond issue would do to the schools in the feeder pattern in which you live?

    Why did the Edison schools fail? The concept was sound or they wouldnt have happened in the first place. Schools have to have parent and community support to make them successful. The schools that are able to do this are absolutely incredible. The question is how do you get people that are so against public education to help?

    For me, thinking about when I am needing to be seen at the doctor, take in my taxes, or even go to the store makes me want to be a part of the system in which I live, not work against it. Sure I want it to be better, but I also want to win the lottery. =) I feel that the “You’ve gotta play to win!” motto applies to partnering with schools as well.

  • Bob Weeks -

    Isabell, have you ever thought that some people don’t volunteer at public schools because — get this — they’re forced to support them though taxation? Even for families with children who have decided that they can’t use the product that the public schools produce, they still have to pay for them. Isn’t that supporting them?

    Your question about looking at what the bond issue will do for the schools in your part of town reveals the bond issue to be a special interest matter. What’s in it for me? That’s what you’re saying is important.

  • I, personally, am not getting anything out of the bond – although my children will. Isn’t all goverment a special interest matter. Why do you wote the way that you do – you want something out of it. I want my children to part of a community that cares about them. I want that community to support the schools – aka volunteer, participate as a community member, etc..

    Forgive me, Bob, for wanting a community to live in that supports my family and my children.

    I would like to also say that I have no problem with you or your personal feeling about the bond issue in specific. My issue is that you continue to put a negative spin on public education, especially USD 259 and its teachers and students. There are positive and negative issues regarding both public and private education. If people are “forced” to support public education, why dont more take a few extra minutes and help decide how their financial support is used. Why is it that you are saying that it is unimportant to be involved in the process?

  • Bob Weeks -

    Isabell, you admit that there are negative issues regarding public education, but you are criticizing me for talking about them. That doesn’t seem to promote open discussion of issues.

    Your conclusion about people being forced to support public education — and forced it is, no quotation marks are needed — is curious. For people who have decided they can’t use the product the school system produces, you still want them to become involved in the process?

    I think you overlook how much this community already supports the schools. Can you tell me how much USD 259 will spend on each student this year?

    And finally, Isabell, your children will benefit from the bond issue but you say that you won’t? How does that make sense? You don’t benefit when your children do?

  • You need to realize that both sides that should be discussed. I dont need you to like public school – but if you are so quick to point out everything that is wrong – you sould point out the things that are going well too. If you dont understand this, then you miss the point.

    You also need to realize that my suggestion that the community should actively participate in our public schools is sound and also research based. You also are forced to support several other projects with your tax money. If your concern is that the schools are not adequate, what are you helping to change them? Just by being negative? Telling people what you think is wrong -without actually going into schools – Is that appropriate?

  • Bob Weeks -

    Isabell, could you refer me to this research that you mention? Just tell me the name of a study, or the author, or a website. Anything like that will do. Just so I can read it myself.

    I notice you didn’t indicate if you knew the level of spending by USD 259 for each student.

    Don’t you notice that I’m trying to change the schools? It’s just not in the direction that you want. The true negative people are those who refuse to consider solutions to problems or reforms that lie outside the educationist orthodoxy. It is USD 259 that says this is what we will do, no matter what I may say, and no matter what has been found to have success elsewhere. Yes, they have some small choices that parents may make, and they have small reforms that proceed at glacial pace. But it’s like choosing between light beige or medium beige for your carpet. True reform and change is beyond the capacity of the public schools to undertake.

    The appropriate question is why do we choose to doom another generation to the public education monopoly in Kansas?

  • Here’s a few – when you get done reading – I would be happy to send you more.

