The “Privatization” Debate we Need

There’s a “public” school in Oakland that is 5% free and reduced lunch, 2% English language learners, 8% Latino and 8% Black.  In Oakland…  The average housing price in that neighborhood is $1.6 million.  It’s also one of the highest achieving schools.

That’s the” public” school, you buy your way into an exclusive enclave and you get an exclusive school.  That’s the “public” school.

So excuse me when my bullshit meter explodes, as folks want to always jump on the how charters aren’t public schools.  Compared to what?  That’s your “public” school.

Same in NYC with the gifted and talented programs and selective high schools, probably the same everywhere.  The highest performing public schools, look nothing like the district, and seem to be doing nothing to increase equity.  In fact it looks like quite the opposite.

But maybe that’s just me.

So please before you start talking about privatization, when charters come up for renewal or approval take a hard look.  What are the demographics of those schools and how are they doing?  The data is all public and online.  If charters aren’t serving the “public” or serving them well, that’s one thing, but if they are, and the “public” schools aren’t, then what?

Public schools serve the public

There are a host of schools coming up for renewal right now in Oakland, Ascend, Learning Without Limits, Oakland Charter High School, and KIPP Bridge.  The reports are online, all the data is there (or will be).  Someone show me how 5% free and reduced lunch district school is more “public” than any of these schools.

Or if you watched the Board meeting with ARISE charter, Oakland Flatlands kids getting amazing experiences, show me how that’s not a “public” school.

The “publicness” of something isn’t based on whether the District runs the school.  Legally segregated schools were “public.”  So please let’s move beyond this tired rhetoric and look at who schools are serving and how well they are doing.

That seems a much better definition of “public.”

But if someone wants to convince me with some facts that 5% free and reduced lunch district school is more public than 95% free and reduced lunch charter school, I am all ears.  I will even publish it.

What do you think?

14 thoughts on “The “Privatization” Debate we Need

  1. I don’t get your point. Are you saying that Oakland public schools shouldn’t serve rich people? You see the rich pay taxes (perhaps not all of them) as do poor people. I agree that there are differences in public schools that correlate with how wealthy you are and that poor kids don’t get an even break. Public schools exist across these class lines. Public schools don’t exclude anyone because of race, class, special needs, language, behavior, parents, or even if they have a home.

    It’s a good law, all students, all the time…but charter schools can work outside of these restrictions.

    It makes me angry that some charter schools can evaluate student’s behavior differently from public schools pushing them back to the public schools when the students don’t “measure up.” I’ve had some of these returned students and talked to their parents. Charter schools operate with different rules and often with far less bureaucratic oversight. Maybe that is part of why you are angry. If not it should be.

    I suggest that public school teachers put up with the same problems you appear to be familiar with and are well aware of the inequity. At one point, oh so many years ago, we parents and staff joined a local community group to demonstrate near one of Oakland’s privileged schools demanding that all of Oakland’s kids deserve an education as resourced, stable and full of art, music, science, etc., oddly not covered by the Tribune.

    As a retired Oakland/San Leandro teacher I’ve seen some of these burdens and understand how difficult it can be to see other schools with more/plentiful resources than my own. It was a sickening task, begging for resources fully deserved by all students. By your letter I’m sure you are aware of this day to day. Public school teachers face the same frustration.

    It’s a crying shame that the push to remake schools using the “business model” has led to OUSD being smothered by another massive $30 million dollar plus debt by another Broad trained Superintendent with another set of hurdles for another generation of children in Oakland. Mr. Wilson, having completed his task of straightening out OUSD now leaves to the next school district, god bless them. A teachable moment, eh? Don’t trust the privatizers.

    Parents, students, teachers, administrators and staff work hard in charters to do the same thing as public school teachers. We aren’t enemies.

    If public schools and charter schools are the same thing then we would face exactly the same laws, the same economic problems, the same students but we don’t. If you are somehow trying to say that public school teachers don’t care about their students my experience says you’re wrong. If I were to say the same thing to you as a charter school teacher I would be equally wrong. If you are saying that public schools and charter schools are treated exactly the same though, they aren’t. They are different.

    Raleigh McLemore

    1. I really do appreciate your comments, my point isnt that rich white folks shouldnt be here but that we shouldnt have such huge disparities. I write a lot about the problems with charters. I have had kids I work with treated unfairly. My big point is we need to make both sectors more equitable, hold every school treat kids and families fairly. Check out my last few posts, everyone gets mad at me.

      1. No doubt! In my opinion schools cannot be seen as societies only tool in over coming inequity.

        I’m out of the profession now other than volunteering to help new science teachers in the Exploratorium’s new teacher program. I guess I’d be interested to hear more about how you understand the meaning of the term “public schools.” Is your experience that all charter schools have to meet the same laws, standards, curriculum, etc? My experience doesn’t match up with the idea that we all take the same students and face the same hurdles on that path. I hear you saying that you feel your charter is working with the same kids as any of the public schools and I have no reason to believe otherwise, hell, I see it in the passion of your letter.

        An example for discussion. I’ve actually had a parent return to me saying that her son couldn’t attend the school closest to her home and, while I only have her story to go on, she felt it was her son’s developmental disability that prevented the change. She said the administrator told her her son “wasn’t a good fit” and she asked me if the school had the right to prevent him from attending. Actually there’s a number of these stories that many public school teachers experience.

        You hear these stories as well when parents bring their kids to you from another school, public or charter. . There’s no question that we need to think more creatively and trust a good teaching staff. We are not on opposing teams, are we?

        My point is that there are significant procedures and laws that some charters are not required to meet. Things like standardized testing are not done by some charters, they are not required to do so. Your charter might use standardize testing, perhaps even welcome it, but my experience is that high stakes testing can not only shape how/what we teach but warp it as well. I would agree with a charter that felt strong enough about the potential problems with how we test to not do them…but it is not an option for a public school. If you are in a public school you will, you must, use high stakes testing. A public school located next to a charter school that chooses not to use standardize testing might very well have teachers who feel the charter is a very different kind of place.

        Again, we should start with an agreed definition or we might not be talking about the same thing.
        As you can tell I’m a teacher who talks too much. Why don’t you define it.

        1. I appreciate the comments, Charter schools by law are not allowed to discriminate in admissions– some do– and should be punished and potentially closed. But that happens too often (and once is too often). Public schools to me are basically open admission, and somewhat representative of the community, they have to follow civil rights laws around non discrimination including language and special needs, transparent with money, outcomes, and decision making, and accountable to families and stakeholders. there are a lot of nuances in there but big picture but that’s a public school to me. Not saying all charters live up to this by any means but they should

  2. But charter school teachers and public school teachers are different. Charter school teachers and public school teachers, as Raleigh points out, do not work under the same working conditions because charter schools and charter school teachers do not have to follow the same provisions of the Education Code of California.

    In this discussion of how charter teachers and public school teachers are alike I fear that what gets lost is that charter law of California creates a competition between publicly managed and privately managed publicly funded schools. That then means it is the differences that matter including that charter law is designed to grow charter schools. The growth of charters is in the context of a zero sum game with the charter school growth is a growth that has to come at the expense of reducing the resources of the existing public schools, education tax dollars follow the enrollment of students.

    California charter law therefore makes the relationship between charter schools and public schools not symbiotic but parasitic. The false claim that charter schools are public schools is a propaganda effort of supporters of charter schools to hide the ugly reality that public schools are the host for the parasitic charters seeking public school enrollment to grow and survive.

    1. As a matter of fact i believe roughly a quarter of charter teachers in CA are in dependent charters with the exact same contract, And yes that horrible 5 Keys Charter School operating in SF jail, how parasitic giving young vulnerable folks education who otherwise would not get it

      1. As a lawyer you should be able to find something in California Charter Law that references what you claim are “dependent charters” defined as having the exact same contract as a public school.

        I am aware of reference in California charter law addressing whether or not funding for charter schools is sent directly to a charter school or if the funding is sent through the authorizing entity of a charter school.

        Perhaps whether the funding is being sent directly or indirectly is what you mean by a dependent charter school.

        But whether a charter in California has a contract with a union or not is a separate question. And, whether or not a union contract in an authorizing school district and the union contract in a district authorized charter school are alike should not make a charter school a “dependent charter”. By law all charters are independent of their authorizer with a separate and independent governing board; and, how charters are funded, whether directly or indirectly, does not impact that independence.

        Dirk Tillotson I’m waiting patiently by my computer for you to provide the reference in California charter law that refers to the concept of a dependent charter. Having heard reference made to dependent charters, I’ve searched more than once and have not found any language in California charter law supporting the concept of a dependent charter. Maybe you can show me what I have been missing.

        Jim Mordecai

        1. I will always try to respectfully respond to respectful requests on this site and to add data or sources, I am the last person to say I know the right answers I am looking for them, like may others. But don’t take a tone of demanding an answer the second after you ask a question, I am with my family.

          That said I took that info from this report

          which critiqued the critique of the charter admissions policies- which needed critiquing

          But let me be clear, I will treat anybody who treats me with respect respectfully, but if you expect me to jump your you better ask somebody

          Many of us have watched as the cvility rules were violated at the last Board meeting, and an individual tried to talk over our elected Board chair, and said they would not comply with the rules, I have never banned anyone, but that is not how this forum will work

          1. “…step n fetchit shit…” Did you actually read his letter? When I read Mr. Mordecai’s letter I got nothing of a lack of respect. I would suggest anyone who reads this entire string to carefully evaluate your ability to provide a reasoned, cited point of view with what appears to me to be a reasonable question. While you hesitantly provide a citation yours is an irrationally defensive response to his question in your tone. I don’t get it.

            I’ll repeat Mr. Mordecai’s last paragraph here as I think it is a fair question that deserves some courtesy if are to learn anything from each other:

            “Dirk Tillotson I’m waiting patiently by my computer for you to provide the reference in California charter law that refers to the concept of a dependent charter. Having heard reference made to dependent charters, I’ve searched more than once and have not found any language in California charter law supporting the concept of a dependent charter. Maybe you can show me what I have been missing.”

            As near as I can tell he is asking for further evidence and proof of your position. You provide it at a cost. Perhaps you are too busy and should wait to respond until such time as you can answer the question with out the insulting tone?

            “I’m a little busy to do this now” or “This isn’t all I have to do in my life so I can’t give you that information right now.” Sure. I get it, but claiming he is demanding some kind of outrageous behavior for requesting particular proof of your own words is nonsense. Using the terms “step n fetchit” has so many problems given the present context that it represents another discussion entirely.

            Thought this was supposed to be some kind of reasoned, evidence based discussion. Your letter to Mr. Mordecai makes me think you will go to insults rather than try to build understanding. Too bad. Thought this might be helpful, but this last statement makes me think I am wrong.

      2. Dirk Tillotson. In making your case that charter schools in California are not parasitic you presented an example of 5 Keys charter school working in the S.F. Jail. You claim that without “5 Keys charter school imprisoned young folks would be getting an education. Let say that is the case. Then you are right that a charter program serving a population that does have an education program is not parasitic charter school. But, the California Legislature wrote its charter school law so that charter schools are parasitic or how the Legislature would have framed it: competitive.

        The number of charter schools that are not competing for enrollment with existing public schools is a tiny exception to the rule that charter schools are like a financial parasite that can only grow at the expense of its host the nearby school district.

        1. I apologize for the language. It reflected a frustration from the last Board meeting where Mr. Mordecai said he would not follow the civility rules, would not surrender the microphone and disrespected and attempted to talk over our Board chair. He also refused to apologize as far as I know. Everybody on the OUSD Board is working very hard, and whether I agree with them or not they deserve respect, as does the forum itself and the students and families in attendance. And given that history I read the comment and interpreted it somewhat differently (hearing sarcasm in it not sincerity) but I am always willing to apologize when I make a mistake

  3. Thanks for your example of Five Keys. I appreciate you taking the time to explain things that concern you.

    I know nothing of this school but if it is doing a better job for students than when I was incarcerated at what was known as the “Green House” (Youth Guidance Center) oh so many years ago (yikes I was there a few times!) then I’m glad they are there. I’ll find out more about it as my experiences with the Youth Guidance Center (I’ve been in jail a number of times for Civil Rights/Anti-War/Anti Corporate activities is the worst. I deeply and furiously hate what our society does to our youth who are told they cross the law. I will always remember going into the Green House thinking how tough I was but finding some of the kids ready to beat me to death in some gutter and realizing I wasn’t as tough as I thought. In those days we were all released from our holding cells, taken to one large room, and taught altogether…yes, we were all taught the ABCs whether 7 or 17 years old by a religious teacher who cared for our souls…I suppose.

