Saturday, October 12, 2019

KY: Pushing Old Charter Myths In A New Market

Kentucky has spent a bunch of time in charter limbo--there is a charter law on the books, but the legislature wouldn't fund it and local districts are (shocker) unwilling to share their aready-meager funding.

So Kentucky remains a fresh market, and charter advocates are still trying to gin up some public support, which lends itself to a sort of Greatest Hits tour of failed charter school arguments.

Take this op-ed from the Lexington Herald-Leader: "If public schools aren’t performing, why not give charter schools a chance?" It's by Ronald Vissing, a Lexington marketing consultant and political activist (he helped push through bills that allow Kentucky voters to recall property taxes). For folks in Kentucky, these pitches may sound new. They aren't. Vissing has helpfully numbered his alleged myths, so here we go:

First: the myth that charters can be "for profit."

Of course, if the law says the school can't be for profit, that settles... well, nothing actually. Vissing says that since charters can't charge tuition, "it's hard to see how a public [sic] charter school can make a profit." Oh, honey. By cutting costs, of course-- one of the reasons that many people don't love the idea of charter schools. The means of profiting from charters are legion; real estate business, fat contracts for charter management organizations. Vissing anticipates the argument that authorizers might enter into secret contracts, and Kentucky has some procedural and transparency laws in place for that, but one good question for Kentuckians to ask is who is supposed to enforce that law, and how. Bottom line: charters can be better than printing money.

Second: the myth that charters will cherry pick the best students.

Vissing says this could never happen, because the law says no entrance exam and no sorting according to race, religion, disability, English Language Learner status. And then if there are too many applicants, they can only use a lottery to sort. I do not know if Vissing has failed to do his homework or he just hopes the readers don't know stuff. From marketing (Look at this brochure- does this happy group of students look like you'd belong?) to paperwork and application processes, there are ways to increase the likelihood that you'll have the student body you want. Also popular: "We are happy to accept students like your child here, but you should be aware that we have absolutely no programs designed to help with this particular disability, nor do we plan to. But hey-- you can still send your child here. Totally your chice."

Third: the myth that charters have less qualified teachers.

Well, Vissing just punts here. His argument is that certified teachers aren't anything special. Private and parochial teachers aren't certified and they "outperform certified teachers." Vissing offers no explanation of what "outperform" means, exactly. But he also wants you to know that charters can fire any teachers at any time for any reason "without the burdensome process of multiple hearings and appeals" aka "due process." He does not mention that this E Z Fire feature means that teachers can be fired for fun reasons like "insisted on sticking up for your child" or "refusing to date her boss." Of course, Kentucky's a Right To Work state, so teachers already have problems.

Vissing has given up counting, but I reckon this is fourth: whattabout specialty schools?

He specifically cites Carter G Woodson Academy, a small (191 students) males-only school serving a mostly poor, almost entirely black student population. It has dress codes, its own curriculum, college prep focus. What's the difference, says Vissing. I'll go with "the academy is owned and operated by the taxpayers, and charter schools aren't.

Finally: some public schools stink.

So why not give parents a choice. I would say because parents don't want a choice as much as they want a non-stinky school. Vissing cites a local school that came up low on Kentucky's ridiculous 5 star school rating program. Those parents would like to send children to a good school. Why, I wonder for the gazillionth time, wouldn't we try to make the school not suck? The old argument is that students can't wait, that it takes too long to change a school, yet somehow we're proposing that a school can be go from nonexistent to awesome in the same short time.

Bonus round: charter schools are not public.

Kentucky charter advocates have gotten the memo to call charter schools "public charters schools." They are not. Public schools are owned by te public, operated by elected representatives of the public, are completely transparent to the public, and serve all of the public.

Kentuckians, do not be snookered by these mythical myths and the charter advocates who push them. You're a fresh market; at a minimum, you deserve a fresh sales pitch.

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