Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Dallas should say ‘no thanks’ to charter schools.

Dr. Diane Ravitch is an education historian and research professor at New York University. She is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” a critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement. Ravitch was an assistant secretary of education in the administration of former president George H.W. Bush.
Recently Dr. Ravitch wrote an article titled “Why states should say 'no thanks' to charter schools.” It is online at Below are 6 of the reasons she gives in this article for rejecting charter schools as a solution.  They have been modified below for a 2/22/12 presentation before the Dallas City Council.


Charter schools haven’t helped other states. They won’t help Texas. They won't help Dallas. Here are 6 reasons Dallas should be very cautious about Charter Schools:

1. Numerous national and state studies have shown that charters on average don’t get better results than regular public schools. A small percentage get high scores, more get very low scores, most are about average in terms of test scores. Why kill off a community’s public schools to replace them with a privately managed school that is no better, and possibly worse?

2. Charter schools weaken the regular public schools. They take money away from public schools and from the district budget. As charter schools open, regular public schools must cut teachers and close down programs to pay for them. Dallas is now seeing this happen.

3. Many of the “high-performing” charter schools succeed by skimming off the best students, even in poor districts. The more they draw away the best students, the worse it is for the regular public schools, who are left with the weakest students. This cannot be avoided when parents must take the initiative to apply. Such involved parents, willing to do the needed research, and fill out the applications, also generally have children who are the better students. How can a charter school correct for that? Why would they want to?

4. Many charter schools succeed by excluding or limiting the number of students they accept who have disabilities or who are English language learners. They are also free to push out low-scoring or behavior problem students and send them back to the local public school. This improves their results, but it leaves the regular public schools with disproportionate numbers of the most challenging students. (The evidence that this may be happening in Dallas at Kipp Truth Academy is found in the large decrease in enrollment after 5th grade found in this study covering the years from 2008/09 through 2011/12.  The attrition from 5th grade to 8th grade is much higher than DISD.)

5. The money paid to charter schools is money that could be sent to public schools. Charters are free to pay often exorbitant executive compensation that wouldn’t be acceptable in a regular public school district.

6. Charters fragment communities and community leadership, such as this council. Instead of everyone working together to support the children and schools of their communities, time and resources go to charters and regular public schools fighting over these scarce resources and space. This is not good for education, or for children. Our community should be united in supporting our public schools.

Transferring control of public dollars to private hands is not reform. It is privatization. This strikes at the very heart of public education. It is a mirage. Texas needs to do the right thing and support a sound public education system that benefits all children equally, not just the children whose parents know enough to be able to invest the needed effort to enroll and then keep their child in a charter school.

(Original 6 points from Dr. Diane Ravitch, modified 2/22/12 by Bill Betzen for Dallas City Council. 

There is slowly increasing evidence of significant attrition within charter schools.  These students are not counted as dropouts as they transfer back to public schools, or possibly other schools.  Work is being done to track these students.  The indications that this attrition may be significant are found in the report on the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) study done for Dallas County ISD's .  That study indicated that almost all Dallas County ISD's had a positive improvement in their graduation rates, as measured by the CPI, from the years 2007/08 to 2009/10, with DISD one of the districts leading the way. But, inspite of all these positive numbers, when you removed only DISD enrollment from the entire Dallas County enrollment for all publically funded schools, which includes charter schools, the improvement goes negative 1.13 percentage points! That can only indicate a significant attrition within the charter schools as the average among the other ISD's should have left that number as a positive.  More study is needed of actual charter school enrollments to see if that can be verified. )