Whoa! Where did that come from Washington State PTA!? Charter schools?! Part 1

If you are a parent in a Seattle Public School, please forward this to your PTA legislative representative and president. They need to know the facts before voting on this plank in the Washington State PTA platform. The vote will happen in the statewide meeting being held in October.


The people in the state of Washington have voted down charter schools three times. This blog and others have provided studies and examples of how the heralded success of privatization of our public schools has remained unproven unless there is a tremendous amount of private funding received by the charter school as with the Harlem School Zone . Most charter schools do no better than their public school counterparts and many do not succeed and are simply test factories with no financial transparency and staffed by inexpensive labor many times in the form of Teach for America, Inc. recruits. But, Ramona Hattendorf, past Seattle PTA President and now lobbyist for the Washington PTA, described in  her newsletter  , down towards the bottom of the page, the proposed planks for the PTA legislative platform for 2011 and 2012. One of the planks included a brief description of a charter school proposal.

Many of us want to know exactly how this worked. Was there a general vote taken on this proposal? Not one that I know of and I certainly never received word of this in any newsletter sent by Ramona, the Seattle PTA or the Nova PTSA. Whose idea was it to introduce this plank in the PTA platform? Interestingly enough, no member of the PTA in Seattle was part of the committee that drew up this proposal. Fair representation? I think not. Better question would be who wrote this for them? But, this is how the PTA has worked over the past few years in our state. From my experience as a Legislative Chair during the last legislative session, which was an example of top down decision making using typical ed reform manipulative language to push the agenda of one of their wealthiest financiers, Bill Gates, who has funded the National PTA for $2M as well as the Washington State PTA this year for $191,000 and is a big proponent of charter schools, I have seen how far away the Washington State PTA has drifted from its’ roots as an advocate for parents, teachers and students. The PTA in our state no longer represents all or even many of the parents, teachers or students which explains one of the reasons for the quick growth of Parents Across America.

For additional information on Bill Gates and his influence peddling around the country, see Gates’ Document Details Plans for Influence Peddling and Propaganda War for Corporate Ed.

In her most recent newsletter, Ramona describes the triumphs of her lobbying by describing the goals that were accomplished by the passage of Bill 1443 in the last legislative session. Below are excerpts from her newsletter. The words in bold are mine:

This bill touches on five of our top priorities for this legislative session

  • · Changing “reduction in force” (or layoff policies) to include more than seniority … No. 4 priority/Not just seniority for layoffs (firing teachers whose students don’t “perform)
  • · Revising compensation policies to reward for improving student learning … No. 6 priority/rewarding for improving student learning (high stakes testing and merit pay).

The items that Ramona refers to were two of the basic touchstones in the Community Values Statement (CVS) which was pushed through last year by our own Seattle PTA along with the Gates funded organizations League of Education Voters (LEV), Stand for Children, and the Alliance for Education  just as contract negotiations were to begin between the Broad-trained superintendent Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and the teachers’ union. Was the deck stacked? Absolutely. This Community Values Statement was used as a tool to attempt to push through the ed reform agenda of merit pay based on test scores during the teacher’s contract negotiations in 2010 and during the last legislative session in Olympia. Flush with their victory in Seattle, LEV is now trying to be a part of the teacher contract negotiations in Bellevue, Washington.

Getting back to the Washington State PTA and their big ed reform push for charter schools, let’s look at the proposal.

First sentence:

The Washington State PTA shall initiate and/or support legislation or policies that drive innovation and accountability in public education by allowing the operation of public charter schools in the state of Washington.

The use of the phrase “public charter schools” has been used lately by ed reformers although it is a misnomer of sorts. The only thing”public” about charter schools are the funds that are received from the school district. After that there is nothing public about charter schools. Charter schools do not have to disclose their financial records or explain the decisions that are made, the head of the school is a CEO and the school’s board is hand selected. So much for “accountability”, another word bandied about by the privatizers.

And the reason that the PTA is for charter schools?

Across the state, many students are attending schools that struggle to excel. According to the Washington State Board of Education’s 2010 Achievement Index, as many as six out of 10 students attend a “struggling” or “fair” school, and only one out of 10 attend a “very good” or “exemplary” school. The Index assigned a rank of “struggling, fair, good, very good or exemplary” to all public schools in the state.

Here comes the word “achievement gap”. Yes, there is an opportunity gap but until we have enough money to fund education properly or rather, we as a society begin to take on educating our children in a far more serious manner, there will be many students who “struggle”. Until we reduce class sizes and provide additional support for our teachers, until we look at the whole child and ensure that he/she have been fed and any emotional or physical issues are addressed, children will fail. Until we address the growing number of children who live tenuously below the poverty line, children will have a very difficult time succeeding. But, charter schools are not the magic bullet and it has been shown that the majority of charter schools fail at the task of addressing the issue of this “achievement gap”.

And then this false statement in the proposal:

 Families looking for alternatives have limited options. Charter schools have become increasingly popular choices in communities where traditional school structures aren’t working for local kids.

Actually we have very successful options here in Seattle, they are the alternative schools and the “option schools”. Nova high school is an exceptional school and a gem in the school community, taking students in an all-city draw, educating them and preparing them for life. I can testify to this school first hand because my daughter graduated from Nova and I have had the opportunity to co-teach a class at Nova on the history of architecture, looking at our built environment from the social and political context of the different periods through the centuries. Does this follow the edicts of “common core curriculum”? No. Does it sound like a class that students would have an opportunity to learn facts and information in a way that is interesting and challenging? Absolutely.

In terms of option and alternative schools, there is also Center High School, Summit, Thornton Creek, Salmon Bay, Queen Anne Elementary, Jane Addams, Orca, Pinehurst, South Shore, Tops, Pathfinder, the Cleveland STEM program, the International Schools,  the Language Immersion Programs and the APP programs. I would say that there is a school and a place for all students to have an opportunity to succeed in Seattle. The alternative school and APP programs are tried and true. The alternative schools have been around for 50 years in Seattle and have been examples of innovation in our communities. An example of “innovation” is the head of the new STEM program working closely last summer with the principal at Nova when setting up STEM’s project-based program.

Charter schools have not met the test of time and there is no reason for our students to be the lab rats for Gates, Broad, the hedge fund millionaires and the rest of the folks who are looking for personal financial gain by using public money.

And for all of you who are not in large urban areas, don’t be fooled. The charter franchises are not interested in putting down stakes in less moneyed school districts or where they can only have one charter program. No, the target of these privatizers is to set up in urban areas which provide more dollars per student and opportunities for growth because like any other business, they want to expand. And remember, charter schools are businesses. The two charter franchises mentioned in the “Resources” section of this proposal are KIPP, Inc. and Green Dot and both of these charter school enterprises have multiple schools in several urban districts around the country.

And now another falsehood embedded in this plank:

 Another option

Public charter schools are independent public schools granted more site-based authority . Usually, this frees them up to be more innovative. Charter schools operate from three basic principles:

Because of the “site-based authority” there is a lack of transparency that is demanded of public schools.

And, if you want innovation, look at our alternative schools at least the ones who get a waiver from teaching within the confines of the common core standards with required texts and readings.

 Choice: Parents choose the school their child attends; teachers and principals choose to work at that school.

We have that in Seattle but not so in New Orleans where charter schools are multiplying since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. For an excellent description of what happened after this hurricane hit New Orleans and how the schools were privatized, see the introduction to the Shock Doctrine.

 Flexibility: Charter schools can make timely decisions about developing curricula, structuring the school day and hiring teachers who meet the needs of their students.

I hope that teachers have the flexibility to create their own curriculum in our public schools. If they don’t, then we need to do something about that and not just open up charter schools that can have privileges that public schools cannot enjoy. If that is the case, that teachers do not have that flexibility, shouldn’t the Washington State PTA be doing something about that instead?

Also programs such as STEM and many of the alternative schools have received waivers so that the teachers can develop their own curriculum outside of the Common Core Standards  and the school can structure the school day and hire the teachers that they feel are the best for their students.

  Accountability: The “charter” of the school functions similar to a contract, making the school accountable to parents, to their charter school authorizers, and to the state.

All public schools are accountable so I don’t see any reason for this sentence except that it sounds good. In actuality, the charter schools are required to have a certain level of “achievement” in terms of test scores hence the propensity to teach to the test and if a child is not performing up to the standard, they are asked or coerced, “counseled”, to leave.

And while we are on the subject of the selectivity of these charter schools,  you might be interested in the following articles:

Harlem Success Academy turns away parent of child with special needs

Penn school special education teacher hits KIPP hypocrisy on special education children

The Problem with New Orleans Charter Schools

My special child pushed out of kindergarten at a NYC charter school

DC Charters’ Selective Admissions

Shall I continue? Oh why not. There is so much to respond to in this proposal.

For the second part of this post, please go to:

Whoa! Where did that come from Washington State PTA!? Charter schools?! Part 2


  1. This is standard practice. Not just this year. Not just for charter schools . I think the members are smart enough to do their own research.

