Los Angeles Teachers Make the Case That Charter Schools Are an Existential Threat to Public Education

By Jeff Bryant,  a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm. Produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute 

“Isn’t it reasonable to have some regulations on charters?” asked Ingrid King, a kindergarten and dual language teacher at Latona Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. She and two of her colleagues spoke to me from the picket lines during the recently resolved teacher strike in her city. When she and over 30,000 teachers and school personnel walked off the job, it closed the nation’s second-largest school system of nearly a half-million students for six days and filled the streets with huge protests.

The strike ended when the district conceded to give teachers a 6 percent pay raise, limit class sizes, reduce the number of student assessments by half, and hire full-time nurses for every school, a librarian for every middle and high school, and enough counselors to provide one for every 500 students.

But the concessions teachers won that will likely have the most impact outside of LA are related to charter schools. The teachers forced the district leader to present to the school board a resolution calling on the state to cap the number of charter schools, and the teachers made the district give their union increased oversight of charter co-locations—a practice that allows charter operations to take possession of a portion of an existing public school campus.

Los Angeles Unified has 277 charter schools, the largest number of charter schools of any school district in the nation. The schools serve nearly 119,000 students, nearly one in five students. The vast majority of charters are staffed by non-union teachers. (Teachers at a chain of unionized charter schools in the city that joined district teachers on the strike are still on strike.) So the quick takefrom some is the teachers’ union made curbs on charter schools part of their demands because these schools are a threat to the union’s power.

But when you talk to teachers, that’s not what they say. They tell you they want to curb charter school growth, not because it threatens their union, but because charters threaten the very survival of public schools.

Teachers See an Existential Threat

Latona teachers I spoke with described competition from surrounding charter schools as an existential threat to their school and an undermining influence on the public system.

“Charter schools are popping up everywhere and siphoning money and taking away students from our public school,” said King.

“I’ve had a lot of friends teach at charters,” said Linda Butala, an English language and Title I coordinator. “These schools often mean well. But charters have become another level of haves and have-nots in our system.”

The “haves” these teachers referred to are the “more savvy” parents who take advantage of what many charters offer, including smaller class sizes and newer resources and technology.

The disparity is especially acute when the charter is co-located on the same campus as an existing public school. Traci Rustin, a second-grade teacher, recalled that at a previous school where she worked, the charter co-located on the campus “had much fewer teachers and students of color.” The charter students had more abundant and newer technology, the school lunches were more nutritious, and the classroom supplies were up-to-date. And when students returned to the public school when the charter “didn’t work out,” the new technology and resources, along with the funding that had left her school, didn’t transfer back.

“In neighborhoods that are more racially homogeneous,” explained Rustin, “you see more well-abled children in the charter. You see a two-tier system going on.”

“Charter schools are set up to target certain populations of students and aren’t even set up to meet the needs of some students,” said King. And some parents who can’t meet the expectations set down by the charters know they shouldn’t bother trying to enroll their children in charters. Meanwhile, her school has to serve all students and parents and gets the families and children the charters aren’t interested in serving. “This leads to a more segregated system.”

Butala, who also previously worked at a school with a co-located charter, recalled when the charter moved in, her school immediately had to devise ways to place students in more crowded classrooms and share common areas—such as the playground and cafeteria. But it was never clear to her what the charter was being asked to share with her school. She watched the new charter lure students away from her school, often to see them return months later after the funding was lost.

She claimed her school’s test scores were better than the charter’s, but advocates for the charter were adept at convincing parents “the charter was better.”

Charters Take Their Toll

Latona is experiencing a similar fate. The school doesn’t have to deal with a co-located charter, but competition from surrounding charters has taken a toll on the school.

The school’s student enrollment is virtually all Hispanic, with a quarter of the students being English language learners, and 90.6 percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Yet, despite this challenging student population, the school significantly outperforms the stateon academic measures of English language arts and mathematics and has been steadily improving, boosting proficiency levels by 12 points in ELA and nearly 19 points in math on the most recent assessments.

Nevertheless, Latona’s student enrollment has long been in decline, according to state data. In the 2017-18 school year, the school enrolled 170 students. Five years ago, it was 267; ten years ago, it was 336, and the student body was more racially diverse.

The enrollment declines have resulted in the school having to let go support staff, such as counselors and nurses, who are essential to the health and well-being of the students.

“I see more kids with social-emotional needs we simply are unable to meet,” said Butala. “If the child isn’t okay socially and emotionally, then we can’t be the best teachers we can be. But too often, we’re called upon not just to be teachers but to be parents and psychologists. We’re having to wear too many hats.”

“Maybe if we had the resources and staff we need, we wouldn’t see so many parents transferring their students to charters,” Rustin conjectured.

‘Past the Tipping Point’

The argument Latona teachers make is not lost on parents, many of whom supported the teacher demands and joined them on the picket linesbecause they see how their schools are being slowly depleted of funding and resources due to charter school expansions.

“We’re past the tipping point on charters in Los Angeles,” Julian Vasquez Heilig told me in a phone interview. Heilig is a professor at California State University, Sacramento and the author of numerous studies on the impacts of accountability-based and market-based education reforms.

Heilig is not doctrinairely opposed to charter schools, as some proponents of charter schools accuse their critics of being. On the contrary, he formerly worked as an instructor in a charter school, was a charter school parent and donor, and at one point served as a charter board member.

“But the situation has changed,” he stated.

The “situation” he referred to is the long-held claim that charter schools, by their very nature, are a positive force in the public school system. The preferred narrative is that charter schools are just another form of “public” school, that competition from charters makes public schools up their game, and when “parents vote with their feet” and choose to transfer their children to charters, money that “follows the child” out of the public school has no negative effects on the remaining students because the school can adapt to a lower student head count.

Heilig and other charter school critics argue that theory of charter schools in no way resembles the realities of charters on the ground. And striking teachers in Los Angeles have opened people’s eyes to that reality.

“Now that class sizes and lack of resources and school support staff have grown intolerable in Los Angeles public schools, teachers are bringing the public’s attention to the reality of what charters have helped create,” Heilig explained.

“Five years ago, we weren’t talking about the financial impact of charter schools. Meanwhile, poor performing charters have been allowed to proliferate in the state,” and the public is largely unaware of the negative impact this has on the public education system. Until now.

The Bad Math of Charter Schools

Truth is, the financials of charter schools have never added up.

A 2017 report authored by Gordon Lafer, a political economist and an associate professor at the University of Oregon, looked at the spread of charter schools in Californiaand found “hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent each year without any meaningful strategy.”

Because charter operators often get permission to set up new schools wherever they want, “far too much of this public funding is spent on schools built in neighborhoods that have no need for additional classroom space,” Lafer concluded.

While public school districts can’t build new schools unless increases in enrollment or an influx of school-aged children demands them, charter schools can make the case based on subjective arguments having nothing to do with numbers, and when local school boards deny charter applicants, charter operators can appeal to the county or state board that, more often than not, overrules the local board.

As a result, the report found, “nearly 450 charter schools have opened in places that already had enough classroom space for all students.”

Los Angeles is the poster person of having too many schools chasing after too few students.

District enrollment peaked in 2004 at just under 750,000 and has been dropping ever since, not just due to the growth of charters. A combination of factors—including declining birth rates, population flight to the suburbs, the exorbitant cost of child care, and skyrocketing housing prices that discourage young couples from having children—has led to a steep declinein the population of school-aged children in the district.

Another flaw of charter school financials is that they add layers of administrative and infrastructure costs that public schools are expected to pay for, even though public school budgets are already under stress, and government leaders are unwilling to provide new funding.

“Charters contribute to the funding problems because we’re paying for two school systems,” argued Heilig: the local public one and the privately run charter ones operating like parallel districts to the local schools, with their own duplicative layers of administrative staff and infrastructure. “There’s an incredible amount of waste and inefficiency” in this arrangement.

‘Changing Our Minds about Charters’

“Charter proponents aren’t acknowledging these problems,” Heilig said.

Indeed, after news of the LA strike resolution spread, proponents of charter schools and choice responded angrily to limits put on charters.

Nina Rees, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, toldthe New York Times that placing a cap on the growth of charter schools is a constraint “we cannot stand for.” And U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, an ardent fan of the charter industry, declaredteachers’ unions were “the only thing standing in the way” of the spread of school choice.

But the stark contrast of the rhetoric from charter school hardliners to the reasonable requests of Los Angeles teachers, like Ingrid King, changes a conversation that has long been one-sided and clouded in lofty claims about charters.

“The strike has made me consider how charter school expansion is harming the city,” wrotecharter school teacher Riley McDonald Vaca in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times after seeing how the strike played out.

“As more money is invested in new ideas and new campuses, fewer resources and students are left for the many great programs still trying to gain their footing in our current district and charter schools,” she stated. “I believe in my charter school, but I don’t believe that the charter industry’s mission to increase its share of the educational marketplace in Los Angeles can solve the problems we all face educating children.”

“These issues with charters are coming from the bottom-up,” said Heilig. “Legislators are starting to take notice, and so has the public. We’re clearly changing our minds about charters.”

To learn more about school privatization, check out Who Controls Our Schools? The Privatization of American Public Education, a free ebook published by the Independent Media Institute.

Click here to read a selectionof Who Controls Our Schools? published on AlterNet, or here to access the complete text.

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62 comments

  1. oaf

    …-choking-back-my-rant-…
    -skimming?…sanctioned by Government?…
    Nah. Can’t happen!
    …Besides; lots of *creds* involved….

    Reply
  2. tegnost

    The preferred narrative is that charter schools are just another form of “public” school, that competition from charters makes public schools up their game
    shorter, competition for thee, government enforced monopoly for me…
    This is cali remember and if you can’t compete with unlimited immigrant labor then you shouldn’t be there, I say from another state far from that border. Up here the canucks come down to spend some of the money they save on health care at the outlet malls, and no I’m not allowed to just walk across the border and say give me medical care under your sovereign medicare for all program. Maybe a caravan would help? mmm, probably not…I also wonder why competition from bernie has not made the elite dems “up their game”, or at least inspire pelosi to ditch the red coat. But no, because competition, as others here have amply stated, is not something that capitalists can deal with, they’re too weak to stand alone, the need an enforcer. Like the constitution says “We the capitalists…”/s

    Reply
    1. GF

      “…and no I’m not allowed to just walk across the border and say give me medical care under your sovereign medicare for all program. Maybe a caravan would help? mmm…”

      Not exactly the same thing as we Usasians can’t take advantage of Mexico’s healthcare system directly; however, as shown in this article from yesterday’s links https://truthout.org/articles/millions-of-americans-flood-into-mexico-for-health-care/ we can take advantage of the cheap medical costs in Mexico as 6000 thousand, yes 6000, people a day cross from Yuma AZ in the cooler months to get dental care in the cross border Mexican town dubbed “Molar City”.

      Reply
      1. Joe Well

        Actually, if you have an emergency in Mexico you in practice can get free ambulance and also free emergency medical attention in an IMSS hospital regardless of immigration status*. You won’t get ongoing care, but it’s something.

        Personally, I would rather avoid an IMSS hospital since they’re notorious for long waits, and private hospitals are affordable to me (I would argue that competition with the IMSS system holds down costs in private healthcare). In the US, we all know what emergency departments and ambulance companies charge, though in practice I think most non-Canadian foreign tourists can avoid paying.

        *That is, if you’re not in a tourist mafia place like Cancun where the local for-profit hospitals have worked hard to fleece the foreigners and may make it difficult to get an ambulance to take you to an IMSS hospital.

        Reply
  3. Amfortas the hippie

    saving this in an ammo file i keep in case any of the local bourgeoisie/busybodies get such ideas(happened before, with “Covey-ism”, which I was instrumental in undermining(“Leader in Me”, pernicious feelgood corporate brainwashing. anonymous local rich person ended up buying the curricula, which only lasted for 3 years))

    This: “…“Charters contribute to the funding problems because we’re paying for two school systems,” argued Heilig: the local public one and the privately run charter ones operating like parallel districts to the local schools, with their own duplicative layers of administrative staff and infrastructure. “There’s an incredible amount of waste and inefficiency” in this arrangement.”

    …sounds like Double Movement, to me.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_Movement

    or even a neoliberal version of revolutionary parallel social infrastructure.
    https://mettacenter.org/definitions/parallel-institutions/

    Reply
  4. dutch

    Charter Schools have never been anything other than a scam to funnel tax money into the pockets of campaign contributors. There was never a cogent pedagogical argument for their existence. Teachers have been saying this for decades, but who listens to teachers? The politicos who benefit from the scheme have convinced the public that they and their business partner co-conspirators know more about education than those trained and experienced in the endeavor. There should be a special place in Hell for those who seek to use children as a profit center.

    Reply
    1. EoH

      I think their proponents have a more complete playbook. Taking profits through taxpayer subsidies is a big part of it.

      An example of similar profit-taking through tax subsidies is the bank-managed student loan business. Banks extract profits from a vulnerable population with virtually zero risk. The loans are guaranteed and the debt is virtually non-dischargeable. The feds could administer student loans without the banks and vastly lower student debt burdens.

      But subsidized profit-taking is only one chapter in the charter school playbook. Another is devoted to damaging or eliminating public school teachers’ unions. Eliminating them as a cost item and as an important stakeholder in deciding educational priorities are goals. But so, too, is eliminating their civic and cultural standing.

      Reply
    2. guilloh

      Do you have kids in public school? are a teacher that do not want charter? I have a kid that was in an LAUSD school and was not doing well due to large class sizes, now he is an A+ student in a CHARTER SCHOOL . LAUSD must get it together hire more teachers to make the classes smaller. teachers must teach and not think that union is the only thing that matters. stop thinking that students are like cattle that = money.

      Reply
      1. Lambert Strether

        Maybe if the charter school movement weren’t a billionaire-funded full-blown assault on the very concept of public schools, the public schools would have better funding — so that, for example, teachers didn’t have to buy their own supplies — and class size could be reduced? Just a thought. Charters are a classic example of the neoliberal playbook; see here.

        Reply
      2. kurtismayfield

        You are right, if your child is doing better in a smaller class environment why shouldn’t every child have that opportunity to succeed?. Will you pay for it for all??

        Reply
  5. EoH

    On charter school co-location, I can only say that the parasite’s greatest trick is persuading its host that it’s not really there.

    Reply
  6. flora

    Thanks for this post.

    But when you talk to teachers, that’s not what they say. They tell you they want to curb charter school growth, not because it threatens their union, but because charters threaten the very survival of public schools.

    The teachers are right. Threatening public schools also threatens a vital public good. The rest of my comment is meta.

    The overarching governing philosophy from Reagan and Thatcher has been that the welfare state – strong government investment in public goods – will collapse, should collapse, and is collapsing, and those two saw the collapse as a good thing. “There is no society”, said Thatcher. In place of the government’s role, they offer the Randian myth of every man for himself. If the welfare state is collapsing, then grab what money or value you, personally, can get from it before it goes down. (Of course, collapse of the New Deal is not a ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’ development; the Reaganites and libertarians are doing their best to destroy the New Deal and all commonly built public goods.)

    Charter schools figure in this destruction. Though they were originally conceived for better purposes, they’ve been hijacked by the libertarian ethos.

    Democrats who say they are not Reaganites or libertarians, but still support undermining public schools through charter money-drains on the public schools (Obama, Duncan, Bloomberg, et al.) are drinking the Reaganite kool aid.

    Hooray for the LA Teachers, the LA parents, and the school boards and politicians who are working for the public good.

    Reply
  7. orlbucfan

    I live in east central Florida. We are charter school heaven. Big problem: they don’t screen teachers and other school employees. Result? Felons including pedophiles work in these schools. Hey, whatever, jesus is coming back so charter schools are godsgrace.

    Reply
  8. Joe Well

    The study [published in 2009], conducted by the university’s [Stanford’s] Center for Research on Education Outcomes, analyzed student performance in 15 states and the District of Columbia, amassing data on roughly 70 percent of students enrolled in charter schools nationwide. Researchers found that only a small percentage of these students fared better after enrolling in a charter school.

    Study: Charter Schools Not Keeping Their Promise to America’s Students

    On the whole, charters underperform private schools, and we’ve known that for at least 10 years. End of story.

    Reply
  9. Fiddler Hill

    For a website readership that is so knowledgeable and progressive on most issues, I find it hard to understand why I read so much misinformation and invective about charter schools.

    So please — as a Los Angeles resident whose daughter attended a charter school for seven years and who often met with the school’s directors and attended board meetings, let me offer a few facts.

    Charter schools in California are non-profit, by law.

    Charter school students in California are selected, by law, in a lottery system. This notion that wealthy or savvy parents can manipulate the system for the benefit of their coddled children is nonsense. My own child’s school was majority Latino and, based on assisted lunch statistics, majority poor.

    The teachers at her school were non-union and probably underpaid, which is a problem. But they were not felons and pedophiles. They were on the whole serious, devoted and bright men and women. Their lower salaries undoubtedly help the school reduce class size to 15-20.. But the school also operated out of former discount clothing store instead of spending millions on beautiful glass and brick buildings and paying a superintendent hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    I happen to have a M.A. in education and taught in public schools for four years, and the same issues which drove me out of public education were the same issues which caused me to send my daughter to a charter school: the inefficiency, rigidity and bureaucracy of the public school system. When class size increased to 38-40 in my daughter’s public elementary school, I and scores of other parents met with school board members and administrators to tell them how impossible it is to learn in that sort of environment. They refused to change anything.

    Anecdotes of unionized teachers on a picket line saying they were striking out of the goodness of their hearts for the benefit of public education is hardly convincing evidence of anything. I was involved with my teacher’s union when I taught, and its priority — understandably — was to protect teachers’ jobs and salaries. So let’s not pretend unionized teachers aren’t looking out for their own welfare.

    Charter schools haven’t caused public schools in California to be underfunded. The underfunding began long before the advent of charter schools here. So did the inefficiency, rigidity and bureaucratization. Charter schools here are a response to all of that, not the cause.