    Your example, proving the value of one charter school seems to be a reply to something I don’t think I’ve said: “All charters are not relevant and they are unable to help students who have unmet needs..” Never been my position and I can name some charter schools who from personal experience I know have a terrifically dedicated staff and teacher. The question is are charters “public” schools?

    As Craig stated in his response all public schools have a set of laws and policies that, for better or worse, restrict the kind of teaching that can happen and that demand all student’s be welcomed. This was certainly my experience in teaching. Can’t say I was fully trained to meet those needs at times but I can say I wasn’t asked if a student with autism spectrum issues came to my class. I was expected to develop a curriculum and teach. As far as I know it was never a question of whether we “wanted” the student or not, it was a question of “are we prepared to meet the needs of this student?” .

    Having said this I generally agree with your definition of public schools:

    “Public schools to me are basically open admission, and somewhat representative of the community, they have to follow civil rights laws around non discrimination including language and special needs, transparent with money, outcomes, and decision making, and accountable to families and stakeholders. there are a lot of nuances in there but big picture but that’s a public school to me.”

    I could easily give a number of examples of charters that do not meet your definition. I gather you feel your school(s) do meet it. But the law says charters don’t have to meet these laws and some charters choose otherwise. Charters are different from public schools that way. It isn’t a question to me that you or your staff are dedicated to your students.

    I don’t doubt that you can name numerous charters that you think are exemplary…I can do the same with public schools. There are charter schools that choose to follow ed code on some things they don’t need to follow, again for better or for worse. They choose to behave in a way where a public school has no choice at all. It’s the choice that makes the charter schools different.

    I appreciate that you have examples, probably many, that will convince me that some charter schools are good and your original posts show you know that some are bad in how they serve the poorest communities. I already agree with you and I bet you would agree with me when I say the same thing about some public schools. Assuming you agree that charters do have certain opportunities to teach differently from public schools perhaps the question in front of us is are those differences enough to distinguish charters from public schools? I gather you disagree with that difference removing charters from the category of public schools.

    Would it be wrong to say that you feel your charter school(s) behave in a way entirely consistent and agreement with all educational code and laws faced by public schools, even those you are not required to follow? In that case I could see you saying “What is the difference between my charter school and your public school?” A worthwhile question, no? Since I don’t know much about your school it would be useful to know more in discussing this. Oddly enough, because a public school is, as you well state: “…accountable to families and stakeholders.” you might be able to understand the public school position easier than I the charter school position. I don’t know how you are allowed to teach…only that you care very much that teaching meets the needs of kids who desperately can benefit from a caring and competent teacher.

    This is a discussion of your question “charter/public.” There are other questions about charter schools that concern me that do not revolve around “charter/public.” I’m speaking here of some charter organizations that are not transparent, that are selective and restrictive and that have corporate backers that, in my opinion, show a great ideological hate of public schools. Trump’s new Secretary of Education will attempt to encourage this group and their hate of public schools even more. The hate extends beyond public schools to those students who need them. This is another question entirely.

    Charter schools are different from public schools because they are not required to follow the same rules. This difference is real and it’s significant.

    Most teachers and staff work very hard in charter and public schools and they deserve better in their work.

    1. I appreciate the comments and agree with pretty much every thing you said, I am not a defender of “charter schools” there are great ones, terrible ones, corrupt ones. I apologize if I was little punchy, And totally agree with some of the critiques of very negative policies that some folks who support charters also support. I write a lot about some of the pathos in the “reform movement” and am persona non grata in many circles there. And folks are working their butts off in most any school in Oakland and never want to disrespect that. I would hope that the district schools like 5% school get more “public” and same to the charters that arent transparent, responsive, open admissions etc–

More Comments