    1. Unfortunately most parents as busy as they are rely on the PTA to provide information in terms of the pros and cons of each topic. I participated in a few of these forums last year and there was just one viewpoint provided and the assumption was that we were all to buy into whatever was proposed which is what most members did. The only reason that some members voted against two or three of the planks is because they heard me speak on the subject, no one else had.

      As much as you might like to think that this process is transparent and democratic, fair and balance, it isn’t.

  2. Whoa, you are getting ahead of yourself. No one anywhere said that the WSPTA is “for” charter schools. That remains to be determined by the membership. The WSPTA members are considering whether or not they would like to support charter schools.
    I’d like to address the process by which the proposed issues, including charter schools, got there in the first place. In June, any member of the WA State PTA can submit an issue to the legislation committee. The committee evaluates the issues on the basis of a number of set criteria, such as whether or not the issue is statewide in scope, whether it is best addressed via the legislature, and whether or not is is consistent with the long term platform (which is set by the membership, as well). The committee does not evaluate the issue with regard to whether or not they personally agree with it. They make recommendations regarding the issues to the Board of Directors, who also take all of these factors into consideration. Then, the information about each of the issues is made available on the website and via multiple communication tools that are normally used. They conduct an online e-survey of the members to find out what their thoughts are on these issues. Each local unit and Council has the opportunity to send delegates to the Legislative Assembly in October , where they will learn about, discuss, and debate the merits of each issue. They will use what they have learned, what their members shared via the survey, as well as info gleaned from discussions at the local PTA level to inform their vote on the issues at Legislative Assembly.
    Any member can submit an issue, and all members for whom we had an email address received the invitation to take the survey. So to answer your question, “where did this come from?”, it came from the members, where all of the proposed issues came from. Various groups of members, as well as individuals, from different parts of the state submitted issues.
    Thank you for your encouragement for your readers who are PTA members to share this information with their presidents and legislation chairs. In order for this process to work the best it can, these conversations need to take place. Information needs to be shared , and opinions on the merits of the issues need to be discussed with those who represent you and will vote on your behalf.
    Thank you.

    1. sk,

      By the time I attended the statewide legislative conference last year the die had already been cast. Because of prepared speakers who had been coached and with little to no opinions provided in opposition, planks on merit pay, high stakes testing as well as alternative certification of teachers, meaning TFA, Inc., were passed in large majorities. Many parents had no idea what the ramifications were that were buried in the ed-reformy language that had been carefully crafted.so that if you disagreed with the platform, you just sounded down right un-American.

      See The Stepford Wives of Race to the Top, Our PTA, https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/the-stepford-wives-for-race-to-the-top-our-pta/ for a detailed account of my experience as a legislative chair last year.

      1. And by the way, sk, the pros for the charter schools were described in detail in the information that has been provided to the legislative chairs this year but not the con’s. So much for a balanced viewpoint.

  3. My one sister sends her kids to a charter school and my other sister teaches at one. Fortunately the charter schools in question are good ones, but I also know there are a lot of bad ones out there and that rarely seems to make the news.

    In fact in all the studies, charter schools don’t even perform that much better on tests than public school kids do. I also know for a fact that charter schools (despite the “lottery system”) can weed out “undesirable” children (ie. students with learning disabilities, students with behavior problems, etc.) – that’s why charter schools tout their successes. They can also kick out kids whenever they want, the public schools don’t have that luxury. From what I’m seeing, a lot of the “successes” of charter schools is nothing more than hot air and smoke and mirrors.

    I hope Seattle, and Washington in general, holds firm and doesn’t let the charters in. It sounds like Washington’s education system is in pretty good shape (if you believe the news reports and testing scores), sounds like you don’t need charter schools.

  4. Todd,

    I met a teacher in Detroit during the AFT convention last summer who had an opportunity to speak with Arne Duncan as I did at an event in Skyline. See “I met with Arne Duncan yesterday”, https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/i-met-with-arne-duncan/. She expressed her concern that because of the charter schools, the money was going wit the students to those schools and yet the children left behind, many in special education programs or students who for whatever reason were struggling, were left in the public schools and with less resources than they had before. Yes, there is money allocated for each student but the wealth is spread around. It’s not like each child has a special account and the money for each expense is taken out of that student’s account. The public schools in Detroit and Chicago where charter schools have multiplied, the school districts are left with students who require more support and therefore greater financial allocations but now with less money.

    Also, if the student is “counseled out” of these charter schools, the money for that school year still remains with that charter school and is not returned to the public school district.

    The majority of charter schools hire teachers who are not unionized and some are not certified, hence the popularity of Teach for America, Inc. recruits with five weeks of training and no certification teaching in charter schools. The charter schools typically require the teachers to teach for longer hours, including Saturday’s, for the same or less pay than their public school counterparts. These charter school enterprises are for-profit businesses with the goal of making money. Unlike private schools though, smaller class sizes are not a priority, there is not “a plethora of opportunities in the arts and athletics” and there is a “lack of emphasis on standardized testing – bubble tests and overemphasis on tested curricular areas and state standards” in the private schools. This is quoted from an article titled “Finance 101” Private Choices, Public Policy and Other People’s Children see: http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/private-choices-public-policy-other-peoples-children/. Also private schools typically hire teachers who are experienced and well educated in their fields of expertise as well as having a background in education with an understanding of child development. For that reason, even though charter schools are painted as this idyllic place where children can learn and are similar to a private school, it is not like that at all.

    The way that a charter school “fails” is through test scores. A charter school lives or dies by those scores. Would I want my daughter, or any child for that matter, in that high pressure environment? Absolutely not.

    And a young, inexperienced “teacher” negotiating a contract with a private entity that does not have to hire union teachers and is always looking at the bottom line? Good luck with that. Just how much money and what benefits do you think that person will receive? And if it is not enough, that staff person will leave as soon as a better option presents itself. That in itself causes churn and therefore instability within the school community. We won’t even talk about how Teach for America, Inc. recruits contract with a school for only two years and then leave, leaving behind students who they have made a connection with and a community that already has issues of instability.

    Speaking of constraints, there is a major constraint that is dictated by the state itself and therefore by the charter schools and that is test scores. The charter schools, to continue each year, are required to meet a state standard in terms of test scores. Because of that, there is a focus on test scores. Students who can’t “make the grade” are counseled out of the school and with an emphasis on rout learning, there is little room for exploration or development of critical thinking skills or creativity.

    I don’t know about principals at the schools where your family resides, but for instance at Nova High School, an alternative school in Seattle, the school is allocated a certain amount of money each year and not only does the principal but also the students decide how to use the money. There is a budget committee made up of students, teachers and the principal with a parent representing the PTSA which has funds that it has raised for the school. They meet on a regular basis and make decisions on how the money will be spent including making decisions on hiring additional staff.

    The principals don’t have their hands tied behind their backs in terms of making decisions about the schools that they are responsible for. The difference is that in a pubic school, how the school spends it’s money is a transparent process, with charter schools it is not.

    Innovation is ideal and I believe in it but charter schools have many flaws and are unproven. As I stated earlier, we have options in Seattle and in our state that are proven from alternative schools to options schools to Montessori schools and STEM. There is something for everyone. I’d rather put my money, quite literally, on what has been proven and is yet innovative and those are the schools that have flourished for decades in our state.

  5. Dora,

    Your radar must be a little off because I am both a public school teacher and a member of a teachers union. However I am also a parent, and my kids have unfortunately experienced a bad school. That being said I was able to apply for a transfer, and the $SS attached to my children were relocated from our”neighborhood” school as a result.

    Using your logic, such mobility drains public schools. Of course it does not, the money simply follows student enrollment which it should. Charter schools are no different. They are public schools and thus they receive the same FTE funding that every other public school receives. It doesn’t drain the system anymore than the current system of open enrollment that exists in Seattle Public Schools.

    The real advantage of charter schools is that principals have greater control over school budgets, staff members are not constrained by district policies so they can better meet the unique needs of their student population, and teachers are allowed to negotiate contracts independent of the union.

    Trust me, no one is going to voluntarily send their kids to bad charter schools. If they are not organized and managed well, they will fail on their own. That being said it’s healthy to reform our public education system every once in a while, and let innovation flourish.

  6. I don’t understand the fear of charter schools. Enrollment is not compulsory, it is a choice. But if you live in a neighborhood with a bad public school, and some people do, there is no currently no choice except private school. Unfortunately that isn’t a real option for many families, especially in the current economy. Granted Washington voters have rejected charter schools in the past, but the opinions of voters frequently change over time. I suspect a PTA endorsement would influence public opinion to an extent. Of course we can expect the Washington Education Association to grab their proverbial pitchforks, because unions stand to lose if charter schools are allowed. But as far as parents and students are concerned, charter schools would be a welcomed in many Washington communities.

    1. Todd,

      Charter schools drain funding from school districts and yet do not offer an education to all children. They are selective and don’t have any requirements to be transparent in terms of their finances. Is this how you want your tax dollars used?

      I am not sure what you qualify as a “Bad school” but the privatizers present charter schools as an additional choice. In Seattle we have as much choice as any district parent could ask for as described in my article. What we want in Seattle is for the schools that we already have receive enough funding so that all students can succeed.

      In the state of Washington we have established the ALE, the Alternative Learning Experience. This program provides any district in the state of Washington an opportunity to develop alternative programs. As we have said before, we don’t need charter schools, which is basically privatizing public funds, to provide students in our state with choice.

      The importance of having this plank in the Washington State PTA platform is that then Ramona Hattendorf can then actively campaign for charter schools in Olympia. That’s her job, to lobby for the WSPTA. And trust me, DFER, Stand for Children, et al are just waiting in the wings for the next legislative session to begin to start drafting up bills regarding charter schools. See: Stand for Children Stands for the Rich and the Powerful…

      I always know a reformer because they start to bad mouth teachers and their unions. We actually like most of our teachers in Seattle and in fact many of them are highly regarded and appreciated. As for unions, that is another subject but needless to say, I believe that they are necessary to protect workers.

      Getting back to charter schools, the public needs to be informed regarding the effectiveness, or rather the lack thereof, of the majority of charter schools. Then parents, students, teachers and concerned citizens can make an informed decision and that is the raison d’ etat for this blog.


    2. Actually, Todd, you’ve got it COMPLETELY ass backwards—Because PARENTS stand to lose if charter schools are allowed.

      You then wrote, Todd, “But as far as parents and students are concerned, charter schools would be a welcomed (SIC) in many Washington communities.”

      I’m not sure if I can turn your gibberish into English, but if you’re trying to argue that charters were “welcomed” here, you truly are looking like the court jester hired by the 1% that detests anything “public” or “union”. What a tool.

      Or did you not notice that virtually the entire “parents and students” campaign was funded by Billionaire Parents and Students in exclusive, isolated private schools?

  7. Thank you, Dora. The PTA should be doing everything possible to STOP charter schools from invading the state. Having researched and written on the charter school movement in Indiana and elsewhere for almost a year now, I can truthfully say that charter schools are merely another means the corporate school reformers are using to privatize public education, reduce teachers to low-paid machines, and to spread more public money to the rich who don’t need it. Students in these schools are victims. Charter schools are safe havens for corporatists, cronies, and anyway else who wants to turn this country into a complete oligarchy. All parents would be wise to educate themselves on what is behind the charter school movement and to fight it off in Washington immediately. Your essay should be given a close study by all parents who come across this blog. Great job!

  8. Let’s not forget that Seattle also has public Montessori programs in the Southeast, Central and North areas of the district–with waiting lists! An excellent ‘alternative’ that we offer, one that draws parents in droves, and provides environments for STUDENT CENTERED learning. We don’t need charters for Montessori to exist in the public sector.

  9. Deb,

    From what I have found on the net, Kentucky, Washington, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Alabama, West Virginia, Vermont and Maine do not have charter schools. My information is not verified so I could be off by a state or two.

    The last battle over charter schools was in 2004 when the legislators passed a charter school bill. The Washington Education Association took it to the voters and they voted it down. Now again there is a huge push basically from outsiders and heavily backed by Bill Gates to pass a law allowing charter schools in our state. So far, once people understand the issues surrounding charter schools, they don’t want to see them in Seattle so for us it’s a matter of informing the public about the reality of charter schools.

    One way to get the word out about charter schools are letters to the editor and editorials. If people in states that have charter schools could share their stories, that would be an effective way to get the word out.

    Also money. Many of those who would be affected by charter schools are in minority communities where there is often no access to the internet unless it’s at a library. We need to get information into their hands on the subject by way of flyers and/or a newsletter.

    For additional information, you can reach me at 206-853-9790.

    Thanks for your support.


  10. Thank you for this great post that is so well researched and referenced. I understand that Washington is the only state that does not have charter schools. Is that true? I’ve often wondered how Washington has staved off the movement for so long considering that Bill Gates and all his money live there. What can those of us outside Washington do to help?

  11. Thank you for this comprehensive analysis. In North Carolina we have had charter schools since 1996 with a cap of 100 schools statewide. Over time, citizens have watched the schools become more and more segregated, many almost exclusively African American or Caucasian. Charter schools are not so much public schools but private schools paid for with taxpayer dollars. Many schools have devised business plans to exclude students, including not offering transportation or lunch for students and having an early release one day each week. Our charter school cap was just lifted and we are all concerned about the students in our state. I implore you to advocate against this plan to your state PTA. You can read more here http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/republicans-want-more-charter-schools-democrats-worry-theyre-segregated/Content?oid=2032474

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