    My daughter’s charter was not perfect by any means. But I judge her to have gotten on the whole a solid education. She’s now a straight-A student at a major research university. Every single member of her charter school class graduated, on time, and virtually all were accepted at some sort of college or by one of the armed forces. I have no doubt that, had I kept her in the public education system, none of this would be true.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether

      > Charter schools in California are non-profit, by law

      A meaningless talking point. Hospitals owned by private equity are nominally non-profit as well, and their owners manage to extract enormous amounts from them by charging excessive fees, and other forms of chicanery. Then there is the padded administrative layer (by comparison to the screwed-over, high-turnover scabs* — or, as you put it, “probably underpaid non-union”). Of course, it’s possible to combine both, as with this recent (California) case of an enormous, administrator-driven fraud). So profit is where you take it, I guess.

      > Charter school students in California are selected, by law, in a lottery system.

      Another meaningless talking point. The cherry-picking can be done after admission. Your point?

      > When class size increased to 38-40 in my daughter’s public elementary school..

      Due to gutted public school budgets caused by the charter school “movement”, perhaps? Just a thought (See here for the operations of the neo-liberal playbook, of which charter schools are a prime example).

      > She’s now a straight-A student at a major research university

      Thank you for this anecdote, and I’m happy that your daughter achieved a level of success that most charter school students, relative to public schools, do not (hat tip “knowledgeable and progressive” NC reader Joe Well):

      Authors of the Stanford study [here] compared charter students with demographically similar public school peers, and found that 37 percent of charter school students posted scores on state math assessments that were significantly worse than their public school peers. Forty-six percent of charter school students achieved math scores that were indistinguishable from their public school counterparts.

      That means that only 17 percent of charter school students — roughly one out of every six — performed better than public school students on state math assessments. In fact, charter school students were more than twice as likely to post math scores that were significantly worse than their public school peers.

      The Stanford study, which is being called the first nationwide assessment of charter school performance, also found that charter school students, on average, lagged behind their public school counterparts in performance on state reading assessments, although the difference was not as stark as the discrepancies in math scores.

      Presumably, the neoliberal ideologues who are destroying public education for money have funded and emitted a counter-study, but I’m too lazy to find the link. On the other hand, at least I have some links; the “knowledgeable and progressive” NC readership expects them. I guess a Masters in Education doesn’t include training in how URLs work…

      NOTE * Fortunately, charter school teachers are waking up, smelling the coffee, and unionizing. When that process is complete, we can go on to eliminate the profit motive from charters and, in effect, have returned to a public school model. After a few billion dollars wasted by squillionaire ideologues with bright ideas, but who’s keeping track of that?

      UPDATE Here is a useful compendium of charter school talking points, with refutations.

      Reply
      1. EoH

        Many thanks.

        The “non-profit” bit I found particularly galling. As you point out, nominally not-for-profit medical institutions can extract enormous resources that would normally be a function of profitability. Extreme CEO salaries and other perks are one example. Others would include minimizing to the point of ending mandatory services, such as ER service to the public. The highly-regarded, high-revenue Cleveland Clinic was once renowned for that one.

        I have no beef against alternatives to the public school system, so long as they are demonstrably (in the public’s eye) separate from the public system, have no access to public funds and no co-located services, and have to stand or fall based on their own resources. I suspect the current charter school movement would quickly fail under those circumstances.

        Reply
        1. kurtismayfield

          The usual model of Charter school extraction is a REIT.

          1. REIT owned by the founders of the charter schools buys the property.
          2. REIT leases property to Charter.
          3. REIT rthen makes all off it’s money from tax dollars paying for the lease.

          Celerity got even deeper:

          https://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-celerity-beginnings-20170306-story.html

          As the CEO of Celerity Educational Group — and now of Celerity Global — McFarlane steered hundreds of thousands of public dollars to several companies providing services to her schools. Those companies are registered to her, state records show, and list their addresses as either Celerity Educational’s or Global’s offices.

          Celerity Educational Group’s check register for the 2015-16 school year shows payments totaling nearly $1 million to an information technology company called Attenture, a general contracting company called Celerity Contracting Services, and Celerity Development, a limited-liability corporation that buys properties and rents them to McFarlane’s charter schools.

          Great picture on how to profit off tax dollars.

          Reply
      2. Fiddler Hill

        Lambert, thanks for your detailed response, especially the gratuitous personal attack on my Master’s Degree education. Please tell me exactly which facts in my post you would like to me to provide links to support and I’ll be happy to comply.

        Honestly, the generalized broadsides in your response are hard to take seriously. I’m not attempting to defend every charter school in the country but simply pointing out, based on my own experience with several charter schools, that these generalizations are often inaccurate.

        My own child’s charter school ran on such a tight budget it had virtually no administrative staff position that would have allowed for a padded or any other kind of salary. The directors were also teachers. And anyway, anyone who has taught in the public school system — I’m not sure, have you? — has seen lots of examples of wasted money on administrative positions.

        To describe all charter school teachers as “scabs” is once again gratuitous and demonstrates a union-bias that hardly promotes a reasoned discussion of this issue. Among my child’s teachers were very knowledgeable musicians and a Ph.D candidate who wanted to work with students temporarily but didn’t want go through the lengthy process required to teach in a public school.

        I read your link about how charter schools cherry pick students as each class proceeds. And it’s true that my own child’s class experienced attrition, in many cases undoubtedly due to the academic demands of the program.

        But like many other public school teachers, I experienced, first hand, in two different public school systems, the downside of gearing class work to accommodate the most problematic students: a painfully slow pace of learning, boredom for average and above average learners, constant discipline problems. I don’t know what the answer is to this dilemma, but blaming parents for wanting to enroll their children in a school that will give them a good education isn’t a useful one.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          How dare you carry on like this. You started your original post insulting the entire commentariat by depicting them as misguided for not accepting your bogus premise that a conservative libertarian position (charter school support) is progressive. So you violated two of our written site Policies out of the box, attacking the readers and engaging in dishonest argumentation….and you now whine as being wounded because Lambert quite correctly boxed you around the ears? If you have an advanced degree, you are certainly not putting it to honest use.

          And don’t try this “I could give you links” crap. You know what the points at issue are, and you still haven’t given them, which is more evidence of bad faith.

          You further try to defend what you now admit is an outlier of your self-reported good experience with charter schools….which we can’t verify…by trying to dismiss large scale, multi-state studies that found that charter school students do on average worse and few are helped as “generalizations”. No, that’s called data, when all you offer are unsubstantiated anecdotes. So you continue with your bad faith argumentation.

          You then compound it by admitting that the purpose of charter schools is to dump lesser performing students on public schools. You conceded a point Lambert made above and try shifting grounds. Yet more bad faith.

          And I don’t buy your premise of harm. I went to public schools, in blue collar small towns in classes with average students and ones with disabilitiess (for instance, a blind student). By your theory of eduction, I should have been hurt educationally by that and obviously wasn’t. And no, I wasn’t getting tutored or having my parents school me on the side. So how do you ‘splain that? I know tons of people like me and quite a bit younger who went to your derided garden variety public schools and got into top colleges. And before you dismiss my examples, this is anecdotal evidence too, the sort you are demanding in your case that we treat as gospel.

          As for the your claim regarding your schools admin costs, first, as Lambert and other readers pointed out, the profit skimming can occur many ways, including outsourced services in lieu of people on payroll. So you cherry pick one part of Lambert’s argument, AGAIN argue from unproven anecdote, and act as if you’ve rebutted what he said, when you haven’t come close. Second, the admin costs could also be being incurred not at the school but at the district level. Not for profits in pretty much all states are required to make annual financial disclosures, so please send the link to the filings of your charter school operator so we can see if your assertions hold up to scrutiny.

          Better trolls, please.

          Reply
        2. Lambert Strether

          > especially the gratuitous personal attack on my Master’s Degree education. Please tell me exactly which facts in my post you would like to me to provide links to support and I’ll be happy to comply.

          Leaving aside your characterization of what by NC standards is a gentle love tap as a “personal attack,” you wrote:

          …I happen to have a M.A. in education…

          presumably to reinforce your authority (arguably a wise move, tactically, given your pervasive failure to back up your claims with sources). I don’t see why questioning whether the institution that granted your degree delivered value for money (or, alternatively, whether you were able to take advantage of the opportunity) is “gratuitous.” So I questioned, with reasonably gentle irony, your authority (considered, in some circles, to be a Good Thing):

          On the other hand, at least I have some links; the “knowledgeable and progressive” NC readership expects them. I guess a Masters in Education doesn’t include training in how URLs work…

          Sadly, you neither meet the expectations of the NC readership, nor address the issue. Since education is your putative area of expertise, I would have thought the easy way for you to back up your claims would be evidence other than personal anecdote. (An example, if this helps to see that sort of thing that I and the readership are looking for, would be the 16-state study to which I cited, unaddressed by you.) Instead, you double down:

          Please tell me exactly which facts in my post you would like to me to provide links to support and I’ll be happy to comply.

          There are a couple of problems with this. First, site policy, which I suggest you read, forbids assigning work to site personnel. (We have more than enough to do already.) More broadly, I’m not doing your work for you. As a credentialed professional, surely you are capable of seeing which of your claims require evidence to be marshalled, which sources are most effective in educating the readership, how to organize your material, and so forth? Or perhaps this is what your degree did not, as it happens, equip you to do?

          Yves has, as is her wont, ably addressed the mixture of assertion and special pleading that makes up the balance of your comment, so I will not attempt to duplicate what she did.

          Reply
          1. Dr Duh

            Wow, this site has become really toxic since the last time I was a regular.

            Fiddler disagreed with you. Granted it was not a data driven argument. But it was based on personal and professional experience, not repeating some DeVos talking points. And yet the presumption was s/he was arguing in bad faith. The response from both Yves and Lambert was a series of needlessly personal attacks as if Fiddler weren’t just wrong, but had committed a thought crime and needed to be corrected and punished.

            I started reading NC 10 years ago. Back then there was quite a bit of variety of opinion in the comments and dissent was not met with an immediate jump to auto-da-fe. The transformation is shocking and kind of sad.

            I suppose this change is a result of the troll swarm from DU/DK attacking Bernie supporters or perhaps even further back when it seemed like the trolls were banking sockpuppets. Maybe it’s the effect of political correctness and tribalization of our intellectual culture. Or maybe it’s Trump’s or Twitter’s fault, I’m not sure.

            Yves, you remain one of my favorite economic thinkers and have been hugely influential on my thinking; I love reading your articles, watching you burn heretics at the stake, not so much.

            Feel free to insult me all you want, but please consider what I’ve said.

            Reply
            1. Yves Smith Post author

              This was not a “presumption” and I am not “frying heretics” but people who argue in a dishonest manner. It unfortunately happens all too often that people who are on the other side of an argument made in a post do precisely that because they can’t make a validly supported case for their position, yet they carry on because they have an emotional investment.

              I demonstrated that he was engaging in bad faith argument by parsing what he wrote. If you regard setting forth how someone’s line of discussion is intellectually dishonest as “toxic,” then probably you should be reading other sites. We have stated regularly from the very inception of this site that our objective above all is about cultivating critical thinking. We also provide a long list of logically invalid argumentation strategies in our Policies, and we make clear there that they are not on and will be dealt harshly with if offenders persist. Fiddler persisted and was treated accordingly.

              And speaking of presumption, why do you presume Fiddler was dealing in good faith when his manner of dealing with Lambert demonstrates otherwise? Why, for instance, do you not consider the possibility that he might be a charter school employee or otherwise have a personal stake in their success? Note that we did not raise that notion, but if you were being dispassionate about this, you should have considered that possibility yet appear not ot have. And having moderated over a million and a half comments between the two of us, Lambert and I (and Jules, who also has a great deal of moderation experience) all thought that Fiddler’s original comment did not come off as organic, and that his retort provided strong confirmation of our concerns. This is someone who has never commented before, yet feels he can lecture the commentariat on what “progressive” positions are, when someone who read the site regularly would know many if not most readers regard “progressive” as a term centrists and even people to the right of that have been working hard to hijack.

              The evidence is overwhelming that students of charter schools do worse on average and few benefit, so why should one treat a self-reported example as meaningful evidence? There is no reason to give much weight to anecdotes that are clear departures from the findings of large scale studies. It’s like saying that because your aunt smoked a half a pack of cigarettes daily and lived to be 95, the people who say smoking is bad for you are wrong. You would never believe a statement like that, yet you defend the logically equivalent argument from Fiddler and take issue with us for correctly calling it out as bogus.

              Reply
              1. Fiddler Hill

                Well, I will desist all further discussion of the charter school issue.

                But for the record, I am not a charter school employee.

                For the record, I am not a troll. I have read this site for years because of the intelligence of the articles and commentary, the vast majority of which are consistent with my own views. I have contributed financially to this site.

                For the record, I didn”t realize, Yves, that you are the Decider in Chief on what is and is not a “progressive” political position. I’ve been a political progressive all my life happen to believe there’s a realistic argument to be made on behalf of charter schools. But you can bet I won’t be making it here again.

                Dr. Duh — thank you for bringing the fire extinguisher.

                Reply
                1. Lambert Strether

                  If you don’t want to be categorized as a troll, don’t do the things trolls do:

                  1) Tone policing

                  2) Refusing to back up claims with evidence when asked

                  3) Gish gallops

                  Thank you, however, for your apology on violating the site rules on assigning tasks to the NC staff. Oh, wait:

                  4) Violating site policies

                  > I didn”t realize, Yves, that you are the Decider in Chief on what is and is not a “progressive” political position.

                  What a weird personalization. I would have thought that privatizing public services hardly a “progressive” political position.

                  * * *

                  I can’t recall a more worthless interchange with a commenter on this site. All you had to do was back up your claims — not only your claims on charter schools, but your claims to be able to perform at the level of a credentialed professional — with some sort of evidence other than anecdote. At the very least, this would have educated the readership, who are always hungry to learn more. This you resolutely refused to do, through multiple interchanges. I hope you find the happiness you seek elsewhere. It’s a big Internet, after all.

                  Reply
            2. Lambert Strether

              All Fiddler had to do was back up his claims with evidence beyond personal anecdote, which he claims to have the professional credentials — introduced by Fiddler as an argument from authority — to be able to do. If you really wanted to help him — and his cause — that’s would you would have done, too.

              Shorter: If you want to make an argument from authority, be able to back up your authority when your claims are challenged.

              If sorting that out be toxicity, let us make the most of it!

              NOTE Adding, I like tag teams about as much as I like being assigned tasks.

              Reply
            3. Dr Duh

              What stood out to me was the tone of your (collective) responses to Fiddler.

              Personally, I believe there is room to state disagreement without impugning the other person’s motivations or indulging in ad hominem attacks.

              I would also call attention to the double standard applied to the article, which is full of naked assertions by interested parties. For example:

              Traci Rustin, a second-grade teacher(1), recalled that at a previous school where she worked, the charter co-located on the campus “had much fewer teachers and students of color.”(2) The charter students had more abundant and newer technology (3) the school lunches were more nutritious(4), and the classroom supplies were up-to-date.(5) And when students returned to the public school when the charter “didn’t work out,” the new technology and resources, along with the funding that had left her school, didn’t transfer back.(6)

              “In neighborhoods that are more racially homogeneous,” explained Rustin, “you see more well-abled children in the charter.(7) You see a two-tier system going on.”

              Seven statements and no evidence is provided to show that these assertions are true, much less that they are representative of charters in LA or in the country as a whole. Why are they taken at face value? Is it because they support the author’s view point? My take is that it’s because this is an article in the lay press and every assertion doesn’t necessarily need a footnote.

              But I ask why are Fiddler’s anecdotes subjected to far greater scrutiny? Why is s/he called a troll?

              My suspicion is that the ferocity of the response is because the points Fiddler has espoused challenged the NC orthodoxy on charters. And worse, by grounding the challenge in personal experience rather than published studies s/he has limited her(is) attack surface.

              Put another way, Fiddler’s heresy provokes outrage and lacking specific studies to dispute, much of the outrage is channeled into personal attacks.

              Actually, now that I think about it. If Fiddler were a troll, s/he is an extraordinarily subtle and successful one.

              Why don’t I suspect her(im) of trolling? First because my personality makes me want to give people the benefit of the doubt. Second, I find it easy to believe that while someone might be objectively ‘wrong’ on a larger scale, in statements based on their personal experience which are evaluated through their subjectivity, they are likely sincere in what they say. Third, I was trained to ‘steelman’ rather than ‘strawman’ competing claims when reading (immunology) research and when considering potential complications in my patients, impugning someone’s motivations is the ultimate way to ‘strawman’ an argument.

              Finally, Lambert wrote:

              If you really wanted to help him — and his cause — that’s would you would have done, too.

              You seem to imply I am pro-charter, perhaps a troll in disguise as well?
              Nope. Public school product. Child goes to public school. Philosophically in favor of public schooling as critical in a democracy. Clear eyed about the political ‘benefits’ that will accrue to the oligarchy from destroying public education and crippling the teachers unions. Opposed to the trend toward elite withdrawal and privatization.

              But, I am not an ideologue, I do not believe that the secondary benefits of the current public school system can outweigh the question of whether it succeeds or fails at its primary mission of educating students. As a parent, if I thought the school system were failing my child I would seek an alternative. After all, I am well aware of the Iron Law of Institutions.

              Reply
              1. Lambert Strether

                > ad hominem attacks

                Let me translate that: When a commenter cites to his M.A. as an argument from authority, his authority is not to be questioned, nor his performance measured against his putative credentials.

                > Seven statements and no evidence is provided to show that these assertions are true

                Perhaps because the Salon article went through an editorial process, whereby the writer was held accountable for his sources? Unlike a random comment on the Internet?

                > My suspicion is that the ferocity of the response is because the points Fiddler has espoused challenged the NC orthodoxy on charters. And worse, by grounding the challenge in personal experience rather than published studies s/he has limited her(is) attack surface.

                Best Most amazing defense of anecdote as proof I’ve ever heard. Kudos!

                Reply
                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  And he again tries to accuse us of bias because I laid into Fiddler for doubling down after you called him out. No, I laid into Fiddler for his unwarranted posture of superiority in the face of persisting in flagrant violations of clearly stated house rules. And regarding ferocity, he apparently missed many recent examples, the highest profile recent example being the whacking of Jonathan Tepper in a post, which FTAlphaville applauded.

                  Reply
  10. Anon

    There is an important financial perspective (NC raison de etre) that needs to be explained. Funding K-12 schools is predominately controlled by the state Legislature. Prop 98 (years ago) set minimum funding at 40% of state general fund revenues. (The California state budget fluctuates wildly with the business cycle.) Local school boards can seek new tax revenue from their citizens, but largely don’t (for obvious reasons in the LAUSD).

    So, funding allocation is based on number of students attending class. This is how charter schools “eat” into the funding of regular public schools; they take away, students, classroom space (co-locations), and divide school parents as each seeks an advantage for “their” kid. So much for community and solidarity.

    While California allocates greater funding for disadvantaged students it does not compare to the additional resources non-disadvantaged school districts (outside LAUSD) can add to their children school experience. In fact, Special Needs school kids state funding in California is in the multi-billions, while the meal programs for the disadvantaged kids is a tenth (or less) as much. (Charter schools usually don’t accept most Special Needs children.)

    So, since the passage of Prop 13 (1978) which limited property tax assessments, state and local revenues for schools has been declining, per student. California is near the bottom, 47th (out of 50) ,in per student funding. In 1978 the portion of commercial property tax to individual home property tax was 60/40. Today it is the reverse. This is consequential because commercial property is often times transferred through property tax dodges. (Some commercial buildings in LA are assessed at values less than some homes.) Funding for LAUSD and its students and teachers is constrained.

    All that said, the biggest constraint to funding in the LAUSD is former teachers and their pensions. CalSTRS, like CalPERS, is underfunded. Not because the actuaries miscalculated retired teacher lifespans, but because of the extraordinary increase in healthcare costs. (Retired teachers are covered with full healthcare benefits.) A solution to which would be a statewide Medicare For All in California (likely to bring down costs).

    This, of course, should not distract us from focusing on the real needs of ALL school kids: safe, functional schools, with the appropriate complement of staff and teachers that will allow them to advance and make America greater, again.

    Reply
    1. flora

      Thanks for this. There’s a lot to unpack here: the effects of Howard Jarvis and Prop 13, the effects of predatory health insurance fees, the results of removing the many govt public supports over time, one at a time, over a broad array of formerly strong backstops.

      Reply
      1. Carey

        Yes, almost like there’s been an overarching, long-term, plan.

        Prop 13 was the thin end of the wedge, as I see it.

        Reply
        1. Anon

          There is a Proposition seeking to get on the 2020 ballot that attempts to remove commercial buildings from the Prop 13 assessment roll. It is being fought tenaciously by apartment building owners and other commercial interests. (Howard Jarvis, who hijacked the original sentiment for homeowner property tax relief (Prop 13), was the leader/spokesperson for an apartment owners association, and contorted that homeowner sentiment into commercial property tax relief, as well.)

          One can only imagine the funding resources that would be available to California if commercial property was taxed appropriately.

          Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      It is worth noting that CalSTRS is even more underfunded than CalPERS despite CalSTRS having consistently performed better over the last decade. That reflects the ongoing failure by the legislature to set enough aside. CalPERS is in a position legally to be bloody-minded and hand bills to employers. But the unions pressured CalPERS to keep unrealistic return targets, which has played a significant role in the severity of their underfunding.

      Reply
      1. Anon

        Yes. The reasons for the underfunding are many.

        Governor Newsom does seem to recognize the educational funding issues (pension liabilities and student resources), and his new California budget recommends new funds to mitigate past pension under-funding, while increasing K-14 (K-12 + community colleges) allocations. Among other good things.

        Reply
  11. David in Santa Cruz

    Where is Lambert to remind us that charter schools are the vanguard of his Two Immutable Laws of Neoliberalism?

    1. Because markets!

    2. Go die!

    But seriously, folks. I donated to the UTLA Strike Fund, and I hope that others here did as well. The teachers were able to send the message to the neoliberals on the LAUSD Board that they could hold out for a long time. The UTLA did a fantastic job of organizing and supporting the incredible and articulate women and men who they represent. Charter schools have been hijacked by crony capitalists, whose scare-tactics have been weaponized on vulnerable parents — but only serve to divide communities and to hoard resources.

    Reply
  12. Knifecatcher

    Meanwhile, in Denver…

    The public school teachers in our horribly charter infested district have voted to strike, primarily due to a compensation system that’s a neoliberal’s wet dream. It’s called ProComp and is so complex that most teachers don’t even know how much they’re going to make in a given year – it all depends on whether their students hit their incentive targets for test scores, whether their school was classified as a high performing school, whether they were working in a “hard to fill” position, that sort of thing.

    The district superintendent recently had to publicly apologize after an especially nasty move got national press. Apparently some HR drone decided to send a letter to all immigrant teachers working on a H1B and J1 visas telling them if they joined the strike they would be reported to INS. Yikes.

    Teachers were supposed to strike on Monday but the district filed a request to intervene with the state, so it may take as much as a few weeks for the (extremely “progressive” / extremely charter friendly) governor and Dept of Labor to make a decision as to whether they will take over negotiations. I’m sure lots of learning will take place during that time.

    The district plans to keep schools open in the event of a strike. I’m not sending my kids to be taught by scabs.

    Of course for the non-unionized charter schools it’s business as usual.

    Reply
    1. Kurtismayfield

      Unions don’t control public school budgets.. school boards do. They are voted in by the constituents. How are Charters overseen?

      Reply
  13. griffen

    I’ve no dog in this fight, but follow the money. It’s a high handed means to transfer funds away from a public resource, education, to supposed do gooders in suits.

    Anecdotally I’m sure there are reports of good outcomes. Quite possible.

    Reply
  14. Roger

    An interesting article, and even more interesting responses.
    Approximately 30% of public schools teachers send their own children to private or charter schools. Why would that be?
    This whole mess with its advanced academic classes, charter schools, magnet schools and the explosion of private schools and home schooling, is all down to the pursuit, by parents, of good educational opportunities for their children.
    Two main factors have driven the decline in public education standards; the grip of totalitarian left wing ideologues on administration and curricula, and the integration of the public schools following Brown v. Board of Education.
    There are numerous accounts online detailing teachers experiences in trying to teach in public schools, how frustrating, and ultimately pointless it is, particularly in schools with a large (>10%) black student body.
    Fortunately charter and magnet schools will continue to be demanded by conscientious white and asian parents, they will not be put off by the self serving arguments of the public education establishment.