    Title: Cleveland Metropolitan School District Human Ware Audit: Findings and Recommendations
    Authors: Osher, David; Poirier, Jeffrey M.; Dwyer, Kevin P.; Hicks, Regenia; Brown, Leah J.; Lampron, Stephanie; Rodriguez, Carlos
    Publication Date: 2008-08-14
    Journal Name: American Institutes for Research
    Journal Citation:
    Abstract: Children and youth require safe and supportive schools and communities if they are to succeed in school and thrive. These needs are particularly great for children who struggle with the impacts of chronic poverty, lead poisoning and lead effect, community and media violence, drugs and alcohol, trauma and loss. There are many such students in Cleveland, and research suggests that many of them attend schools that do not sufficiently address their needs. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the mayor of Cleveland asked the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to conduct an independent gaps analysis and to make recommendations regarding what can be done in Cleveland’s schools and by its mental health and other community agencies to improve the connectedness that students have to school, and their mental wellness and safety. Research was conducted over a six-month period. AIR spoke with more than 100 individuals about what was working and sufficient, what was working but insufficient, what was working but needed refinement, what was missing, what was not working and what was having harmful impacts. District students in grade 5 and up were surveyed regarding the extent to which they feel emotionally and physically safe, supported, connected and challenged, in an environment where their peers are socially responsible. Site visits were conducted to four Cleveland schools, and to SuccessTech Academy. Available data and reports were also reviewed and analyzed. Three key findings are identified: (1) Factors That Place Children and Schools at Risk for Poor School Outcomes, Emotional and Behavioral Problems and Disorders and Violence; (2) Poor or Weak Conditions for Learning, Teaching and Development and a Lack of Effective Approaches to Build These Conditions for Learning; and (3) Undeveloped and Inconsistent Capacity to Address the Factors That Place Children and Schools At Risk of Poor Outcomes and to Improve the Conditions for Learning, Teaching and Development. Recommendations are presented in 10 strategies for a three-tiered approach to (1) Build a school-wide foundation that reduces the incidence of behavioral and academic problems and enhances the probability of student success; (2) Intervene early for students who are at elevated levels of risk; and (3) Provide intensive supports and services for students who are at the greatest level of need. Strategy 1 involves recommendations about using data for assessing, planning, monitoring and evaluating the conditions for learning, teaching and development and the level of need, risk and wellness of Cleveland’s children and youth. Recommendations within Strategies 2, 3 and 4 focus primarily on universal promotion and prevention. Recommendations within Strategies 5, 6 and 7 focus primarily on early and intensive interventions. Strategy 8 addresses the need for ongoing and professional development and support, which have been identified as necessary in improving outcomes for children and youth with and at risk of developing emotional and behavioral problems. Strategy 9 addresses the need for focused and sustainable funding to support human ware improvements. Strategy 10 involves ongoing monitoring and evaluation of data for assessing, planning, monitoring and evaluating the conditions for learning, teaching and development and the level of need, risk and wellness. A glossary of acronyms is attached. Five appendixes are included: (1) Conditions for Learning; Middle and High School Surveys; (2) Case Study School Snapshots; (3) Mental Health Agencies and Neighborhood Collaboratives Associated with Schools (And Preventions and Safe and Drug-Free Schools Programs); (4) Other Data Tables and Figures; and (5) Relationships among Strategies, Recommendations and Findings and Implementation-Related Information. (Contains 42 footnotes, 14 figures and 53 tables.)
    Descriptors: Urban Schools; Educational Environment; School Safety; Professional Development; Attendance; School Community Relationship; Family School Relationship; School Administration; Positive Reinforcement; Human Resources; Change Strategies; Social Development; Emotional Development; Social Support Groups; Early Intervention; High Risk Students; Mental Health; Student Surveys; Middle School Students; High School Students; Case Studies; Data Collection; Data Analysis; Educational Cooperation

