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The Washington State PTA repeats misinformation regarding charter schools

Ramona Hattendorf, the “Government Relations” staff person (and LEV activist) with the WSPTA has a resolution prepared for a vote at the PTA Convention this Friday that would make charter schools a plank in the platform of the PTA in our state for the next two years. What that means is that Ramona and Bill Williams, the Executive Director of WSPTA, would then be able to go to Olympia and say that, as the PTA motto states, “Every child, one voice”, they are representing parents, teachers and students in our state in supporting charter schools.

The resolution is titled “Equitable Educational Opportunities”.

There is much to argue in this set of Whereas’s starting with the fact that there is nothing “equitable” about charter schools but I would like to focus on the following clause that has been repeated by the corporate reformers for some time now and it is usually provided as an argument for charter schools. The claim is not accurate, or rather, I would say, misleading.

To follow is the clause that is in the resolution:

Whereas certain schools, including high-performing charter schools, have produced positive effects in elementary and middle schools that outpace other interventions such as class-size reduction, and can provide the equivalent of three years of schooling for students every two years,iii and

And this is a link to the study:

iii The National Study of Charter Management Organization (CMO) Effectiveness: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts, Mathematica Policy Research, Center on Reinventing Public Education, (see page 55)

LEV also has a slide that they present as an argument for charter schools which has the same wording:

“A recent study showed that high-performing public charter school networks are providing students the equivalent of three years of schooling for every two years.”

What is misleading is that the comparison is not an equivalent. The comparison in the study is between “high performing” charter schools and “low performing” charter schools. As Dr. Wayne Au explains, “The metric for determining what makes up a year of schooling is determined by low performing charters, not schools generally.” So what the study really says is that high performing” charters can make up for a year of learning in low performing” charters and has nothing to do with how public schools compare to charter schools as the CREDO Report does.

In an editorial that was posted in the Seattle Times earlier this year titled The false promise of charter schools, Dr. Au states the following regarding the Mathematica Study that Ramona is presenting as evidence that charter schools are better than public schools:

As the Washington state Legislature considers a bill proposing the introduction of charter schools, it is important that voters and representatives understand a critical point: While advocates claim charter schools will raise the achievement of African American, Latino and low-income students, there is little evidence to support this claim.

For instance, the study completed by the pro-charter Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), a research group at Stanford’s politically conservative Hoover Institute, found that charter schools performed worse than public schools 36 percent of the time, performed better 17 percent of the time, and performed no differently the rest of the time. This study raises a question: Are the people of Washington state willing to gamble on an education reform that is twice as likely to widen achievement gaps than it is to close them?

Citing the CREDO study, advocates suggest that we can just replicate “good” charters on a large scale. This has never been done successfully anywhere. To attempt to do so would amount to crafting education policy purely on speculation.

Or take the more recent study of charter schools by Mathematica, done with assistance from the pro-charter Center for Reinventing Public Education, which also has ties to the Hoover Institute. This study has been referenced by charter advocates on statewide Listservs and discussion boards to make a bold claim: Over the course of two to three years, high-performing charter schools can make up an extra year or more of learning.

In actuality, the Mathematica study says this: “The differences between high-performing and low- performing [charters] after two years of enrollment are large enough to be equivalent to a year or more of learning.” It is a simple comparison of high-performing charters to low-performing charters, and it says nothing about charters outperforming regular public schools.

In comparing charters to regular public schools, the Mathematica study does say: “Although overall average two- and three-year test score impacts are positive in all four subjects, they are not statistically significant.” “Not statistically significant” is research-speak for, “there is no difference.” The Mathematica study simply found that charters do not outperform regular public schools, despite the fact that the charters in their study had higher-performing African-American and Latino students, fewer English-language learners, fewer students with disabilities, and smaller class sizes than regular public schools.

Even the success of Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charters, often offered as a model of success, is misleading: According to one major study, KIPP test scores and college-entrance rates have been artificially inflated because they have either kicked out or lost African-American and Latino students at up to three and four times district averages.

Research has revealed other points to consider about charter schools: Charters underserve English-language learners and students with disabilities; they do not keep accurate track of student data, such as who is on free and reduced lunch; their governing boards regularly lack public accountability; they have also reached levels of racial segregation not seen since before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that legally ended “separate but equal” schooling — prompting the NAACP to issue a statement in 2010 opposing charter schools.

Yes, the achievement of African-American, Latino and low-income students absolutely demands a fix. Based on the evidence, charter schools are not that fix.

9 comments on “The Washington State PTA repeats misinformation regarding charter schools

  1. seattleducation2011
    May 5, 2012


    One other study regarding KIPP:
    Study Finds High Dropout Rates for Black Males in KIPP Schools


  2. Desperate Mom
    May 5, 2012

    Dora. My son is in a neighborhood school with extremely weak leadership, highly uneven teacher quality, and poor results (what I call failing). It’s also a poor fit for him. Because of his special ed status, he was denied entry to an option school. I’ve tried for 5 years to create another south end option or improve the school. Not going to happen in time for my son’s education which is fast slipping away. Our only choice is to move to a wealthier neighborhood or district. We and my sons friends who can’t move need high quality programs in the South end. Fast. Is the school district won’t provide, we need another route. I see charter schools as an opportunity to create what our community needs, regardless of the dysfunction of the district. I’m not willing to close off that option.

    • seattleducation2011
      May 5, 2012


      You will find that most charter schools, particularly KIPP, will counsel out low performing students, as well as ELL and IEP students. The reason that they do this is because charter schools have to show a certain level of performance by the students as reflected in their test scores to keep their charters with the state. For that reason, charter schools feel pressured to keep up their test scores. It is also a selling tool, saying that their students have higher than average test scores.. Unfortunately, the test scores reflect the reality that charter schools are selective as to who they keep in their schools and who they “counsel out”.

      I am surprised to hear that a progressive alternative school will not accept your son. I know that Nova has an extensive special ed program. I’ll look into that because all public schools are required to take on all students, that’s the law. My daughter was in a progressive option school and I was heavily involved in the program so let me take a look for you. You can reach me directly at

      For more on special ed students and charter schools, there is a category listed on the right hand side of this page under Charter Schools and Special Education. A few of the most prominent would be:

      Access Denied: New Orleans Students and Parents Identify Barriers to Public Education

      “My special child, pushed out of Kindergarten at a NYC charter school”

      And this video to me is particularly heart wrenching:
      Harlem Success Academy turns away parent of child with special needs, while battle over HSA invasion of upper West Side heats up


    • Anonymous
      May 7, 2012

      Can you describe to us, specifically, how a “charter school”, particularly one run for profit, will improve educational opportunities for your child, or anyone’s child? Is this just something that sounds good or is there any actual proof that these work and that billionaires—who send their kids to private schools—know better?

  3. seattleducation2011
    May 4, 2012


    There are Option Schools in Seattle that offer alternatives to traditional public schools and transportation is offered to those schools. There is opportunity in those schools as a student and/or parent to have a strong voice in what happens.

    When you refer to a “failing school” in Seattle, I would also like to know which school you are referring to and why it is considered “failing” by you.

    Charter schools, the ones that the reformers such as LEV want to see come to Seattle, are charter franchise schools such as KIPP that frown upon parent involvement. They have a set program based on the Common Core Standards and they drill the students to prepare them for the tests. That’s it.

    On the right side this page under the heading of “KIPP” are several articles regarding the school. One that is quite compelling is

    At these charter schools there is also a counseling out of “low performing” students, ELL students and special ed students.

    The notion that charter schools offer choice is a myth and I would suggest reading a post written by a mom in New Orleans who speaks on this subject, The Cruel Hoax of Choice,

    I can also put you in touch with parents at other schools in South Seattle that, with the support of others, have created successful programs within their schools. Yo can contact me at


  4. Desperate Mom
    May 4, 2012

    I’m sorry. As a parent of a child in a failing Seattle Public School, I have to take exception. We need more options and choices in the public school system. It’s unjust to continue to assign kids to failing schools year every year in South Seattle. My kid and his friends need a better school fast and I do not see the Seattle School District doing anything to make that happen for us. I see charter schools as a way to allow parents and communities to propose their own solutions when the bureaucracy fails us.

  5. seattleducation2011
    May 3, 2012

    I would also like to add that some “liberals”, with no knowledge of the group of people who they are think they are helping, have taken it upon themselves to make decisions and choices that they think are best for other people’s children.


  6. joanie
    May 3, 2012

    What is the lure that attracts people and keeps them fastened to unsupported belief systems in the face of evidence to the contrary? What is it? Especially when they can be so damaging to our kids.

    • seattleducation2011
      May 3, 2012

      For some it’s another rung up the political ladder of ed reform. For others, it’s a lack of ability in the area of critical thinking.


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