    Reply
    1. flora

      As long as charters do not take public money to fund their private schools (money that is taken away from public schools), they can set up their private schools however they like, imo.

      Reply
      1. Roger

        The parents of the children who attend private schools are also paying local taxes as well as the private school fees, so they are in effect paying for education twice.
        If money is allocated on a per child basis, then charter and magnet schools are not “taking” anything away from the public schools. The real issue is that the public schools establishment is losing some control, and they don’t like that.

        Reply
        1. EoH

          Yours is an argument that has been recycled endlessly by elites. It’s basic fallacy is that it confuses voluntary payments with payments each community deems a vital and necessary cost of living there. Those costs include paying for public schools, public libraries, police and fire, local government, and so on.

          If Mary and Joe Bloggs want to shell out more than $60K a year after tax to send their child to Phillips Andover, that’s fine. But it’s voluntary, as it would be if they paid for their own private security team. They still owe the cost of supporting their community. Or they can leave and follow John Galt into his non-community desert.

          Reply
          1. Roger

            They are still paying twice, once forced through confiscation, secondly by choosing what they hope will provide a better outcome for their children.

            Reply
            1. cshapenote

              No U.S. person is forced to live in a school system they consider confiscatory. See wikipedia article ‘Tiebout Model’.

              Reply
    2. Anon

      Approximately 30% of public schools teachers send their own children to private or charter schools. Why would that be?

      Because they have a neoliberal outlook? Because they work at a distant school district than the one they live? Because the religous school they attend has no employment options for these parents?

      Because they are “…conscientious white and asian parents…”? Because they wear MAGA hats?
      Who knows? It doesn’t matter.

      But making good public schools for ALL students is what will make America greater, again.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        It’s a bullshit study. Only 206 teachers surveyed and no discussion whatsoever of how they were selected. And that 30% includes homeschooling!!! Too small a sample to be valid and screams of being cherry-picked.

        Reply
    3. Kurtismayfield

      There are numerous accounts online detailing teachers experiences in trying to teach in public schools, how frustrating, and ultimately pointless it is, particularly in schools with a large (>10%) black student body.

      Care to post one, or provide evidence to back this up?

      The problem is not racial, it’s economic. Try teaching in a poor Caucasian district and you see the same issues. It’s the poor economic status and all the problems that go along with it that causes the issues.

      Reply
    4. EoH

      Rumor has it that reality has a left-wing bias.

      You have a grip on self-serving arguments, but perhaps not on what is totalitarian.

      School integration would be no problem, were it not for the reasons necessary for it. Your argument suggests those haven’t changed in the last seventy years. It is not helped by including “asian” in your description of the parents who “will not be put off by the self serving [sic] arguments of the public education establishment.”

      Reply
  15. Jeff

    We moved out of LAUSD after my son’s kindergarten experience at a recently converted charter school. Overwhelmed teacher with 30 kids and no TA. A complete cluster. My takeaway was that none of the people holding any power -LAUSD, UTLA, charter operator – had any interest in fixing the issues. They all just wanted a bigger piece of the pie.

    The teacher’s union wasn’t interested in hearing the economic realities of the problem.

    LAUSD lost a lot of credibility in the last few years with the billion dollar iPad fiasco and it’s inability to effectively manage schools with different needs.

    The district is too large and needs to be broken apart to better address the local challenges.

    Reply
      1. Roger

        $2 billion! A drop in the bucket!
        If we forced all the children who are currently in charter schools back into standard public schools the invested amount per child would not change, so how would that “rebuild” anything?
        You socialists are quite amazing: Personal liberty, freedom, responsibility, mean absolutely nothing to you. All that matters is that all should be equally miserable (except for those of you who see yourselves at the top of the tree, right?)

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I see you have a reading comprehension problem. The $2 billion isn’t national and also refers to to school construction only in one state that the researcers identified as a completely waste by virtue of the schools not being wanted. That means it doesn’t capture annual operating costs. And the article also makes clear that there was almost certainly a lot more of this sort of waste, but this was all they could document in detail. From the story:

          The report says that “nearly 450 charter schools have opened in places that already had enough classroom space for all students — and this overproduction of schools was made possible by generous public support, including $111 million in rent, lease, or mortgage payments picked up by taxpayers, $135 million in general obligation bonds, and $425 million in private investments subsidized with tax credits or tax exemptions.” These amounts are based on only a portion of the state’s charter schools for which data was available, so the true funding amounts given to charters in communities that don’t need more classrooms “is almost twice as great.”

          So you utterly misrepresented the point of this story, that this money is pure waste and indeed would be added to the invested amount per child if redeployed.

          You’ve revealed that your idea of personal liberty is looting of government. And if you want to exercise your “liberty,” not one is stopping you from homeschooling or sending your kids to a private school. I pay for the schooling of other people’s kids as a single person and I don’t carry on as if I am victimized the way you do. Yet you try to present selfishness as a virtue. Lordie.

          Reply
  16. John Karl Fredrich

    Thank you for the very informative original article and commentary,
    (although some of the repeat responders seem to get overly involved with
    their own rhetoric and fail to elaborate or substantiate their claims).

    The issues of using public funds for quasi-personal preferences is of a
    different magnitude than most other considerations. I do not feel that
    such revenue diversions have validity or integrity. Also, I do not feel that
    key administrative demands of public education, including evaluating
    the proficiency of teachers’ competencies and adequacy of curriculum
    content, (especially in regard to state and national standards), have been
    built into the current system.

    For the record, I’m an old John Dewey-type, retired social studies secondary
    teacher with over 30 years of classroom experience and think that the entire
    ‘charter movement’ is as bogus as everything else that has come out of the
    corporate capitalist idea factory over the last 40 years. It does appear to be
    an existential threat to public education as these institutions have evolved
    since the days of Horace Mann.

    Reply

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