Monday, January 9, 2017

A disturbing look at how charter schools are hurting a traditional school district - The Washington Post

A disturbing look at how charter schools are hurting a traditional school district - The Washington Post:

A disturbing look at how charter schools are hurting a traditional school district

Bethlehem Steel is reflected in the Lehigh River in Bethlehem, Pa., on Nov. 8, 1995. Bethlehem Steel Corp. extinguished its last blast furnace at its flagship plant that year, sending home 1,800 workers and ending an operation that had been pouring steel since the Civil War. (Nanine Hartzenbusch/AP)

Charter schools have become a central feature of the school “choice” movement, itself a key part of corporate school reform which seeks to operate public schools as if they were businesses rather than civic institutions. There are now thousands of charters — which are publicly funded but independently operated, sometimes by for-profit companies — enrolling a few million students in 43 states and the District of Columbia, who make up about 6 percent of public school students across the country.
While they are a small minority of the public school student population, outsized controversy surrounds charter schools in many communities, especially in states where lax oversight has resulted in financial irregularities and traditional public schools are negatively impacted. There are so many issues surrounding charter schools that in October 2016, leaders of the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, bucked intense pressure from charter supporters and ratified a resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charters and for stronger oversight of these schools.
Here’s a cautionary post about the impact of charter schools in one school district in Pennsylvania, one of a number of states with extremely lax charter school laws. It was written by  Carol Burris, a former New York high school principal who is executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education. She was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, the same organization named her the New York State High School Principal of the Year. She has been chronicling problems with corporate school reform for years, including with a series about troubled charter schools in California.
On Jan. 11, the Senate education confirmation will hold confirmation hearings on Betsy DeVos, the Michigan billionaire selected by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next U.S. education secretary. She is an unabashed supporter of charter schools, and has worked in the past against strong oversight of the schools.  Senators asking her questions may want to ask her about charter oversight and the dynamic around charters in Pennsylvania and the Bethlehem Area School District, as described by Burris.

By Carol Burris
Bethlehem is a proud city with a tidy historic downtown that appears well-kept and well-intentioned.  Income is below the national average, and unemployment is slightly higher, yet it is still in far better shape than neighboring small cities such as Allentown.
The Bethlehem Steel Plant that once kept the economy robust closed down about 20 years ago. Now the small city is a small tech hub with tourism, major medical networks and local universities providing work for its nearly 75,000 residents.
The public schools of the city do a fine job serving their majority minority students, of whom nearly 60 percent receive free or reduced-priced lunch. There are few dropouts, and an outstanding music program keeps kids engaged.  Bethlehem’s two high schools offer AP courses, and SAT scores are consistently close to or above the national average, with most students taking the test.
It has not been easy supporting the public schools, however, given the financial challenges of A disturbing look at how charter schools are hurting a traditional school district - The Washington Post:

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