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Charter School Lotteries Leave Many Kids Behind

Charter School Lotteries Leave Many Kids Behind

A free alternative to failing public schools, where students truly learn, grow and achieve — that is what many claim we have found in charter schools.   Do these schools sound too good to be true?  It turns out that for some, they just might be.

Charter schools are popping up all over the country, especially in cities like New York and Washington D.C. — those infamous for their failing public school systems.  Charter schools currently teach more than 1.5 million students in the United States, double the number six years ago.

While not all charter schools outperform their local public schools, many do turn out stellar test scores and impressive data.  Most mandate students to wear uniforms and project an image of success, giving students pride in their school and in themselves.  Nevertheless, because there are not enough charter schools to accommodate all of our nation’s children, thousands of students remain in failing public schools. 

Are Charter School Admissions Fair?

Charter school admissions are done through a “blind” lottery.  Parents submit an application for individual school’s lotteries.

While that sounds fair, it turns out that this lottery system is hardly random.  Logically, this system automatically excludes children who might not find their way to apply.  These children likely come from the least stable families.  Perhaps they are homeless, have a parent with a severe medical condition or are children of addicts.   Perhaps they are neglected or abused children whose parents are not concerned with their education.  Or maybe, they are children whose parents simply are not aware of the opportunities around them.  Like any other service, Charter schools choose where, how and to whom they spread awareness about their existence.  In this way, their entrants are self-selected. 

Racial Imbalance?

There is also some evidence that while charter schools have open admissions, they do not cater to all demographic groups equally.  An article in the New York Times this week exposed that Hispanics are marginalized in New York’s Charter Schools. African Americans make up 30 percent of the enrollment in the New York City school system at large, but 60 percent of the enrollment of charter schools.  On the other hand, Hispanics account for 40 percent of the enrollment of public schools and only about 30 percent of the enrollment in charter schools.  For example, at Icahn Charter School 4 in the South Bronx, slightly more than a third of the students are Hispanic, while a traditional public elementary school — two blocks away — is three quarters Hispanic. St. Joseph School, the Catholic Elementary School that I work for, is in the same neighborhood and is 65 percent Hispanic.

Similarly, charter schools have proportionally fewer English language learners, regardless of their ethnicity, than nearby public schools. Only 5 percent of charter students are classified as English Language Learners, compared with 15 percent of public school students.  This issue is just beginning to attract attention of state legislators and others who are asking why.  Is it that Hispanic parents do not feel comfortable applying to the schools or with the services the charter schools offer? Or, is it that they are just unaware these schools even exist?

I think it is a mixture of both.  There was never a translated directory of charter schools in New York City until this year.  For the first time, this directory has been translated it into eight languages. According to the Times, of more than a dozen Hispanic parents interviewed at a public library in the South Bronx, only one had heard of the Icahn 4 Charter School, which is just two blocks away.  Further, the New York Times interviewed parents and said that many were “skittish about sending their children to a school where they would be among only a few Latino students.” 

Survival of the Fittest?

So what happens to the lucky students who get chosen from the lottery? Once you are in, that does not mean your spot is secure.  A study of the KIPP Charter School chain shows “selective attrition” in which academic strugglers and disruptive students leave the schools in greater numbers than other students.

A teacher at Harlem Success Academy, a chain of four charter schools said, “I’m not a big believer in special ed.”  He went on to claim that many children who arrive with individualized education programs, or IEPs, really only have maturity issues, which the teachers work to reverse.  However when remediation falls short at Harlem Success, families are counseled out.  The Harlem success teacher continued, “Eva (Moskowitz, the CEO of Harlem Success Academy) told us that the school is not a social-service agency.”

According to an article in NY Magazine, when students are deemed “a bad fit,” the administration of Harlem Success creates a nightmare for their families — repeatedly suspending children and making constant phone calls until parents take their children elsewhere. At one Harlem Success school alone, a teacher said at least six lower-grade children who were eligible for IEPs were withdrawn this school year.

As writer Jonathan Kozol asserted, a huge problem with school choice is that the “ultimate choices” tend to get made “by those who own or operate a school.”

Not “There” Yet

Some charter school advocates may claim the most important aspect of any school is that it educates the students inside its walls.  However, it is much easier for these schools to educate their children and turn out impressive test scores when their populations are purposely skewed toward more motivated students. These issues need to be further addressed before we can claim charter schools represent a successful “come one come all” community.  School administrations and political leaders need to devise policies so this system does not continue to marginalize already marginalized groups of children.  What use are these ideal learning environments to our country — and to our children — if every student does not have the opportunity to attend them? 

 

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37 comments

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11:48AM PST on Jan 29, 2011

Please re-read these paragraphs from the article if you think charter schools don't cherry pick their students to try to rig their achievement ratings. Basically if the students are anything but the easiest and brightest students, the schools get rid of them. ESPECIALLY READ THE LAST PARAGRAPH - WHERE IT SAYS THE SCHOOL CREATES A NIGHT MORE FOR THE PARENTS UNTIL THEY PULL THE STUDENT OUT

A study of the KIPP Charter School chain shows "selective attrition" in which academic strugglers and disruptive students leave the schools in greater numbers than other students.

A teacher at Harlem Success Academy, a chain of four charter schools said, "I'm not a big believer in special ed." He went on to claim that many children who arrive with individualized education programs, or IEPs, really only have maturity issues, which the teachers work to reverse. However when remediation falls short at Harlem Success, families are counseled out. The Harlem success teacher continued, "Eva (Moskowitz, the CEO of Harlem Success Academy) told us that the school is not a social-service agency."

According to an article in NY Magazine, when students are deemed "a bad fit," the administration of Harlem Success creates a nightmare for their families -- repeatedly suspending children and making constant phone calls until parents take their children elsewhere.

11:41AM PST on Jan 29, 2011

It is ridiculous to put money into a for-profit school system. Put the money into the public schools intelligently and you will get more bang for the buck.

While NYC charter schools use lotteries for admission, not all charter schools do so nationally. Some cherry pick their students.

NONE are required to take special needs children, as the public schools ARE, depending on whether they have "appropriate facilities".

Somewhere around 95% of all charter schools are non-union. As a result of poor pay and long hours they have an extremely high turnover rate of teachers.
"The evidence to date shows that the higher turnover of staff undermines school performance more than it enhances it"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_school#Student_test_scores_down_and_staff_turnover_higher

They have not shown themselves to consistently provide better results.

"In its Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program: Final Report released in 2003, the U.S. Department of Education found that, in the five case study states, charter schools were out-performed by traditional public schools in meeting state performance standards, but noted: “It is impossible to know from this study whether that is because of the performance of the schools, the prior achievement of the students, or some other factor.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_school#United_States_Department_of_Education_study

4:37AM PST on Jan 28, 2011

Another tool used in the Midwest to promote discrimination. Hispanic? You can attend a charter school. African-American? You, too, can attend a charter school. Caucasian? No charter school time for you. Public school for Whitey. In the Midwest, jobs go the same way. Whites are the new minority.

12:09PM PDT on Aug 9, 2010

We don't have any charter schools close to wear I live, so I can't really comment on them. Their attitude regarding special needs children does upset me. If these schools really want to show how great they are, then why don't they do whatever is necessary to keep them in the school and do everything in their power to properly educate them? And as far as public schools go, I am sure there are some bad ones, but there are some really great ones too. What public schools need is our help and support, not to be put down.

8:46AM PDT on Jun 30, 2010

thanks annika k for the link, that was an eyeopener

4:29PM PDT on Jun 24, 2010

Tax revenues are earmarked for bailing out banks and wall street. We could learn a lot from Cuba. All of their people are offered a free education to the level of M.D. if they choose. It's time to lift the embargo for them. Fidel was absolutely right to do away with United Fruit, the Mafia controlled casinoes. Of course, rich Cubans didn't want their wealth redistributed. Which country is more facist? Welcome to the fall of America.

4:02PM PDT on Jun 24, 2010

My son and his wife teach at a Charter School, which ranks quite high. I think we need to make more regular schools into Charter schools, myself..and give much kids a chance!!

11:26AM PDT on Jun 24, 2010

Which selection process is more unfair. A random lottery or address? Unless you give people options for choosing schools that they think better meets their child's needs you are basically saying - "If you want to choose a different school move to a different zone." To me, that sound supremely unfair. This really isn't a matter of charter schools. The same things apply to specialty schools (say a school that focuses on engineering or public service), or schools that run 12 months per year instead of 10. If your public school system wants to develop different types of schools for different types of kids they will need to allow choice and be able to deal with more applicants than available seats.

What does the author think a fair system would be, or must all schools be a perfect fit for all kids?

10:26PM PDT on Jun 23, 2010

Charter schools aren't for everyone. Those with maturity problems may end up being fine, but often a behavioral special need such as ADHD can't be fully controlled. The success of these Charter Schools are based on the fact that the children who go there have parents who want them there, and the whole family unit will work together to ensure the success of the child. There is little room for those who don't understand, and this is why many are successful.

On the other hand, I think more provisions should be made for those who have special situations such as homelessness, abuse, etc, because these are the children who are most desperately in need of strong schools.

My son goes to Wisconsin Virtual Learning, an online public school in my state. This has been the best thing for him but of course as a parent, I'm 100% involved in the learning process as the learning coach. I wish I could help out other children, as I'd be willing to take in a homeless or abused child for this type of one on one learning.

9:22AM PDT on Jun 23, 2010

Thanks for the article!

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