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Wayne Au: Learning to Read: Charter Schools, Public Education, and the Politics of Educational Research

Dr. Wayne Au is an Assistant Professor in the Education Program at the University of Washington in Bothell. Dr. Au is also editor of Rethinking Schools.

Dr. Au was a panelist  at the PTA forum on charter schools that was held on February 28, 2012. To follow are the opening remarks that he made.

Learning to Read: Charter Schools, Public Education, and the Politics of Educational Research

By Wayne Au

Good evening. Some of you might recall that about a month ago The Seattle Times published an Op-Ed that I wrote where I explained how some major studies found a lack of effectiveness of charter schools in raising the achievement of African American, Latino, and low-income students beyond regular public schools, and in many cases found that charters underperformed regular public schools. Soon after The Times published a letter to the editor that attacked of my credibility as a scholar, professional, and educator by suggesting that I didn’t know how to read educational research.

I want you to know that I took this suggestion to heart and really considered the possibility that maybe I didn’t know how to read. Perhaps, despite being a graduate of Garfield High School, getting my Master in Teaching degree from The Evergreen State College, being a public school teacher for several years, and earning my PhD from the top ranked department of curriculum & instruction in the nation, I hadn’t learned to properly read. Perhaps my multiple academic books, my long-time work as a writer and editor at a leading social justice education magazine, my articles appearing in the most prestigious, peer-reviewed scholarly journals in educational research, were simply a fluke.

Maybe I simply needed some more practice.

So I decided to read. I read reports about how amazing charter schools are at raising achievement. I mean, the accolades are EVERYWHERE: Researchers lauding New Orleans’ charter schools for raising reading scores; Columnists raving about how charter reforms in New York City have improved drop-out rates; Politicians crowing about how charter schools are THE cure for closing the achievement gap. Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, newspaper editors, pundits, CEOs, billionaires…It seemed like damned near everyone seems to love charter schools. Apparently we had already reached a commonsense consensus on charters, and I didn’t get the memo – or, rather, I probably misread the memo.

Soon I started reading things that made me question my reading skills even more. I read that after Hurricane Katrina some 17,000 students, mostly African American, poor, and many with disabilities, never returned to New Orleans, making pre-and-post Katrina comparisons of achievement more than questionable. I read about how the charters schools in New Orleans were regularly denying entry to students with disabilities. I read about how the suspension and expulsion rates in New Orleans have been astronomical compared to national averages and compared to the wealthier, whiter districts in surrounding areas. I read that most of the charters there rely on funding from foundations to work their supposed magic, and I read about New Orleans’ test score scandals.

And then I was reading about how this kind of stuff wasn’t only happening in New Orleans.

I read about how the lowered dropout rates in New York City were the product of district officials trying not to officially label for students who’ve left school as dropouts.

I read that some charters in Chicago are charging their students money for minor infractions like chewing gum, netting one charter management organization over $190,000 dollars in operating funds.

I read about how charter schools in Washington D.C. have disproportionately high suspension rates of 16%, over twice the national average, with some individual charters having rates of suspension as high as 51 and 64%.

I read about the extremely high annual turnover rates for charter school teachers, where up to 1 in 4 teachers leave each year.

I read about charters in Florida going without textbooks, charging illegal fees to students, faking student attendance, and creaming high performing students from public schools.

I read about how in Philadelphia 19 of the 74 charter schools in the district are under federal investigation for fraud, financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest.

I read about the 6,000 students in California who were given three weeks to find new schools after a charter management organization there went bankrupt.

I then read about how in California over $10 million dollars in state and federal start-up monies evaporated as charters went bankrupt soon after opening.

I read about how in New York, the leadership of some non-profit charter management organizations are pulling down salaries close to $400k dollars a year, and contracting services out to private industry by the truckload.

As I read this stuff, I started to see some patterns within the charter school model. Despite the claims of advocates, it looked to me like, charter schools lacked public oversight and accountability; It looked to me like charter schools were about the massive deregulation of a democratically run, public institution; It looked to me like the charter model viewed public education through the anarchy of free market competition, paying little regard to the human costs and consequences; It looked to me like parents were being treated as consumers, not as democratic citizens; It looked to me like charter school advocates had their eye on the $600 billion dollar business of public education.

With this in mind I revisited the much discussed CREDO study, and there I read that it came out of the Hoover Institute at Stanford. And then I read about how the Hoover Institute is a long-time right-wing think tank that believes in free market reforms and the privatization of public institutions.

And then I looked at the more recent Mathematica study, done in partnership with the Center for Reinventing Public Education. There I read that the study was commissioned by the NewSchools Venture Fund, as well as the both the Gates and Walton foundations. Come to find out, in reading the website for the Center on Reinventing Public Education, not only is their leadership connected to the conservative Hoover and Brookings Institutes, they have they also received money from the Gates, Walton, and Broad Foundations to support their work on charter schools.

I then read about how the Gates Foundation has given large sums of money to some organizations to aid in charter advocacy. So, for instance, the League of Education Voters shifted its policy agenda to charter school advocacy as well as the misuse of high-stakes tests in teacher evaluation, coincidentally getting money from Gates along the way. Or, as another instance, Gates has supported Stand For Children and their policy shifted towards charters and the improper use of tests in evaluation as well. One might even raise questions about how the WA State PTA got some money from Gates, and now its lobbyist and leadership has coincidentally taken up a pro-charter agenda.

As I continued to read, I came to find out that Gates, Broad, and Walton only support research that is pro-charters. These billionaires aren’t interested in honestly researching effective ways to close achievement gaps. In the case of charter schools, rather, they only fund research that tries to prove charter schools are effective. Apparently Gates, Broad, and Walton care about political advocacy, not actual research or real grassroots support.

As I read more about these billionaires, I also noticed that, not only do they exclusively support charters, they also use their vast wealth exclusively to support efforts to implement top-down, undemocratic business-like structures of school governance, to attack teachers’ rights to collective bargaining and due process, and to increase the improper use of high-stakes standardized tests to evaluate students and teachers. All of which are part and parcel of the free-market, corporate model of education reform.

And I wondered to myself, “Why, when their stated intent is to help kids, would charter advocates rely on a free-market model of reform when it has been clear, especially in these economic times, that recent rounds of deregulation and privatization have contributed to so much inequality?”

Finally, after all this reading, I came to few realizations:

My first realization was that I hadn’t misread the educational research in the first place. Charter schools are NOT the magic bullet for closing the achievement gap that advocates claim them to be.

Second, I came to the realization that I am not willing to risk the educational lives of our children based purely on someone’s promise that “Things are going to be different this time,” when that same promise hasn’t held up anywhere else.

Third, in a straight forward discussion about the effectiveness of charters, we should seriously question research and analysis of charter schools completed by people whose full time job is to advocate for charters, and who work for openly pro-charter organizations which themselves are funded by openly pro-charter billionaires. Isn’t that sort of like asking Howard Schultz his opinion on whether or not we should drink Starbucks coffee to wake us up in the morning?

But don’t trust me on all of this. Remember, I don’t know how to read. For that matter I would say don’t trust anyone’s word on this. When it comes to charter schools or any other aspect of school reform I encourage you to really interrogate the issue on your own and from every angle possible. Just make sure you are critical of everything, and certainly make sure that you read between the lines.

Thank You.

Wayne Au


40 comments on “Wayne Au: Learning to Read: Charter Schools, Public Education, and the Politics of Educational Research

  1. seattleducation2011
    March 12, 2012


    In Seattle, particularly in some of the progressive alternative schools such as Nova High School, the principal and staff are recognized for their IEP programs that integrate the students as much as possible into the mainstream classes and activities, and parents with students who would flourish in such programs do all that they can to get their children registered into these schools.

    Charter schools are not the answer, at least in our state. The needs of many different types of students with different needs are addressed successfully. The state of Washington has voted down charter schools thee times and for good reason, our programs address the needs of our students.

    Of course, if our school system was funded adequately we could do much more but until then, principals and staff in our schools go the extra mile to accommodate all students. You can’t say that about the KIPPs of the world and those are the charter franchises that would be at our door in a New York minute.

    Our alternative school programs provide all with the opportunity to succeed.


  2. Caroline Grannan
    March 11, 2012

    @endersdragon, yes, there are specialty charter schools for students with disabilities. They are outliers. But what I’m talking about is the schools that are supposed to serve the full range of students but turn away students with disabilities and special health care needs, or do unless the disabilities are mild (and not costly to accommodate!).

