Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cherry-Picking Problem

In US News, we find Anne Osborne and David Osborne playing "So's your old man" with US public schools on the subject of cherry picking. Why complain about charter schools cherry picking, they say, when public schools do it, too? "The Charter School Pot and Kettle" lays out some public school examples, and also tried to make the case that charters don't really cream or skim or cherry pick, which leaves their argument something along the lines of "We don't do that, and anyway, you do it, too."

But as the article has surfaced in the twitterverse and the whole cherry-picking argument has been stirred up again, it's fair to revisit the issue. When you're in the habit of opposing something, it can be easy to kind of forget exactly what it is you were opposed to in the first place, and it's a good exercise to take your premises out and re-examine them from time to time. So let's play that game.

What's wrong with cherry-picking students?

A Creamy Clarification

Osborne and Osborne claim that there's no reason to think that charters push students out. Their support is a 2013 working paper by Ron Zimmer (Vanderbilt) and Cassandra Guarino (Indiana University) about charter pushouts. That paper looks at data from 2001-2006, which was pretty much an entirely different universe when it comes to charter schools. Stacked up against the anecdotal evidence and occasional news stories like Success Academy's Got To Go list, the fifteen year old data is not very convincing. Even the charter-friendly American Enterprise Institute just published a paper concluding that while push-outs and creaming couldn't be decisively proven, there was more than enough smoke to suggest a high probability of fire.

So let's just go ahead and assume that cherry-picking, creaming, skimming, push-outing, homogenizing, and whatever else we want to call the general pattern of controlling the composition of your student population are all part of the same thing, which we're going to call cherry-picking for the moment because we've got to call the whole business something and I am one lazy typist.

Back to the question at hand. What are the arguments against charter cherry-picking? And do they involve anything that a public school system, complete with magnets, is not also guilty of?

Democracy and Public Schools

For some folks, it's fundamental to their understanding of institutions that serve the public that those institutions can't pick and choose who is served. Your local hospital is not supposed to turn you away because you're dressed funny. Your city's public parks are not supposed to be barred to certain parts of the population. And your public school is supposed to take everyone who shows up at its doors.

Yes, there are lots of situations in which the member of the public gets to make some choices. In charterland, the student is supposed to be getting choice. In public school land, families choose where to live and that includes a choice about schools.

It's true in both cases that there are other barriers set up to keep students from particular schools. In the public school world, poor families can't buy homes in rich kid school neighborhoods. Magnet schools deliberately filter out certain students from attending, and while an arts school discriminates based on talent and not race or class, the rich kid who took dance lessons from age two has an advantage.

There are charters out there that are similar to magnet schools in that they are supposed to be organized around a particular focus. But at the end of the day, the public system must accept every student who is entitled by residence to attend (barring some expulsion-worthy level of extreme or illegal misbehavior). Charters not only get to pick and choose, but because they have limited capacity, they will not accept all comers. That is not what we expect from public schools.

The Left Behind

Because virtually all charter school states depend on a fundamentally dishonest funding system for charters, every child left behind in public school is left in a financially weakened institution.  

Cherry-picking charter enrollment is picking winners and losers. Under our current system, every "Congratulations, kid. You get to go to this shiny new charter school," is accompanied with ten "Sorry, kids, but we're cutting this program because we can't afford it, and by the way, you're stuck in this public school."

All right-- that's not entirely true. Charter cherry picking is like picking winners and losers only if we're in a situation where the charter is better than the public school. But since that is rarely the case, what cherry picking really gets us is losers and losers, with a whole bunch of money that could have made the public school better spent on vapor.

Those Children

Speaking of picking winners and losers. Charters are often both sold and selected not because of academics, but because of location or peer group. As was rather graphically displayed recently in Pennsylvania, sometimes the pitch for a charter is simply, "Insure your child won't go to school with any of Those Children."

This makes cherry-picking exceptionally ugly-- it means that the charter operators are officially certifying that your child is not one of Those Children. It reinforces a world view in which some people are just better than other people. And the charter application process si somehow linked to deciding which students "deserve" to be "saved."

And because charters are businesses, "better than" generally means "more profitable." Cherry picking reinforces the idea that students with special needs, students from poor families, students from unsupportive home environments, students who are carrying heavy baggage-- those students are all Those Students, the lessers, the students who aren't as good, as worthy.

Do public school systems commit similar misbehavior? Yes, yes, they do. They label a school "the bad school" or shuttle more challenging cases into special programs housed in special buildings. Sometimes we're seeing a real, even successful, program to address a certain set of student needs. Sometimes we're seeing an attempt to just warehouse the problems. That is not okay.

The Charter Cake: For Having and Eating

One person's cherry picking is another person's careful and appropriate sorting. There are many instances in which cherry picking would be okay. But if Osborne and Osborne want to know why charges of cherry picking are so often lobbed against charter schools, this would be it--

You can't cherry-pick your student body AND claim to have an educational solution for all students.

You can't carefully select the top students from an urban setting and then declare that you know how to raise achievement levels for all poor kids. Well, you can-- but you'd be a liar.

You can't carefully pick Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky for your swim team and then claim their success proves you know how to make every child a great swimmer.

You can't carefully select your student body and then announce that you have miraculous out-performed all the public schools who are serving the full range of students in your area.

I have some respect for the charter fans who are up front about this stuff, people like Mike Petrilli who are direct about saying that the charter mission is to get the better students, the strivers, away from the crappy low-achievers. But if that's what you're doing in your charter, do not turn around and tell me that you've discovered the secret of elevating low-achieving students. Do not tell me that you are an example of how to handle the kind of students that you don't even let in the door of your school.

If your charter is cherry picking, then we can add cherry picking to the list (with more money, smaller classes, and more instruction time) of pedagogical ideas that charters have discovered in much the same way that Columbus discovered America.


  1. Thanks for getting the word out.

  2. There's a clear reason why the charter vs. public situations aren't parallel, though. When a public school keeps out or gets rid of a student it doesn't want, that student is still the responsibility of the school district (and another school in the district whose principal and teachers are colleagues of the kick-out school). When a charter keeps out or kicks out a student it doesn't want, it never has to set eyes on or give a thought to that student again. That's a huge, glaring difference.

  3. Peter, BELOW is a super-long post about the Goethe Charter School here in Los Angeles... and the way their cherry-picking was exposed at their renewal hearing before the LAUSD school board, (with expertly edited video, to boot). Perhaps you can devote an article on your blog to this:
    I posted this video BELOW— cleverly
    edited at the beginning — of the Board’s
    meeting where Goethe Charter school
    sought a renewal and expansion in your
    neighborhood. Jose Cole-Guttierez,
    the Director of the Charter Division,
    is indeed a charter cheerleader, and
    becomes tongue-tied when Board
    Member Steve Zimmer questioned him
    about exactly why Goethe’s charter
    application omitted an entire zipcode
    just across the street from that charter,

    Zimmer mentioned that the
    entirety of that zipcode 90230 was
    the Mar Vista Housing Projects (the
    western-most public housing
    projects in the U.S., btw), and that
    in doing so, Goethe charter school
    excluded hundreds of low-income
    minority children residing in those
    projects. At the beginning of the
    video, all the Goethe speakers were
    blathering about how much their school
    values ethnic and socio-economic diversity.

    Later, Zimmer rightly points out that —
    Goethe folks’ flowery speeches and
    token speakers aside— the actual
    numbers show that the school
    is as white as Sweden.

    In large part, this was due to their
    exclusion of the Mar Vista Projects
    zipcode, while Zimmer points out
    that the charter simultaneously
    includes zip codes three and four
    miles — miles not blocks — away
    from Marina Del Rey Middle school,
    the public school campus on
    which Goethe was then co-locating.

    The end of the video has a parent
    and teacher complaining about how
    Goethe’s application to take over
    more classroom speech will
    negatively impact the Special
    Ed kids at the existing public school —
    the same kids that, along with
    the Mar Vista project kids — are
    not attending Goethe… due to
    chicanery of the Goethe officials.

    This video is a good way to start
    the new year. Here’s the post:
    There’s so many videos I could post on this site
    about LAUSD Charter School fiasco. It one instance where
    Deasy took the right position, against Charter School

    Here’s one about Goethe International Charter School:

    Back in 2011, the Goethe charter school officials are
    seeking a renewal of their charter, and an expansion from
    their current set up of Grades K-to-5, to add grades 6-8.

    Unfortunately, in its five years of existence,
    Goethe’s student body has somehow ended with
    a student body that is 90% white and
    only 10% non-white. Meanwhile, the
    nearby public schools — including the one
    where Goethe is co-located — are 10% white, and
    90% non-white (black & Latino).

    This video is also a case study in how important
    the role of LAUSD Board President is.



    Former LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia
    allows a parade of Goethe folks bragging about
    their support for, and efforts to have diversity at

    (NOTE: Garcia was deposed in 2013 when the
    corporate reformers lost their majority on the board …
    Vladovic served two years, and now Steve
    Zimmer thankfully is LAUSD Board President)

    Well, then, if — according that parade of speakers
    bragging about Goethe Charter’s pledge to diversity
    in both the school’s management and outreach —
    the how in-Hell did that 90% white student body
    thing happen?

    That is a question that nobody will touch…
    until Zimmer brings it up, and demands that
    the LAUSD’s Charter School Office Director
    Jose Cole-Guttierez answer it.

    I can only describe the montage of Goethe’s
    highly-staged parade of speakers
    making empty pledges toward diversity
    —alternated with bursts of applause from
    the T-shirted crowd bused in for the occasion—
    at the beginning of this video as
    a classic example of what Soviet film theorist
    and director Sergei Eisenstein might call
    “sarcastic” editing.

    Watch it:

    Oh… and you notice that the T-shirted crowd,
    and most of the speakers are black and brown
    folks, even though that flies in the face of what
    Zimmer points out are “the actual numbers.”

    The one opposing speaker says, “I’m a leader
    in the Latino community (in the community
    where Goethe is located), and I live in the
    community, and I’ve never seen any of these
    people (i.e. the Goethe speakers.).”

    However, here’s where the power of the LAUSD
    Board Presidency comes in. As Chair, Garcia
    follows her corporate masters’ marching orders
    and blocks any more of the non-Goethe parents and
    community members opposing Goethe from
    getting the mic.

    These parents are pissed off about Goethe’s lack of
    diversity, doubly so when they had to sit through
    that ridiculous montage of speakers claiming they
    want diversity. They also decry the invasion and
    seizing of classroom space by Goethe, and the
    damaging effect this will have on special ed students.

    Now, here’s where it gets good. Zimmer — just
    two years into his term, having taken office in
    July 2009 — doesn’t not buy this staged fiasco
    for one second. He proceeds to go quietly apesh#% on
    the Goethe Charter people, and on LAUSD’s charter
    school office Director Jose Cole-Gutterez, who was
    placed there by Deasy to do everything to defend
    and expand charters in LAUSD.

    Somebody said about Cole-Guttierez: “You can’t
    be a refereee (his real job evaluating which charter
    schools should be opened, or if opened, later
    closed) and a cheerleader (what he’s actually doing,
    as evidenced in this video) at the same time.”

    (It’s moments like this that later led the
    charter folks to pour $5 million into the coffers of Zimmer’s
    corporate stooge opponent Kate Anderson… in
    Kate’s ultimately failed bid to replace Zimmer on
    the Board.)



    First, think of a map of East Germany before the fall,
    with the island of capitalist West Berlin surrounded by
    Communist East Germany.

    Zimmer notices something similar in the map
    of the Goethe’s charter school application. They
    claim to serve a certain geographic area, but
    as with West Berlin on the East German map, he notices
    that one area — defined by a ZIP Code 90230 — is not
    included in the which children will be allowed
    to attend Goethe charter school.

    He points out that this ZIP Code 90320 includes
    the low-income minority housing projects!!!!


    It sticks out like West Berlin on an old East
    German map (my analogy, btw, not Steve’s … I
    wasn’t writing his speeches then… or now. ;- ) )

    ( 04:07- )
    ( 04:07- )
    — (after listing the included ZIP Codes)
    “Why is the (ZIP Code) 90320 not included?”
    — DISSOLVE —
    “(90320) includes the Mar Vista Gardens
    Housing Projects. Over 650 families who live
    in that project are the primary students who,
    if we’ll be honest.

    — (to Charter Shill, Jose Cole-Gutteirez, LAUSD
    Director of Charters)

    “So my question for you and the charter office
    is …

    ” ‘How could you let this (omission of 90320
    & its projects-dwelling kids from Goethe) get by,
    and not (question it) … ?’

    “I mean, you’re bringing this to us with a
    recommendation to (renew & expand Goethe charter)
    but (90320) is literally a block across the
    street at Centinela (from Goethe’s co-located school site),
    and that ZIP Code (90320) is NOT included?
    And ZIP Codes that are 2 to 3 to 4 miles away
    ARE included?

    “How could that happen?”

    (Now watch a charter shill spew forth some double talk)

    “First, let me say a couple things. First, in addition
    to ZIP Codes and … I will acknowledge that I
    don’t have the exact response for (the exclusion of)
    that Zip Code (from Goethe’s student body) …
    but one of the factors we do look at are … what
    are the schools that current residents are
    would be otherwise attending? … Our analysis…
    it’s solely not the ZIP Codes, but where students are
    currently coming from in the neighboring area… ”

    (JOSE C-G totally dodges the question. In fact,
    charter honchos have no consideration about where
    students otherwise attend, as poaching those
    students —the most desirable and easiest-to-educate
    kids, that is… not housing project kids allowed
    — is the goal.



    Zimmer ain’t havin’ it.)

    “It’s a stunning omission when the most diverse —
    especially for Latino and African-American families —
    the most diverse ZIP Code is not included in the
    target market. So it calls into (question) …
    My question is actually not for (Goethe officials)…
    it’s for you… like… I mean… I’m in that neighborhood
    all the time. I know who’s there (i.e. who lives there.)

    “The question… my concern is…
    I am willing to accept what folks say on face value.
    If folks want to talk about diversity, and make a
    pledge to diversity… I support Dr. Deasy (in charter
    schools having student bodies with diversity.)

    ” … ”

    “What Dr. Deasy says, and what I urge my colleagues
    to support is … let’s work on this… ”

    “Show us in the elementary level, in the school that
    you have now, that those numbers can change, and
    that you’ll get there (address the lack of diversity) … and
    we’ll gladly consider expanding the grade level.”

    “The diversity picture that was painted (by the speakers)
    today was a beautiful picture of Los Angeles,
    but that doesn’t play out in the (actual) numbers
    (of who actually attends the school), and unless you can
    tell me that this plays out in the numbers … it just doesn’t.
    It doesn’t match in special education
    It doesn’t match in free-and-reduced lunch
    It doesn’t match in the other demographic.”

    Again, to be fair, Deasy also believes this this exclusion
    of 90230 should no be allowed.

    Charterista Board Member Yolie Flores
    then tries to change the topic by bringing up an
    irrelevant urban legend — teacher union folks gave fliers
    to parents warning them that if they attended a charter
    that they would be deported.

    This is a total lie. UTLA then and now denies this…
    but it was part of Ben Austin’s (and others’) disinformation

    The late great Marguritte LaMotte then chimes in,
    supporting Zimmer. She decries the lack of “access”,
    as demonstrated by Goethe’s exclusion of ZIP Code 90320.

    Under pressure, Garcia allows two people opposing Goethe’s expansion to speak… (also… Goethe is also co-locating at Marina Del Rey Middle School, so that its proposed expansion will displace those public school students attending there, specifically Special Ed. Students).

    A special needs parent — not paid by anyone, not affiliated with any group — then gets up and opens a can of whoop-ass on Goethe. He decries the lack of notice to parents opposing Goethe’s expansion, and how Goethe’s actions, and those actions detrimental effect on special ed students. goes against the settlement that LAUSD made regarding Special Education (Consent Decree)

    He says Goethe has only 16 special ed students, and most of them are the least disabled — speech — and the school does not include the most disabled students.



    Compare the speech below — from a parent
    who is not being paid or orchestrated by
    anyone to speak as he’s there totally on
    his own— with that staged Goethe speakers’ farce
    (that was sarcastically edited) in the beginning
    of the video. Notice also how Goethe folks seated
    their token minority students in camera view,
    carefully and deliberately so… as these are in
    the background as he speaks. The expressions
    on their faces as this parent calls out the
    chicanery of their schools leaders, and LAUSD
    Charter Division / charter cheerleader Jose
    Cole-Guttierez are truly priceless.

    ( 09:55 – )
    ( 09:55 – )
    SPECIAL ED. PARENT Joseph O’Heiron Gideon (sp?):

    “I am a parent of a Special Resources child attending
    Marina Del Rey Middle School, and I am here speaking
    in opposition to the expansion of Goethe—through
    this process—into the existing space that is (currently)
    occupied by the middle school itself. Essentially what
    is projected here is that Special Resources rooms
    are being designated or termed ‘excess,’ and
    (regarding today’s expansion hearing) there was not
    sufficient notice to the parents (of children —
    Special Needs or otherwise — who will be
    negatively impacted by Goethe’s expansion),
    particularly myself.

    “I only heard about this meeting about two hours
    ago, in contrast to the very well-presented advocates
    for the expansion. (You can thank Jose Cole-Gutterez
    for that, JACK). That itself raises a due process
    consideration as to whether or not adequate notice
    is being given to the (Marina Del Rey Middle School)
    parents, parents of Special Needs children, parents
    of the regular children.

    “There’s also the issue of whether or not this violates
    the Consent Decree (the court-mandated and
    court-supervised settlement of the
    famous 1990’s Chanda Smith lawsuit
    charging LAUSD with not indentifying
    and then providing for the needs of Special Ed.
    Kids) that the L.A. Unified School District is operating
    under, relative to the compliance with Special
    Education laws.

    “The displacement (of pre-existing Special Ed kids)
    as contemplated by Goethe, is to the detriment of the
    Special Needs kids at the Marina Del Rey Middle

    “Also, in terms of the diversity, a statistic that I was
    provided before I came down here is that, in terms
    of Special Education kids, there are only 16 in the
    Goethe school body, 10 of those are in Speech
    and Language (the most minor of disabilities)…
    for example, a lisp or something of that nature,
    not really falling in the category of Special
    Resource kids.

    “Essentially what’s happening, is — as indicated
    by the discussion of the zipcodes — is that there’s
    cherry-picking going on here. The principal
    school (Marina Del Rey Middle School) is designed
    Special Needs kids are being displaced (to
    accommodate the expansion of Goethe.) and putting
    them in the closets.”

    MONICA GARCIA: (cutting him off)
    “Thank you, sir.”



    Finally, a Special Ed. Teacher chimes in.

    “The crux of this is that I believe that (charter schools’
    exclusionary policies) are running afoul of the 14th Amendment.

    "I strongly believe so. Charter schools, because of
    NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND, have an incentive to
    keep away Special Ed. kids. We (the student body
    at Marina Del Rey Middle School) are 90%
    poverty, we are 90% minority, and those very
    kids that (Goethe) does not serve. (Goethe)
    wants that very space (that those kids use
    for their classroooms).”

    Goethe ended up getting four more classrooms,
    but its request to expand to Grades 6, 7, & 8 are denied.

    As the video’s closing caption illustrated, taking
    back those 4 classrooms back from Goethe
    and restoring them to the existing traditional
    public school would require an act of the
    California legislature.

  8. You can read the post about Goethe Charter School at its original location (and watch the accompanying videos as well) about halfway down in the COMMENTS section here: