|Putting Children First||
Two Weeks Left Until Charter Application Day!Wednesday afternoon , May 26, 2004
The Washington Education Association (WEA) has only two weeks left to collect signatures for its anti-charter referendum campaign: Referendum 55. The feedback I've received from pro-charter teachers is that the WEA is way behind schedule in its signature collection efforts. If so, the WEA will not even have the minimum number of signatures required to file with the Secretary of State (99,000) by the June 9 deadline, let alone the 120,000+ signatures that will be required to qualify R-55 for the November ballot.
Accordingly, we expect that Washington State's 2004 charter school law will take effect as scheduled on June 10, and Washington’s first charter schools will open this fall.
Most or all of the first ten charter schools licenses issued in Washington will likely go to groups that submit their applications on or near June 10. Why? Because
These "early bird" charter starters may not be eligible for the $50,000 federal planning grants, but should receive start-up and implementation grants from the federal government totaling $200,000 per year for each of their first two years of operation. These funds are in addition to the $5,500 per student per year in state funds that will follow children to charter schools (the same amount that currently follows children when they enter the public school system, or transfer from one school district to another).
Most of the "early bird" charter starters have been meeting informally with their local school board members, establishing and nurturing a positive relationship focused on using the new charter school law (and the federal funds that come with it) to help more local students thrive academically, graduate on time, and transition smoothly to college, technical training, a good job, and the American Dream.
Meanwhile, the media has published a number of very positive new reports about charter schools. Excerpts from these recent publications are below. Enjoy!
Newsweek Magazine, May 31, 2004, p. 10
CHARTER SCHOOL: 100% SUCCESS
For most inner-city high schools, getting half their graduates into college would be a big deal. But the D.C. -based Seed School—the nation's first urban, public boarding school—is sending 100 percent of its first graduating class to college. Some are going to Princeton, Georgetown or Penn, just like the best students at private boarding schools. This feat is particularly impressive because admission to the 300-student coed charter school is nonselective: spots are won by lottery, and most students are three years behind academically when they start as seventh graders. "This shows that any student, given the right tools, can go on to college," says school head Richard Jung.
Secrets to their success: more supervision and structure. The kids come from nearby homes but stay overnight on weekdays to improve their learning environment; when the formal school day ends, a second shift of teachers helps with tutoring and homework. The school year is 10 months long. Talks are now underway to open more campuses around the country.
[Excerpts From] FREE THE CHARTERS!
Charters are independent, innovative public schools freed of much of the red tape that binds "standard" school systems. In October, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein announced plans to open 50 more. In December, the Buffalo Board of Education decided to approve is own charter schools. Twenty applications are now pending.
That same month, the state Board of Regents released a five-year report on New York's charter schools. This stunned many in the education community: The regents pointed out that (on average) charter schools are doing a better job of helping children pass the state tests.
When the charter-school law passed in 1998, the regents and the New York City and Buffalo boards of education were not proponents of charter schools. Even a year ago, it would have been inconceivable to predict this level of support.
Why the change? Aside from positive academic performance and a host of operating benefits that allow capable, well-intentioned educators to do their jobs better, charter schools directly address the two biggest problems in public education: the gross shortage of high-quality schools and school districts' chronic inability to eliminate failing schools.
Statewide, local education systems have a staggering number of failing schools and have very few tools at their disposal to fix them. To their credit, the regents and leaders in Buffalo and New York City recognize that charter schools can help meet the immediate need for more educational choices for children trapped in failing schools.
What they don't say publicly, but also know, is that charters provide an accountability hammer for failing schools. Simply put, it's much easier to empty and close a bad school when you can point parents to a better option down the street.
[Excerpts From] NEA's Self-Serving Goal Detrimental to Education
The National Education Association (NEA) is the nation's largest professional employee organization. Its professed goal is to make public schools great for every child. Its real goal is to increase its own bargaining power by ripping to shreds educational reform.
This should not come as any surprise to anyone who has read the NEA's literature. Far and away, the majority of the NEA's money is funneled into improving governmental relations and corralling new members. According to their 2002-2004 budget summary, the NEA dedicated $13.53 million to "governance and policy," $19.58 million to "government relations" and $14.11 million to "state affiliate relations." By contrast, they spent $2.69 million on "student achievement."
On a political front, the NEA is engaged in a full-court legislative press. Last year, they lined Democrats coffers with $20 million in donations, second only to the American Federation of State/City/Municipal Employees.
Meanwhile, our public schools are deteriorating, our children are being demoralized and our so-callled leaders are refusing to even discuss the problem. This is a crime. This is a shame. This needs to change.
The Bremerton Sun, Sunday, May 23, 2004
Advocate outlines pros, cons of charter schools
Charter schools are alternative public schools that are given a high degree of freedom in exchange for a high degree of accountability, the state's leading advocate for charters recently told a group of parents in Bremerton.
The Olympic View Elementary PTA invited Jim Spady to speak following the Bremerton School Board's decision to close Olympic View at the end of this school year.
"Don't use the charter law as a way to make war with the district because you'll lose," Spady said. "You have to present your plan as a win-win for the children."
Charter school operators must incorporate as nonprofit corporations, must win approval from the district and generally must find their own facilities.
They are eligible for a $50,000 federal planning grant and $200,000 in federal seed money for each of their first two years. They get nearly $5,500 per student in state funds and can apply for Gates Foundation and other grants.
Most charter schools are started specifically to help struggling students in poor areas, Spady said. It's less common for parents to open a charter in the face of a school closure, but it does happen.
After defeating many charter school bills over the years, the Legislature passed a bill in March, and Gov. Gary Locke signed it into law. Washington became the 41st state to allow charter schools, although in limited numbers -- just 45 might form in the next six years.
Spady said he and his wife, Fawn, became interested in school choice about 10 years ago when they moved from Issaquah to Seattle.
"We had a bad experience in our local public school," Spady said. "My child was ready to learn, but you could see his love for learning being sucked out of him."
The Spadys enrolled their son in a private nonreligious school but were concerned about others who could not afford private school.
"At the time, we were idealistic Democrats," he said. "We started looking for solutions. What we discovered was charter schools."
Spady acknowledged that not all charters succeed. About 10 percent of all the charter schools that have opened have closed, he said.
"You have to generate results," he said. "Your students must take the WASL and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. ... If you don't meet standards your school will close, and all the teachers and the principal lose their jobs."
On the other hand, charter school educators enjoy freedom from traditional school rules.
"You operate outside normal union contracts. You can have a longer school day or a longer school year. You can pay science and math teachers more than others if you want to."
He showed a video of the "60 Minutes" segment on the highly successful KIPP Academies. Started by two Teach for America teachers for poor and minority students in Houston in 1994, the Knowledge is Power Program middle schools have become highly successful in Texas, the Bronx and elsewhere around the country. Many of the KIPP students have gone on to prestigious prep schools and colleges.
Students attend school from 7:25 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They also go to school for four hours on Saturday and three weeks during the summer. Discipline is strict, and students, parents and teachers all sign contracts agreeing to the school's mission.
Spady predicted that a KIPP school will open in Washington by fall 2005, most likely in Federal Way, Renton or Highline. The Seattle School Board has indicated it will not approve any charter schools, so they likely will open in districts that border Seattle, he said.
Since charter schools may draw from any school district, one just outside Seattle would be strategically placed to attract Seattle students seeking alternatives.
Parents of students attending the Packwood School near the southern entrance to Mount Rainier are also likely to apply for a charter, Spady said. They're facing closure of their tiny school and an hour bus ride for their children next year.
Pro and con
The Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, has launched a referendum campaign against the charter school legislation and has until June 9 to gather 130,000 signatures to get Referendum 55 on the November ballot.
The WEA position is that instead of spending money on "expensive experiments," the state should invest in "proven solutions we know will improve the quality of all public schools -- reducing class sizes and ensuring there is a well-qualified teacher in every classroom."
Spady said he believes the WEA is more concerned about loss of union dues. Charter school teachers are rarely unionized, he said, because they are usually deeply involved in running the school themselves.
Olympic View parent Jennifer Kreifels said in an e-mail after the meeting she finds charter schools an exciting idea.
"Most people seem to assume that the board will not go for any of our new ideas. We need to have a common mission for the good of the kids, but also make it attractive to the administration."
She said she's concerned about possible overcrowding at Armin Jahr and View Ridge, the two schools where most of the displaced Olympic View students will go next year.
Annie Darbonne, president of the Olympic View PTA, said she's not ready to give up on Bremerton schools.
"I think charter schools offer a valuable opportunity when you feel as though the district is no longer meeting the needs of its students. Personally I am not ready to throw in the towel on the Bremerton School District's efforts to improve our schools as long as they continue to be willing to engage parents in those decisions and open themselves up to feedback and creative solutions."
DeWayne Boyd, president of the Bremerton School Board, said the board has held no discussions on charter schools and the state has not published rules governing them yet.
Reach reporter Ann Strosnider at (360) 792-9219 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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