    It’s not knowable how many charters do that, since they do it covertly.

    I am a big advocate of flexibility too, and sometimes break with education advocates with whom I otherwise agree on most points on those issues. But it needs not to harm the greater good — charter schools damage the other schools in their communities, and public education overall, and thus harm other children. That has to be balanced with the need for flexibility.

    • endersdragon
      March 11, 2012

      There are certainly problems with the charter system, anyone can see that, but I am always seeing people advocating throwing the baby out with the bathwater, which I can not agree with. Charter school laws are generally the only ones that can set up school like this, and quite frankly I wouldn’t want it part of the school district as a whole as it would make it far too easy for kids to be “counseled” into these schools and kicked out of their neighborhood schools. I feel the only way separate can be equal is if it is a true choice, and not a choice made for you.

      As for your last paragraph, you won’t get far with utilitarian arguments with me. When you are never part of the majority, appeals to it is good for the majority just don’t work. We need alternatives for kids that the schools system can’t or won’t work for. I have talked to many people involved in either Montessori schools or schools like Spectrum Charter made just for Aspies, and they can’t believe how bad my education was, both with the bullying, and the not being taught any math for years.

      • Caroline Grannan
        March 11, 2012

        I wouldn’t have a problem with specialty schools like that as charter schools if the overall charter movement wasn’t so damaging to public education. But then (to digress into an entirely different area of discussion) — I work for a nonprofit that works with children with disabilities, and its philosophy calls for full inclusion. A lot of parents of children with disabilities passionately hate specialty schools like Spectrum. It’s complicated — the whole issue of special education is complicated. But that’s really a side issue.

        The heart of your argument is “I don’t care what’s best for the greater good,” endersdragon, and while I understand the basis for that, we DO have to care what’s best for the greater good. You can’t argue effectively while basing your case on that attitude.

    • endersdragon
      March 11, 2012

      LOL remember I am autistic, so I see the debate all the time. I think the important thing is that the choice is there, and that it won’t be forced upon someone or even urged on someone (which means it has to stay independent). It being damaging brings me back to throwing the baby out with the bath water. We need the baby, we need to get rid of the bath water, not it is time to figure out how it will happen.

      It would be best for the greatest good if we didn’t educate children with special needs at all. Think of how much more money could go to the greater good if we weren’t spending money on aides and special education teachers. How much more attentiveness there would be if we got rid of the all distractions while we are at it. Heck, it would be best for the greatest good if we just made sure all these kids (like myself) got aborted or killed at birth so we don’t have to support people with disabilities at all. Of course, this won’t happen, so we have to bend from “the greater good” a bit, and I don’t see allowing exceptional kids to go to exceptional schools as being that big of a jump.

      • Caroline Grannan
        March 11, 2012

        That would be the kids my organization works with too. I’ll try to restate. As I say, I wouldn’t have a problem with such specialty schools operating as charters (taking into account the conflict with my employer’s philosophy).

        But the overwhelming majority of charter schools are not specialty schools like that. They’re either operating in “competition” with public schools and supposedly serving the same students. Overall, they don’t do any better than public schools, and many do worse. And the ones that ARE successful showplaces are inevitably employing one or more practices, generally covert, that mean that they cherry-pick and dump their rejects on public schools. A public school could do that stuff too and suddenly soar. Those are not practices that improve education. The need to have some specialty schools that work with students with disabilities doesn’t justify the entire rest of the charter sector, with its abuses and dishonest practices, in my opinion.

    • endersdragon
      March 11, 2012

      And I would agree with that, but we do need some sort of charter laws for that to happen, which it seems like the founder of this site totally disagrees with that.

      • Caroline Grannan
        March 12, 2012

        It would be a terrible mistake to emulate the charter laws that are harming public education in other states. It can’t be that difficult to create a law providing for specialty schools for students with disabilities, if that’s needed.

    • endersdragon
      March 12, 2012

      I think more than just that is needed. It isn’t just students with disabilities that need methods of alternative education. Artistic, gifted (an at-risk population that shouldn’t be), homosexual, ESL, etc. students all need some place where they can thrive. Beyond that we should allow for Montessori charters and the like for all students, not just the exceptional ones. Change the laws so that they have to be doing something different, but don’t change the laws so much that only the most specialty schools can exist.

