By Matt Jones
Myth: The State Does Not Have the Power to Approve Charter Schools That Were Denied by Local School Boards
Fact: The Georgia Department of Education currently has the authority to review and approve state charter applications.
According to State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, “with the state charter schools review process already in place, why does Georgia need another state agency that can do the same thing?”
Myth: Charter Schools Are More Innovative and Flexible
Fact: Charters are allowed to “kick out” students for behavior or academic reasons.
Where do these students go once they are kicked out? They go back to the area’s traditional public school. This “flexibility” charters are given to kick out students means the most challenging students are simply tossed around and the real issues are never addressed. True innovation would mean that charters would be forced to find solutions to teaching the most challenging students. Charters can only prove their perceived innovative edge if they are required to meet the same challenges as their traditional school counterparts.
Fact: Charters are able to hire uncertified teachers/staff and ignore class size caps.
In Florida, charters are given the flexibility to ignore state standards, opt out of being assigned a grade, and do not have to meet the same building standards required of traditional public schools. If the proposed charter amendment passes, Georgia is likely to follow Florida’s lead.
It should be noted that the lawmakers who sponsored/supported the proposed charter amendment are the same ones who have a history of creating more red tape for traditional public schools.
Myth: State Charter Schools Will Not Take Funds Away from Traditional Public Schools
Fact: If the proposed charter amendment passes, charter schools authorized by the Commission will be 100% funded by the state.
Currently, state funds make up just 37.8% of school funding for traditional public schools with local funding making up the majority. A decade ago, state funds accounted for over 50% of school funding. The funding burden has steadily shifted from the state to local property owners.
If the state can’t provide 37.8% for current traditional schools, how is it going to provide 100% funding for a separate charter school system? Why are some legislators advocating for an additional constitutional obligation, when the state is unable to fulfill its current constitutional obligation?
Fact: The state has a constitutional obligation to fully fund and provide for an adequate public education for every student in Georgia.
Currently, the state is not meeting its constitutional responsibility. Most Georgians understand that budget cuts were necessary due to the economic downturn, but the passage of the charter amendment would bind the state to additional funding obligations.
Myth: Charter Schools Are Public Schools
Fact: There are many elements of charter schools that make them appear more private than public.
Though charter proponents tout that any child is allowed to attend a charter school, there are many barriers in place that “screen” students:
- Many charters require students to go through an application and interview process;
- Parents must commit to volunteering at the school (difficult for single parent families or families where both parents work);
- Students must sign a behavior and academic contract (if broken, students can be kicked out);
- Some charters do not have lunchrooms and do not provide transportation (barriers that keep out economically disadvantaged students).
If the only test for “public” school status is receiving public funding, then charters are “public” schools. Applying any other criteria that public schools have to meet would indicate charter schools are a front for privatizing public education.
Fact: The charter movement has close ties with the pro-school choice movement.
The President of the Georgia Charter School Association (GCSA) recently was spotlighted in the documentary Making the Grade Georgia. The documentary advocates for expanded choice, including vouchers, home schooling, and online learning. Recently, GCSA participated in an event that included advocates for these very issues. Clearly, GCSA is including itself as part of the movement to privatize public education in Georgia.
Myth: Charters Serve All Students
Fact: Many charter schools use lotteries to avoid qualifying for AYP testing, making it difficult to compare their success to public schools.
If students are able to jump over all of the barriers mentioned above (applications, interviews, parent volunteer commitments, behavior and academic contracts, etc.), then they are entered into a lottery. Currently, schools are measured for their overall test scores, but also the test scores of students in different subgroups (Economically Disadvantaged, English Language Learners, Black, White, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, Students With Disabilities). All testing subgroups must meet the same pass rate or the school does not make AYP. If a school has a low number of test takers in a subgroup, then the scores of those test takers do not count toward the school’s overall performance. Lotteries are designed to keep the class sizes of charter schools small. Many charters use this mechanism to exploit a loophole in the methods used to measure a school’s performance.
Fact: Overall, data suggests that students who are the most challenging to teach and require the most resources are not being served by charters in the state.
EmpowerED Georgia looked at the AYP for all of the charter schools in Georgia and did not find any charter schools in the state with a Students With Disabilities (SWD) testing group that counted towards AYP. Clearly, the needs of students with disabilities can be ignored by charters since charters are not being held accountable for this sub-group’s performance.
In regards to English Language Learners (ELL), EmpowerED only found three charters with enough ELL to count as an AYP sub-group. Out of the three, only one charter school made AYP in this category. As expected, most traditional public school counterparts served a very diverse student population (including SWD and ELL).
Myth: Charters Seek to Put the Interests of Families and Students First
Fact: Proponents of the proposed charter amendment wave the banner of families and children, while advocating the interests of business interests over students’ interests.
Looking at the list of sponsors for the Georgia Charter School Association (GCSA), EmpowerED Georgia found a laundry list of for-profit interests – charter management, school construction, curriculum, and investment companies -- which will benefit directly from the passage of the proposed constitutional amendment.
If GCSA has its way and the Charter Amendment passes, it seems they might look to a state like Michigan, which has lax charter school regulations. Michigan has 80% of charters being run by for-profit management companies. For them, it is about expanding a market and not about improving education for every child.
Proponents’ claim of representing the interests of families even expands to the name of the group promoting the passage of the charter amendment -- Families for Better Public Schools, but their actions speak louder than their words.
Recently, Families for Better Public Schools (FBPS) held a $1,000 per plate fundraiser (corporate sponsorship was $10,000 per plate). Not many “everyday” families could afford that kind of fundraiser, so are they really representing everyday Georgia families?
Fact: For these groups and individuals, support of the proposed charter amendment equates to making a business investment, instead of investing in all of our schools and all of our children.
Many would think that a true grassroots organization would have a charter school parent or teacher at its head. However, FBPS’s Director is Mark Peevy. Peevy is the former president of the Georgia Charter School Association and current co-owner of a for-profit company called Ed Innovation Partners, LLC, which provides services to help clients establish and run charter schools.
A glance at FBPS’s website and promotional materials makes it appear that they represent the interests of everyday Georgia families, but beyond the stock photos lies a web of self-serving actions, instead of student-serving actions.
Myth: Charter Schools Increase Student Achievement
Fact: Multiple Studies and Reports Call Into Question the Effectiveness of Charter Schools.
A comprehensive study conducted by Stanford University (which included Georgia) concluded that 83% of the nation’s charters performed the same or worse than their traditional school counterparts. A recent report from the Georgia Department of Education found that charters in the state do not out perform traditional public schools.
Fact: Charter school proponents regularly cherry pick data and make broad comparisons.
Often, they point to the overall scores of the area’s traditional schools and compare them to the overall scores of the charter school. Proponents continue to twist the data in order to push an agenda. When it comes to true comparisons, the devil is in the details.
Comparisons must be made on a sub-group to sub-group basis (i.e. comparing the performance of charter school students with disabilities to that of traditional school students with disabilities). The proposed charter amendment does not include such a requirement.
Myth: Charters Will Expand Choice and Create Competition
Fact: Passage of the charter amendment does not guarantee that charters would be added to areas that have chronically underperforming schools.
In this economic climate with over a billion being cut to education each year and with teacher furloughs/layoffs, shortened school calendars, and increased class sizes, it does not make fiscal sense to allow the creation of state charters in areas with performing schools. Are additional educational options really needed in areas with high-performing schools? If the amendment is really about improving education, why isn’t charter authorization being targeted in areas with chronically underperforming schools?
If, as charter school advocates claim, choice creates competition and competition drives a school’s performance, why is choice not being offered in areas with chronically underperforming schools? Why are charter schools avoiding serving these areas, and why are they avoiding serving the most challenging children (and the ones they claim would benefit the most from their services)?
Fact: True competition can only exist if the same system of rules and regulations are in place for all participating parties.
Comparing charters and traditional public schools is like comparing apples and oranges. Charters can kick out students, whereas traditional public schools must educate every child that enters their doors. Charters can mandate parental involvement and acceptable student behavior, whereas traditional public schools have no such authority. Charters can screen students, whereas traditional public schools are committed to educating every child.
The amendment is not a referendum about charter schools or even school choice. The real story is that the State of Georgia is undermining our traditional public schools (as well as our local charter schools) through the severe cuts in financial support and by increasing red tape (expanded testing, Common Core, merit pay, etc.). Changes are needed, but they must be positive, constructive changes and not gimmicks. The proposed charter amendment is not a choice between expanding charter schools and protecting local control or even between increasing options and preserving the status quo. It is about whether we should go down a new road until we have given the schools we have a chance to succeed. That answer is a resounding “No.”
Matt Jones is a public school teacher in Toombs County and the co-founder of EmpowerED Georgia.
(Editor's note: The opinions expressed here are strictly those of the writer and do not necessary reflect those of Duluth Patch.)
How do you feel about the charter school amendment? Tell us in the comment space below.