Charter Schools Gone Wild in California
This introduction is the first in a series of four articles on charter schools in the State of California. All four will be a part of an extended national report on charter schools, entitled Charters and Consequences, that will be published by the Network for Public Education in 2017.
You can find a charter in a mall, near a Burger King, where students as young as 12 meet their “teacher on demand.” Or, you can make a cyber visit to the “blended learning” Epic Charter School, whose students are required to meet a teacher (at a convenient, to be determined location) only once every 20 days. There is an added bonus upon joining Epic—students receive $1500 for a personal “learning fund,” along with a laptop computer. The enrollment site advertised that students could boost that fund by referring others to the charter chain.
A superintendent can expand his tiny rural district of 300 students to 4000 by running ‘independent study’ charters in storefronts in cities miles away, netting millions in revenue for his district, while draining the sometimes unsuspecting host district of students and funds. If he is clever, he might arrange a “bounty” for each one opened, while having a side business selling services to the charters. Charters can even provide lucrative investment opportunities for tennis stars and their friends. And then there is the opportunity to ‘cash in’ on international students at a jaw dropping $31,300 per student.
Exclusivity can be a magnet that draws families to charters. In districts with poverty, charters with a conservative and patriotic milieu, attract far fewer undocumented kids and students who need free lunch. For the ‘diverse adverse’ there are charters like Old Town Academy, whose students are 65% white and 6% poor, in a district where only 23% of the public school students are white and 61% receive subsidized lunch. If dog whistles don’t work, you can blatantly break the law and spell out the kind of student you would like to attend.
These examples (and there are many more like them) are not happening in Ohio or Pennsylvania, infamous for their ‘loosey goosey’ charter laws. They are examples from the beautiful and blue State of California, where flowers and charters grow wild.
California has the most charter schools and charter school students in the nation. In 2000, there were 299 charter schools in the Golden State. Last year there were 1230. Twenty-percent of the students in San Diego County attend its 120 charter schools.
Of the San Diego charter schools, over one-third promote independent learning, which means the student rarely, if ever, has to interact face to face with a teacher or fellow students. One of the largest independent learning charters, The Charter High School of San Diego, had 756 students due to graduate in 2015. Only 32% actually made it. The Diego Valley Charter School, part of the mysterious Learn4Life chain, tells prospective students that they “are only required to be at their resource center for one appointment per week (from 1-3 hours), so it’s not like Charter Schools Gone Wild in California - Network For Public Education: