The letter below is being sent to as many parents as we can contact regarding the PTA proposal to back charter schools during the next legislative session.

So far the people of this state have voted down charter schools three times and for good reason…they don’t work and it is simply a means to privatize one of our last public institutions.

If you know of a parent, teacher or concerned citizen that might need to be informed of both sides of the argument, please forward this to them.

This letter is a shorter version of two posts that I wrote in response to the PTA proposal.

It reads as follows:

Dear PTA Members,

Below is an excerpt from a blog post that I did regarding the PTA charter school proposal that has been sent to every school in this state.

Unfortunately, per the state PTA by-laws, an opposing viewpoint is not required for any proposed planks in the legislative platform so for that reason I, as a founding member of Parents Across America and a concerned parent, believe that parents should be completely informed on all issues regarding education. Because of that we are sending this e-mail with links to as many parents as we can before this piece is voted on during the PTA legislative session that is being held this month.

If the links do not read in the body of this e-mail, you can go to A letter to Parents in the State of Washington About Charter Schools to have access to all of the information.

I will begin with the first sentence of this proposal that will be set forth in the Washington State PTA legislation conference to be held on October 14 and 15th.

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 people who want to privatize our educational system 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.

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.

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 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.

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:

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.

 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.

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

And now a continuance of the flaws in this proposal:

How it works: The school’s “charter” spells out the mission and goals of that specific school. A local nonprofit or similar entity functions as the board of directors for the charter.

This is not the case unless you’re reading it off of Wikipedia as one of the quoted sources for this document. As stated before, these boards are hand selected by the CEO of the charter school.

This provides parents and community members with a meaningful forum to provide input, and enables the school to make quick and effective changes to meet the needs of the student body.

If it’s not like this in our schools, PTA members, then you should make it so. Also, many of these charter schools do not include parents in the decision-making process of their school. Alternative schools do encourage parent and/or student involvement.

Charter schools must also comply with policies set forth by its authorizer, which is typically a local school board or the state board of education.

So far it doesn’t look like this committee did much homework on charter schools or actively avoided doing any research. Two of the resources that they provide besides Wikipedia are KIPP, Inc. charter schools and Green Dot charter schools. From what I have read, the committee that put together this recommendation did it without reading any papers or studies that have been done regarding charter schools starting with the CREDO report. Other reports include:

The Great Lakes Center on the Brookings Report

UCLA Report Says That Charters Are Causing Resegregation of American Schools

Instructional Conditions in Charter Schools and Student Mathematics’ Achievement Gains

National Education Policy Center: School Without Diversity

Getting back to the 2011 Proposed Statement on Charter Schools as set forth by our Washington State PTA..

Funding for charters is the same for any public school: The money follows the student. Charters would not require new funding, but they would divert funding to new programs.

And if the student leaves, and many of them do, the money stays with the charter school for that year. Also, transportation costs are paid by the district, not the charter school. CEO’s of these franchises are making bundles of cash off of the use of these public funds.

For more examples of cashing in on charter schools, see:

Charter Schools Outsource Education to Management Firms With Mixed Results

Charter schools windfall is public kids’ loss as state has city on the hook for $32 Million

Comptroller Di Napoli and Harry Wilson: Where do they stand on fiscal oversight of charter schools and DOE?

Inexperienced Companies Chase US School Funds

Big Banks Making a Bundle on New Construction as Schools Bear the Cost

This proposal continues with…

Why Now?

Washington’s Report Card, compiled annually by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, shows entrenched racial and income disparities for all subjects tested, at all grades.

And while academic achievement overall has increased, the gap persists. In fact, according to analysis of 2008-09 National Assessment of Educational Progress data, Washington is one of only nine states where the achievement gap is growing. Even though all subgroups are doing better, white students are improving more. To close the gap, lower-achieving groups must do dramatically better.

According to OSPI analysis, the gaps in 10th-grade math between black vs. white and Hispanic vs. non-Hispanic white won’t close for another 54 and 46 years, respectively. (really?) And while our white and Asian students are internationally competitive in math and science, our black and Latino eighth-graders perform at the level of students from developing nations.

Here comes that magic bullet, charter schools. According to study after study, charter schools have not significantly raised test scores or closed this “achievement gap” that the reformers are constantly referring to and in fact are resegregating our schools turning back the clock to the 1950′s. See:

The McEducation of the Negro

Charter Schools and Civil Rights

KIPPsters versus Hipsters

University of Minnesota: Failed Promises

Florida Charters Less Diverse Than Other Public Schools

How Education Reform Traps Poor Children

The Washington State proposal to bring charter schools into our state continues:

Why is this issue important?

While parents have the right of school choice in Washington, districts do not have to honor their choice if there is no space at the desired school. And districts do not have to provide transportation to a school that is out of a child’s assignment area.

Thanks to our ex-superintendent and compliant school board who put “neighborhood schools” into effect last year, many students have limited choice. This can be reversed by the interim superintendent and the school board if they so desire.

Moreover, communities wishing to increase school options can face great hurdles. Districts are under no obligation to create, expand or support innovative programs.

…but school options exist, are proposed every year and approved eg: STEM and Queen Anne Elementary School last year in Seattle.

Legislatively, Washington has been supportive of innovation in schools. Allowing public charters would be one way to encourage its practice.

Poor argument. Look at STEM, Queen Anne and Skyline. We are already dong this.

Next in their proposal for charter schools:


Besides the fact that they have received a few mil from Bill Gates who is a proponent of charter schools?

Part of Washington State PTA’s mission is to be a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for the well-being and education of every child. Charters could promote school choice, flexibility and local autonomy, and give communities new options.

The sad part about this is that the PTA is actually pitching this to smaller districts where there is little to no interest for charter companies to come in. Seattle and Bellevue have excellent options in place and would not need any additional “options”.

Like school districts, non-profits that run public charters can vary in quality. The rules they adhere to can also vary dramatically. To ensure they benefit children, Washington State PTA should engage in any conversation about charters and, if the state opts to allow them, work to ensure that they partner with communities.

The PTA hasn’t done anything significant yet in terms of interceding on the part of public schools.

Unlike many states that have considered charters, we already have choice and innovation. For us the issue is availability of programs. Washington is also a local-control state. If public charters are responsive and inclusive, they could carry local control a step further and promote more site-based control. Families could potentially have even greater role in decision-making.

The problem with this statement is that because charter schools are privately run and the finances tightly controlled, parents are not encouraged to be a part of board meetings and many times these meetings are held privately.

Or, public charters could operate more like a private business – responsive in the sense that if they don’t succeed within the designated time frame

…as in meeting a goal in terms of test scores, which means teaching to the test, weeding out students who can’t “keep up” and then closing the school if things don’t work out. How’s that for stability in a community?

they will lose their charter

Go out of business.

but otherwise able to act independently of elected officials.

No Democratic process required.

If they do not make provisions to include families in school management, or set clear guidelines about how they respond to complaints and concerns, then the community could lose that aspect of local control.

I have not come across this happening in all of my readings on charter schools.

And this excerpt:

The National PTA has qualified support for charter schools:

o The National PTA acknowledges charter schools as one avenue to school reform and supports the concept of charter schools only if the schools reflect the positions and principles of the National PTA. The National PTA will support legislation or policy decisions relating to charter schools that adhere to and comply with applicable laws and guidelines set forth for other public elementary and secondary educational institutions.¨

So far I haven’t seen the PTA intercede on the behalf of parents or students anywhere in this country and my readings have been extensive.

The Resource list which is part of this proposal is woefully inadequate citing Wikipedia, KIPP and Greendot as the sole sources of information regarding charter schools.

For additional information on charter schools, the list below is a good beginning:

The Myth of Charter Schools by Diane Ravitch

Catalyst: A revolving door for charter teachers

Southern Poverty Law Center: Access Denied

Charter School Scandals

Diane Ravitch: Obama and Arne Duncan Are Wrong About Charters

If you have any questions regarding charter schools or would like for a Parents Across America representative meet with parents in your school, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Dora Taylor

Post Script: For additional information about this proposal and the League of Education Voters who will be represented at the legislative conference, see: