The place Did the Federal Authorities’s Constitution College Program Go Mistaken?

From the start, charter schools were like a blind man’s elephant – people saw what they wanted in them – but two competing theories that drove the charter movement forward were that the schools would serve as laboratories for experimentation with new approaches to education that could be shared with public school districts or that charters were created to disrupt the public school system by offering parents an alternative to district-run schools.

When the federal government officially participated in the creation of new charter schools in 1994, it relied on the former of these theories rather than the latter. The bill that led to the formation of the Department of Education’s Charter School Program (CSP) described charters as “a mechanism for testing a variety of educational approaches” and, to this day, defines it as part of the CSP’s mission, as defined by The Office for Innovation and Improvement The Department of Education, which oversees it, aims to “improve the public’s understanding of what charter schools can do to American education.”

The program gives millions in schools disrupting rather than enhancing a public education system that must serve all students.

According to a December 2019 report by the Network for Public Education (NPE), the CSP has allocated more than $ 4.1 billion to the creation and expansion of charter schools since its inception.

Yet somewhere along the way, the CSP forgot its duty to create and oversee a charter sector that benefited the public system, and instead chose to reward schools that provide close groups of children and families with a publicly funded alternative to their local ones Schools offer. NPE has urged members of Congress to “defuse” the CSP and say it is “a program that has lost its mission”.

Indeed, the CSP generally appears to have given up its original commitment to a collaborative model of charter schools and instead to award charters that disrupt school districts by creating competitive schools that only serve the interests of specific groups of students rather than innovating that all students could benefit from it.

Grants price discrimination

In preparing a March 2019 NPE report that I co-authored with NPE Executive Director Carol Burris, we found numerous examples of CSP grants awarded to schools that have adapted their policies and programs to: they attract certain groups of students and discourage others.

In one example, we found that a charter school in Idaho that received a $ 1,250,000 five-year scholarship in 2018 to expand its enrollment highlighted a military theme in its hiring, enforced a strict dress code, and in theirs “Patriotism” curriculum emphasized. Unsurprisingly, the school enrolled a student population that had a disproportionately low percentage of English learners and a higher percentage of white students compared to schools in the surrounding community.

Another CSP scholar received $ 1,115,137 in 2018 to expand its “diverse” student body, even though the school had achieved that “diversity” by providing 100 percent of the small number of white students in the community and black student population who attended the at least tended to come from households whose income is low enough to qualify for a free or discounted lunch.

In another alarming case, a recipient of several federal grants totaling approximately $ 7 million between 2006 and 2015, the Great Hearts school chain, was cited four times for running schools in a 2017 report by the Arizona ACLU, who practiced “illegally or exclusively”. Policies and practices – including rejecting transgender and special needs students and enrolling students who were disproportionately white and wealthy compared to the communities in which the schools were located.

An egregious example of exclusion

The most egregious example we found was the multiple grants for charters run by the BASIS Educational Group. From 2006 to 2014, the CSP granted grants of US $ 5,605,000 to several charter schools operated by the Education Management Company, with the majority of the funds (US $ 4,140,000) going through a grant to the State of Arizona.

Our report pointed to an analysis of student demographics at BASIS schools in Arizona that Burris published in the Washington Post in 2017. It found that the demographics of these schools had a racial makeup that was different from the rest of the state.

Specifically, Burris found that while the Arizona public school student population was 5 percent black and 45 percent Latin American, only 3 percent black and 10 percent Latin American students were in BASIC schools. BASIS enrolled mostly students who were 32 percent Asian and 51 percent white, compared to Arizona public schools where Asian students were only 3 percent and white students were 39 percent.

Burris observed a number of tactics BASIS charter schools used to shift student enrollment to more socioeconomically beneficial students, including limiting enrollment for students with learning difficulties and students struggling with the English language. Avoid the federal government’s free or discounted lunch that low-income families rely on to feed their children during the day; and choose not to offer free bus transport to their schools.

When searching for a source to update Burris’ results, I consulted Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, whose book on charter school issues is due out this fall.

“In BASIS Arizona, only 1 percent of all students are English learners,” he said, “and only 1 percent are eligible for free or discounted lunch (FRPL). This is in a state with 52 percent FRPL students in public schools. We see a similar enrollment of students with special needs. In BASIS Arizona only 3 percent of students have [a disability requiring special needs]compared to 13 percent in the state’s public schools. Similarly, in 2018 we found that less than 2 percent of BASIS students in Texas were receiving some type of special education. “

Where CSP went wrong

To be very clear, schools like those operated by BASIS and the other charter fellows named in our report were never created to serve all students. They were created to be a specific type of school, to serve a specific type of student.

If the purpose of the federal government’s CSP is to “improve the public’s understanding of what charter schools can add to American education,” then we have learned that these schools, at least as they are currently designed and replicated, are being added to divisions and Inequalities in the public system instead of raising the common good.

No one is arguing that schools should not serve the interests of a particular racist student population or the needs of high skill students. However, it is inconsistent with the whole concept of a public education system to make these goals the sole reason for funding a huge charter company that competes with local schools at the expense of other types of students in the community. But that is exactly what the CSP financed. And unless the political will becomes evident, there is no need to stop.

Jeff Bryant
Our schools

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