    Title: Building Community Partnerships: Tips for Out-of-School Time Programs. Research-to-Results Practitioner Insights. Publication #2008-13
    Authors: Burkhauser, Mary; Bronte-Tinkew, Jacinta; Kennedy, Elena
    Publication Date: 2008-03-00
    Journal Name: Child Trends
    Abstract: Increasing community involvement in out-of-school time programs can yield significant benefits to programs and the students that they serve. Community partnerships have the potential to meet a wide variety of needs, from improving participant recruitment and attendance to contributing volunteers or other resources to programs. This research brief discusses ways in which community involvement can be important for out-of-school time programs and describes how programs can begin to identify valuable community resources and develop strategies for leveraging community support. (Contains 23 endnotes.)
    Descriptors: Community Involvement; After School Programs; Community Support; Community Resources; School Community Relationship; Youth Programs; Financial Support; Parent Participation

    Title: Can Schools Successfully Meet their Educational Aims without the Clear Support of their Local Communities?
    Authors: Riley, Kathryn
    Publication Date: 2008-09-00
    Journal Name: Journal of Educational Change
    Journal Citation: v9 n3 p311-316 Sep 2008
    Abstract: This short article explores some of the challenges and complexities of engaging with school communities, particularly in diverse urban contexts. The author argues for a new relationship between schools and communities which is developed by grappling with the concept of community; developing tools to “read” and make sense of the community context; working with communities to redefine the notion of school success; and building trusting relationships. She concludes by suggesting that, in a global context in which many city communities are marginalized or isolated, the notion of developing a reciprocal relationship between schools and communities is not an optional extra. Only by working together will they be able to enrich the lives of young people and increase their sense of self-worth and well-being.
    Descriptors: School Community Relationship; Partnerships in Education; Trust (Psychology); Educational Objectives; Participative Decision Making; Organizational Theories; Social Support Groups; Community Involvement; Educational Change

    Title: Approaches to Working with Children, Young People and Families for Traveller, Irish Traveller, Gypsy, Roma and Show People Communities. A Literature Review Report for the Children’s Workforce Development Council
    Authors: Robinson, Mark; Martin, Kerry
    Publication Date: 2008-06-00
    Journal Name: National Foundation for Educational Research

    Abstract: The Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) commissioned this literature review as the first part of a project exploring issues around and approaches to working with Travellers, Irish Travellers, Gypsies, Roma and Showpeople, and the support, training and other programs available to staff involved. The project is intended to contribute to the CWDC’s ability to support and develop the children’s workforce. The main aim of the project was to conduct a literature review and supplementary investigation of the range of issues around and approaches to working with Travellers, Irish Travellers, Gypsies, Roma and Showpeople, and the support, training and other programs available to staff involved. The study will reflect the wider range of services working with children and families, including education services. The project sought to learn: (1) the main findings on existing best practice in support, training and provision of information in relation to the groups examined; (2) the gaps in support, training and information exist for those working with children, young people and families; and (3) what needs to be put in place to support those working with these groups through training, information provision and support. The project aimed to produce a review of the most relevant evidence of good practice in provision of services to Travellers, Irish Travellers, Gypsies, Roma and Showpeople, with evidence of what works, particularly in relation to information, training and support requirements and provision. The report is accompanied by an annotated bibliography [see ED501878] which relays a range of issues and approaches to working with Travellers, Irish Travellers, Gypsies, Roma and Showpeople. Appended to this report is a list of the research team, a description of the search strategy, and a summary template for the literature review.
    Descriptors: Migrants; Migrant Children; Social Services; Labor Force Development; Training; Literature Reviews; Foreign Countries; Agency Cooperation; Child Welfare; Individual Development; Communication Skills; Adjustment (to Environment); Cultural Awareness; Instructional Effectiveness; Outreach Programs; Child Safety; Information Transfer; Community Needs; Community Involvement; Informal Education; Specialists

    Title: Getting the Community Hooked
    Authors: Wittman, Bob
    Publication Date: 2007-10-00
    Journal Name: Principal Leadership
    Journal Citation: v8 n2 p52-55 Oct 2007
    Abstract: One of the most powerful predictors of strong community support for schools is the corresponding strength of a school district’s community education program, according to research done in Minnesota that assessed the level of support for public education. For a group of Minnesota school leaders who were looking for ways to build better grassroots community support for public schools, the findings of that research affirmed the value of investing in community education to support traditional K-12 programs. In this article, the author describes the various benefits of promoting community education and community engagement. The author also describes several strategies schools can use to engage their communities to support their educational goals and missions.
    Descriptors: Elementary Secondary Education; Community Education; Change Agents; Community Support; Public Education; School Districts; Educational Strategies; Leadership

    Michael A. Resnick, Communities Count: A School Board Guide to Public Engagement (Alexandria, Va.: National School Boards Association, 2000).

    Online article – http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/atf/cf/%7B13a13846-1ca6-4f8a-b52e-2a88576b84ef%7D/GOODLADCH9FORNSBA.PDF

    Online article –
    http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/site/c.kjJXJ5MPIwE/b.1524773/

  • I do happen to know the amount that is spent on USD 259 students.

    I also happen to know that the glacial pace that you suggest is not accurate either. Last year the district brought together a group of business and community leaders to get input on the direction of public education. The impact of 21 Century Skills on our global economy and is a discussion that made the mainstream media not long ago, while over a year ago district officials were planning with local and state officials to look at the changes we need to make in public education to ensure that it is successful.

    Your view that charter schools is going to be the fix is, in my opinion, wrong. Public education will not be fixed by just giving choice, vouchers, etc. to citizens in the community. Your taxes will still support these schools – are you then going to go into them and volunteer, serve on a committee, etc.?

    In the end charter schools, may be part of a fix. It will take parents, business, the community and educators coming together to come up with a meaningful way to impact public schools. This is not a local issue – it is a national one. You have put so much energy into fitting against the public schools – why not use your energy to lobby in Topeka or Washington?

  • Bob Weeks -

    Isabell, could you please state the spending that you say you know?

    And the research that I asked you to cite?

  • Bob Weeks -

    Oops. I see the comment with the research. It was stuck in the moderation queue, probably because of the external links it contained.

    Could we agree that Wichita doesn’t have many “Traveller, Irish Traveller, Gypsy, Roma and Show People?”

    Aside from that, here’s a few remarks:

    1. How do these article support a bond issue?

    2. Do you think that if the Wichita school system offered more choice — and not the choice that Barb Fuller says we already have — that it would lead to more or less community support of the schools?

  • I’ll agree that Wichita doesnt have many “Traveller, Irish Traveller, Gypsy, Roma or Show People.” The reason I left the article on that list I sent was although these specific groups are not represented in a significant number, USD 259 does have students and families that are considered migrant. The information in the article would support parent & community support for this group as well as the general population of schools.

    The reason I posted the articles is because you asked me to support my statement that their is sound research in regards to community support of public education. The reason I brought up community support was to hopefully help you to realize that before Wichita schools are called “lazy, corrupt, moving at glacial pace, etc.,” there needs to be input into the schools via tours, volunteering, committee work, etc..

    I have been involved, not as much as I would like, but because of this I see the need for the additional classroom space. I see the need for more connectedness to school with students, parents and community members. I see the reality of what teachers face in the classroom and I understand that change is happening all over the district and they take educating our community to heart.

    I dont see how offering complete choice of schools would be beneficial, especially for the student population that receives currently receives special services.
    What is the choice for these parents? Would it be beneficial for a parent to choose a school if it didnt have a program that they needed? Would schools then be “segregated?”

    My gut tells me that community support would be the same as it is now.

    I do understand that parents do have magnet choices as well as choice in schools in restructuring status. I would also stretch to say that parents choose the area in which they live (in most cases) and that would technically also be choosing the school the students attend. There is also a special transfer process that is available if circumstances allow it to take place. So, in these ways, I could understand how USD 259 offers choice to parents.

  • Bob Weeks -

    Well, Isabell, your concept of choice and freedom is certainly different from mine.

    Are you putting words in my mouth with “lazy, corrupt, moving at glacial pace, etc.,”?

    I think you’re saying that one way parents can exercise choice in schools is by moving their residence to a different district. That’s true — parents with the financial resources to do so can. But what about poor people? Can they move to Goddard or Andover? Can they move to the newer parts of Wichita? These people don’t have the resources to do that.

    When school choice programs are implemented, they are sometimes restricted to poor and minority populations. In places where they aren’t it is often those parents who make greatest use of choice programs.

    Isabell, just what is it about choice — meaningful choice — that you object to?

    What is it about the existing government school monopoly on the use of public funds for education that you find so appealing? Most people are against monopoly power in the private sector. What is different about government that makes its monopoly power a good thing?

    Then, why won’t you tell us how much the Wichita schools spend per student per year? Do you really know the number, or do you not want to say it?

  • I do not object to meaningful choice. I do agree with the financial aspect of moving to a suburban district or to a different part of Wichita – that is why I said (in most cases) in the previous comment. There are options that are available to parents and the district seems to be trying to expand the magnet program to allow for more choices. I have a special transfer for my child to a school that is near my work. I asked and there was room available, so I have been allowed to choose where he is going.

    Something that I think is misleading is the number that is given as capacity for a school. The capacity number can be much lower in a school that houses special education programs or other programs (such as ESOL, etc.). A room that has the capacity for 25 students, that has been adapted for a program, such as SMD or and autistic program, may be modified to hold 5 students in order to meet their needs.

    This is also the case in the fiscal question that you ask on per pupil spending. As pointed out in an article, the numbers change based on which population you use. Different students have different needs. The FAPE act requires that all students have a free appropriate public education. The word “appropriate” carries a lot of weight. A special education student that is at risk and has multiple disabilities will need a great deal more to be considered appropriate to meet their needs.

    What I would like is for schools to be supported. I truly, honestly feel that if parents and community members spend time in schools that they would see why it is necessary to support the schools and also the bond.

    I think that there are a lot of things that an urban district are able to provide make the premise of consolidating some of the small districts into a larger district. This move that the state can make would save millions of dollars in the state budget as well as conserve resources, such as personnel, buildings, etc.

    I apologize if I made it sound like you said the lazy and corrupt comment – but the glacial pace one you did say. I read the lazy and corrupt wording in another person’s comments on another article. Although I have seen in several articles that you raise the issue of avoidance of accountability. What accountability has the district been avoiding? Which school (s) specifically has not been held accountable?

    The AYP scores that hold schools accountable, according to No Child Left Behind are based on one data point. If we based all of the performance of a company on a single day or week in March or April many companies would fail.

    I have been trying to answer your questions to the best of my abilities. I would appreciate you answering a question for me. I would like to know if you have spent time in schools in Wichita in order to make a determination about the bond issue. If you have, how much time have you spent? If not, why not?

  • Bob Weeks -

    Isabell, the fact that the Wichita school district has a monopoly on the use of public funds for education means there is no accountability. It is only when parents have a credible threat of moving their children to a different school — not just a different school within the same system — that accountability is in place.

    But here’s an example: earlier this year when two middle schools suffered the most severe sanctions that the NCLB law has, then-superintendent Brooks said he thought both principals would be re-hired. How is that holding anyone accountable?

    Isabell, I’ve not spent a lot of time in the Wichita schools. That doesn’t change the facts, does it? If you want to attack me rather than the facts, then you have descended into ad hominen attacks, and the debate has lost its focus.

    Okay, if you don’t want to answer the question as to spending per student, just answer what is the budgeted spending for this year by USD 259. Just so we have a few facts in place.

    I do find it remarkable when you say “What I would like is for schools to be supported.” This makes me think that you aren’t appreciative of the support we taxpayers do give to USD 259, even those who have no use for their product.

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