      • Caroline Grannan
        March 12, 2012

        Those don’t have to be charters. My kids’ non-charter San Francisco public high school is an arts school (and totally GLBTQ-friendly, by the way), and that’s not an uncommon model around the country. San Francisco also has a public Montessori program and a good array of language immersion schools (and ESL programs in many schools, as required by law). There’s no reason whatsoever that these programs have to be charters.

    • endersdragon
      March 12, 2012

      Frequently when alternative forms of education are offered by the public school system kids can be forced or discouraged to join. San Fran might be a bit better with this than a lot of school districts I have been too, but then again, is there really any reason they shouldn’t be charter schools? Many school boards barely understand traditional schools, I can’t imagine them trying to run a school for the arts, or a school for gifted students, or worst yet a Montessori School (which generally are run by different overseers). In my experience often schools that call themselves are not.

      San Fran also has the benefit of being a well populated city. Not every area is so lucky and then you would have to consider the logistics behind open enrollment when there isn’t a large enough population to feed a school in one school district. Those logistics get a bit easier when there is a little autonomy from the school system at large.

      Beyond that if the only type of charter schools you allow are for disabled kids, then it will create a stigma on charter schools in general and would be just as good as the public school system running it. I am not sure I like that idea at all.

      • endersdragon
        March 12, 2012

        Whoops that should have read, call themselves Montessori schools are not. This is especially true when it is the public school system offering it. This frequently requires the school to obey laws that are not designed to be equatable to Montessori education, and thus a lot of the Montessori is lost. For example many reading and writing standards are hard for a school to follow when the school doesn’t believe in exposing young children (I believe it is around 2nd grade they start to change, but even then it is gradual) to fictional stories.

  3. endersdragon
    March 11, 2012

    “Second, I came to the realization that I am not willing to risk the educational lives of our children based purely on someone’s promise that “Things are going to be different this time,” when that same promise hasn’t held up anywhere else.”

    Funny, that’s why I don’t trust public schools. See, I know my point is going to be ignored as Arizona State University has deemed me unfit to teach for being autistic (or rather, I failed student teaching without ever failing a performance review… for being autistic) but I do have my master’s in sped so let me try. I have studied all about the history of special education in America, it isn’t a long proud history, even in this era.

    I suppose my problems with it started when I was a kid, back in the 90s. I had undiagnosed autism at the time (diagnosed now, though not according to the Arizona Department of Ed but that’s another matter entirely), but also a traumatic brain injury and an inability to sound out words that any test would have been able to see (thankfully I am a whole language reader, so that kept me good for a while). Yet, that isn’t enough to be worthy of an IEP, but is enough to try to put a child in an ED/BD room (which could have seriously killed me). Meanwhile, a companion of mine, who was of totally average intelligence was forced into a special education class for a while, so the school could save a little money on a nurse. Not exactly what should happen.

    Then there was middle school and high school… 7 years of constant bullying, woohoo. Now that I am all grown up I see that it isn’t that uncommon. There have been studies done that have found that people who are similarly disabled are bullied on a daily basis way more often than not (I have seen more than 90% of people several times before in fact). If you want to actually see this experience from out end I would suggest the movie The Bully Project, which is about to come out and talks about Tyler Long, a young aspie who committed suicide because he was bullied on that sort of basis. Meanwhile, we, and our parents, are told nothing is wrong, and it is just boys will be boys.

    Then there is a matter of how rigid public schools can be, especially with twice-exceptional kids. I learned nothing at school in the area of mathematics from early in my first grade year until high school. That is not an exaggeration by the way, I was always ahead of my class until I got to the point where I surpassed my mother’s knowledge and couldn’t read the advanced text books (remember that phonics thing… yeaaaaa). At that time, sometime in 4th or 5th grade, I just stopped learning. The schools solution, give me 20 minutes of gifted education a day 3 days a week… OMG joy, 60 minutes a week where I am actually being taught at something approaching my level (admittedly still behind my level, but you can’t win them all right.)

    Then I hear that it is getting better, with no evidence of it. That I should just wait, but for how much longer. That my kids… who will likely be autistic too, will have it better, and I should just hope. Sorry, that isn’t good enough. Heck, I was just kicked out of a student teaching a classroom where a teacher taught a couple autistic kids, not because the kids weren’t learning (they were), not because of abuse of any kid (there was none), not because the kids hated me (they all seemed to love having me there), but because my nonverbal communication wasn’t up to stuff in staff and parent meetings. I am suppose to trust such a teacher, and such a system to teach my kids… I don’t think so. I want a teacher who will teach my kids they can be anything they want to be, not anything they want to be as long as it doesn’t involve socialization. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?

    Now I know that some charter schools won’t accept my kids (any stats showing how many won’t), but there are also constantly being charter schools designed to serve my kids. Many of these are “sped” schools like Spectrum Academy or the like. Sometimes they are alternative schools, for example teaching Montessori style, which many autistic kids enjoy. Also quite a few parents I know are taking advantage of online schools for their kids. It gets them out of a bullying environment, and gives them more control and more knowledge about what their kids are learning (not always easy with autistic kids who speak little). Meanwhile, many are still doing happy in public education. I suppose my point in, one size doesn’t fit all, and never fit me.

  4. jim eagen
    March 5, 2012

    I think you are painting a broad stroke on charters, and this is way too simple. There are plenty of great charter schools, not about corporate dollars, but about teaching and learning, just as there are many great public schools, not about drop outs and lazy teachers, but that are safe and doing great things to help students learn. To be so anti-charter is simply ignorant. Many states have fabulous independent charter schools – free of any corporate management or franchise mentality. There are hundreds of mom and pop indy charters, that are autonomous in design and culture, and offer unique educational options in communities that often embrace their innovation and programming . They are full of caring adults working hard to meet the needs of children everyday. Bashing away at charters in such a broad sense is no better than politicians saying all the schools in America are failing. It’s absurd.


    • Caroline Grannan
      March 5, 2012

      I dispute that I’m ignorant — I’ve been following education “reform” closely for at least 12 years. I send my kids to school in a district with a number of charter schools, in a state with a huge number of charter schools. i have friends who are charter school parents and charter school teachers.

      Charter schools overall are a destructive force that do harm to public education.

      Yes, there are good charters — with big asterisks.

      The “good” charters pick and choose their students, dump the rest on the public school down the street, and then loftily proclaim themselves superior to the public school that accepts their rejects.

      The “good” charters push their less successful students out the door in droves and don’t replace them.

      The “good” charters reap vast amounts in donated private philanthropy (while their supporters claim that public schools don’t need more funding).

      The “good” charters tell parents of disabled students not to apply because they “can’t meet your child’s needs.”

      The “good” charters have long, demanding enrollment application processes that require motivation, education and savvy to navigate, thus weeding out the low-functioning and unmotivated.

      And despite all this, the charter sector overall is lower-performing than public schools are.

    • seattleducation2011
      March 6, 2012


      I’m going to put it this way, we don’t need charter schools in the state of Washington. There is a lack of public oversight and yet a use of taxpayer dollars. The schools that you describe, Jim, we have in out progressive alternative/option programs. The charter schools that are knocking at our door are the KIPP franchises with their cash cow EMO’s not far behind. That is how the charter school proposal was written for the state of Washington.

      Now, one other point. Everyone on this blog keeps a civil tongue. I will not allow people calling each other ignorant. That’s your warning. One more description like that of another poster and you’re off the island.


  5. Mike McMahon
    March 5, 2012

    Here is an article about the U shaped performance of charter schools in California:

  6. Martin Zehr
    March 4, 2012

    Here’s yet another indicator of how things are deteriorating and why the roots of the problem are not even touched.

  7. Caroline Grannan
    March 3, 2012

    Martin’s comments might be valid if charters were more successful at educating students, but they aren’t. Despite the immense advantages they have over public schools (no, charters are not public schools) — as demonstrated by Melissa, who points out that charters can pick, choose and cherry-pick and thus DON’T have to accept the most challenged students — charters overall are LESS successful than public schools.

    So the whole story implying that they’re better is simply false.

    And Melissa, charters did not begin as an enemy to public schools, but the charter sector rapidly positioned itself as in ruthless competition with the public schools with which it leaves the most challenging students. So it’s disingenuous to claim that you don’t feel there needs to be competition. Tell that to the billionaires and mighty right-wing public-education opponents who are using charters as a weapon.

    Sorry to speak so strongly, but as a California public education advocate I’ve been hearing this bullcrap from the charter sector for many years now (it’s new to Washington, of course. I have no further patience with it.

    • Martin Zehr
      March 4, 2012

      Good luck to you all. I hope that you feel the same way after everthing is said and done. The fact of the matter is that charter schools are meant as an escape hatch. They don’t need to do more than keep the peace and meet state standards to succeed. California keeps dumping more and more responsibilities on public schools and playing games with public schools. Do job 1 first and the rest will follow. If you can’t even accomplish the basics then you won’t get others to buy-in. Never seen such a mess as California schools. “O wad some Power the giftie gie us
      To see oursels as ithers see us!”
      People still look for schools they can send their children to, they are just looking at other options outside the public school system. Wish it weren’t so, but blaming billionaires just won’t add one ounce on the scales of literacy. The situation has been getting worse for 30 years and it’s not because of billionaires and it’s not because of teachers’ unions.

      • Caroline Grannan
        March 4, 2012

        And yet a large number of charter schools do NOT succeed — and the majority do not achieve better than comparable public schools — despite being propped up by gazillions from the billionaires, hype from the mainstream media, and their ability to pick and choose and exclude whomever they want, including students with disabilities. Their attraction is understandable because of the fact that they can exclude challenging students, but overall, the charter sector is simply not succeeding despite the vast advantages it enjoys compared to public schools.

        The primary challenge faced by California schools is our state’s inability to fund them adequately as demands on the schools increase. Whatever that supposed analysis and the Robert Burns quote meant, they didn’t address the main issue.

  8. Laser48
    March 3, 2012

    This is about privatizing public education. Gates, Broad and Walton would not be into charters if there weren’t money to be made. I am an 11-year veteran high school English teacher in the Los Angeles Petrified School District. I’ve been laid off each of the past three years because of budget cuts. This year I never made it back into the system. Eight months out of work.

    This is by design. LAUSD has given away schools to charter organizations and is losing students. Thus, they’re losing money. So what do they do? Dismiss teachers and vital staff members. And they keep on giving away schools to charters.

    LAUSD spent $578 million on a new school on the site of the Ambassador Hotel where Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The Beijing Olympic Stadium cost less. The district also spent hundreds of millions on a high school built on top of an earthquake fault and toxins. The two schools cost the citizens of LA more than a billion dollars.

    What’s happened in New Orleans is criminal. Kids are being bused to schools on the other side of town because they can’t get into their neighborhood schools. They’ve been converted to charters. Seventy-five per cent of New Orleans’ schools are charters. Hurricane Katrina made this possible. This is disaster capitalism at its most wicked.

    Look around you. Districts everywhere are converting their schools to charters. The end game will read something like this: students will walk into a classroom filled with computers. An “educational facilitator” will flip a switch and turn them on. S/he will make sure the kids are all working on the current online educational software program and then open a newspaper. No exchange of ideas. Everybody learning the same material from the same source. And you can bet Microsoft will have the educational software market cornered.

  9. Melissa Donner
    March 3, 2012

    I’m with you all, but I also work at a charter in Philly. I’m pro-union and wish that the public education system in Philadelphia was valued, funded, held accountable (and I don’t mean through test scores), and fair. However, it isn’t and, unfortunately, it isn’t going to be anytime soon. Charters in Philly are not necessarily better, and by better I mean in regards to test scores, teacher quality, and management. However, they are noticeably safer. My students do not throw desks through windows and do not fear coming to school. That is HUGE. I’m proud to work at a place that offers students a safe learning environment. There are serious issues on my school and we’re working on them just like all schools are, but I, not to mention my students and their guardians, really appreciate there being a safe and nurturing option for under-privileges adolescents.

    I’m saying this just to show that not everyone, in fact not many people as far as I know, who work at charters are in favor of the corporate take-over of education. Not in the least. Most of us work at charters because right now there’s more hope in these schools. We’re paid less and we have more responsibilities (sometimes), but we feel safe and optimistic. That’s where I’m at right now; I’m working where I think I can have the most impact and where I can maintain my own precious sanity.

    At the same time, I participate in professional organizations that are of mixed pedigree, and I don’t feel like there needs to be competition between charters and the public domain if we are all working for kids. I harbor immense criticism for some charters, including my own, but not as much as I harbor for the public school system of Philadelphia at the moment, and not nearly as much as I harbor for superficial rhetoric in support of education coming from the government. Basically, I feel like, as educators, we’re in this together.

    • seattleducation2011
      March 3, 2012


      It sounds to me that the schools that you are referring to in Philly are not at all like the schools that we have in Seattle, Bellevue, Issaquah, Tacoma or any of the major districts in our state. Kids don’t throw desks through windows and there is very little incidence of crime. We are fortunate in that sense. Seattle is not Detroit, LA, New York or Chicago. Our urban areas are much less dense and much less impoverished.

      We have pretty darn good programs and schools right now in our state. Our schools do need more money though, there is no doubt about that. We have had to let go of librarians, counselors and nursing centers or stations, we have art on a cart, very little PE, not enough books, larger classes than ideal and too little class time due to budget cuts. Many of our buildings are not earthquake safe (although thanks to a lot of work that I did, Seattle is working on that now) and many don’t have accessible upgrades that are mandatory in public buildings simply because there is not enough money. To say that money is not the answer is ludicrous and I do believe that you know that Martin. Our public institutions are suffering due to a lack of funding. I see it every time that I go onto a campus. I teach at various schools in after school programs and I see what the students have and what they don’t have.

      In terms of competition, it is a matter of competing for space between charter schools and existing public schools. That’s the only competition that I see and that sucks. I read almost daily how charter schools squeeze out existing public schools, out of their own buildings!

      Also, charter schools are typically selective in terms of who they keep and the students that they counsel out. We don’t work like that in Seattle.

      Charter schools are typically non-union and hire inexperienced and less expensive staff, that’s not what I want for my child. Melissa, I’m not saying that you are inexperienced because I don’t know you, but that’s how these charter franchises roll.

      There is absolutely no reason why we need charter schools in our state. It’s not going to address the existing situations that keep some students from achieving success in their own way. We have got to do better but it will take more that a KIPPster or an earnest TFA, Inc. recruit to fill the gaps.


  10. Martin Zehr
    March 3, 2012


    You might want to read what I have written: To be honest, I see no reason to be optimistic about the future of public education, and I see that no one is really vested in its preservation. There is much more at work than simply Dems vs. Repubs. There are so many clashes in regards to the importance of education and so little committment to addressing the problems that I recommend that teachers are better off finding a new careeer, as so many are. It isn’t just funding, it’s now the status of quality education for the next generation has been discredited by attacks from all sides and demands made on teachers beyond the capacity to deliver.Everyone knows how to teach better than teachers, so let’s just let them do the job.

    • seattleducation2011
      March 3, 2012


      I’m sorry that you feel that way but I don’t, otherwise I wouldn’t be investing so much time and energy into what I do.


  11. Corinne Gregory
    March 3, 2012

    I always cringe when I hear that “this movement” or “that initiative” is going to “fix” education. This time for sure, Bullwinkle. Charters are no different, which is why I can’t understand that so many education ‘experts’ are advocating so strongly for Washington State to accept charters.

    “School failure” is a matter of attitude and we’ve been doing the same things over and over again for the past 40 years and continue to scratch our heads why it hasn’t worked this time.

    I cover this and many other problems with so-called Education Reform in one of my latest books, “Education Reform & Other Myths” ( Much of what we are dealing with is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and yet, we should be thinking about how to avoid the iceberg to begin with. It can be done, and it’s not about “more money,” “more teachers,” “common core standards,” or any of the other popular fixes. Charters are just another way to rearrange those deck chairs.

    – Corinne Gregory

  12. oneteacherleftbehind
    March 3, 2012

    Thank you for writing this. The media’s pro-charter message has been so strong that even my veteran LAUSD colleagues are becoming pro-charter/anti-union. This is a sad, sad time to be a public school employee.

  13. Martin Zehr
    March 3, 2012

    Here is something else for you to read:

    • seattleducation2011
      March 3, 2012

      Thanks Martin,

      I am familiar with the statistics.

      There is a correlation between funding and “test scores”. In the state of Washington we are around 42 I believe in funding per student and it shows in our overall numbers.

      Even in these times though, there are many great examples of schools and programs that work in spite of all odds. Those example include Nova High School, TOPS, Pathfinder, the APP programs, the Montessori programs and IB in Seattle, Aviation High School in Highline, as well as the School of the Arts (SOTA), the Science and Math Institute (SAMI) and Lincoln Center in Tacoma. I am sure that there are many other programs like these in our state that serve a diverse population and have been able to create successful programs for all of our students to participate in.


  14. Martin Zehr
    March 3, 2012

    This is definitely a better way to quelch any reform than to present state test scores as evidence of the failure of public schools. It’s reasonable to find flaws in alternatives, but let’s not obscure the reason that the alternatives are being sought. The fact is that we are dealing with new demographics, teacher demoralization, loss of recruitment of new teachers, teacher turnover, lack of adequate teacher training, degradation of buildings and proliferation of portables, budget cuts, school closings, class size increases, student misconduct, administration turnover, loss of vocational options for students and repeated measures to teach to the test. It becomes only fair at some point that people can find a way out. The situation is beyond just the need to defend the status quo, because no child deserves to be sentenced to the fate to which they are destined in the public education system in most American cities. Charter schools may not demonstrate the numbers for access of public schools, but then the issue of excellence in education at least has the opportunity to be presented. That appears to be the underlying criticism of charter schools. Their option attracts the few and thereby sends the stats crashing on the rest. So, social justice argues that they all go down together. (I guess)

    • seattleducation2011
      March 3, 2012


      Once we begin to value education again in this country, and our children, we will begin to adequately fund education.

      Where we are with our school buildings and the lack of resources from much needed support staff to class materials and books is a reflection of the value that we have placed on educaiton in the last forty to fifty years.

      Athletes make millions, teachers make very little, our sports stadiums and entertainment centers, many paid for by tax dollars, are incredible pieces of architecture and yet our school buildings are in shambles.

      Our schools are a reflection of our values.

      All children must be treated equally and provided with an opportunity to succeed.

      Once we begin to fund education adequately, we will be able to address the issues that affect our children and their families, and provide all with an education that affords individuals with the tools to not only provide for themselves but to also in whatever way. give back to society.

      You might be interested in an essay that I wrote on the subject, Where do we go from here?


  15. Deetje Boler
    March 3, 2012

    Can someone please help me out to know which one of the Bush brothers — Neil or Jeb? – sold the tests to the schools (those tests on which the closing of the “under-achieving” schools are privatized)? And how much $ they’ve made off them? Grrrr!

  16. Eastside Parent
    March 2, 2012

    There have been bloggers who have stated that the CREDO study findings actually do support Charter Schools and that the percentages used by anti-charter school advocates are misinterpretations of the data which is the criticism I believe Dr. Wu is addressing. Their argument, of course, ignores all the other issues Dr. Wu raises regarding charters. What I have heard, also, from in-state charter school supporters is that the WA bill will be different and will not allow these for-profit charters. To me this seems a very naive stance.

    • Caroline Grannan
      March 2, 2012

      Not to mince words: they’re lying. The furious response by colleagues of Raymond’s (mainly Caroline Hoxby) — arguing vehemently against Raymond — confirms that. The CREDO results were unambiguously negative toward charters and were a big black eye to the charter sector.

  17. seattleducation2011
    March 2, 2012

    Thanks Caroline for bring up that point.


  18. Caroline Grannan
    March 2, 2012

    A point about the CREDO study to which Dr. Au refers: CREDO is a project WITHIN the right-wing, free-market/privatization-promoting Hoover Institution that exists specifically to promote market-based education reforms like charters.

    And yet its study findings were absolutely damning to charters and have been heatedly debated and disputed within the charter sector. That obviously gives extra weight to those findings — they were a result of an effort to BOOST charter schools. Giving credit where credit is due, researcher Margaret Raymond was ethical enough to release the findings even though they conflict with her organization’s mission. Just had to elaborate on that information a bit.

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