No CharterGeddon Law: STEMs, Conversion Charters, IB Programs Will Do Fine

Charter "Armageddon" – expansion of privatized school operations, parallel buildings and real estate development promised by Amendment 1 – is not needed in areas building their own "choice."

There may be a case to be made for ready-to-go private company run charter schools in areas that have shown little ability to organize parent and community support for existing public schools, adding to (perhaps defining) schooling challenges. Then again, across the nation, higher performance by company-run schools in low-income areas is anecdotal and one runs into the same problems defining “performance” as exists anywhere. In contradistinction to neighborhoods without “bones”, you have highly connected communities with a plethora of groups advocating for any number of issues. The entire I-85/Briarcliff/Lavista corridor from Druid Hills to Tucker can be described that way, even if not defined as a city or cities like Brookhaven, Chamblee and Dunwoody.

At Druid Hills and Tucker High Schools, it was a community that drove the establishment of International Baccalaureate (IB) programs that beef up student “performance” (whether defined by test scores or other metrics, such as career direction) and attract students ready to learn—and the schools have current attendance zones, unlike magnets. Henderson Mill Elementary is now a STEM school (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jhez995nG4), a labor of love that originated in a search for a theme for a conversion charter (the real public school charter). STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and “The Mill” is now the first general enrollment (non-charter, non-magnet) elementary school certified by Georgia DOE and there are more on the way. Interestingly, Chamblee High, Peachtree Middle (both conversion charter schools) and Dunwoody High schools are STEM grant recipients and presumably have implemented their own programs, so certainly have the capacity for their own general enrollment.

That means four of the five “top” high schools in DeKalb are essentially have the capability of educating “outside the public school box”—and accomplished that without a new Georgia Charter School Commission easing the way for a massive expansion of privately financed school facilities taking funding from traditional public schools. I’m guessing that all of the “charter chatter” right now will instill some interest at Lakeside High for some kind of “choice” program—and there already has been discussion of the feeder schools breaking into an academy system.

The fact is, while the privatized charter movement continues apace, so does the establishment of tailored educational programs intended to distinguish schools from one size fits all jurisdictional administration of public schools. In fact, with the exception of communities without “bones”, which are comparatively unattractive as an educational and operational base, the state incentivized promotional impulse for expanding privatized (however termed “public”) schools will serve as a distraction at the least and downright destabilizing at worst to communities that can get their own changes made within the context of the current system. The only things that might be needed to push things ahead faster might be (1) clarity that the state would circumvent local administrative approvals for existing school alternatives the same way they are pushing private operations and (2) the possibility of legislation for either city schools or bifurcating large school systems—all under the state’s current DOE approval process, which has proceeded with appropriate caution.

Clearly the current state system for approving new schools and indeed the innovation challenged public school administrations have been willing to approve privatized charter schools in needy areas. The experience in states that moved cautiously at first, then “opened for business” with what many called Charter School BOARDS (a parallel school system) rather than the more slippery term “Commission” is that financiers and companies had difficulty, but expanded quickly and gained what education success they have in more attractive affluent areas. The record shows also that the private operators actually run their schools with much the same friction with parent boards as public school administrators. In fact, private operators have communicated in at least one massive company that their employees are to consider schools “theirs”.

These factors lead me to believe that private financiers and operators are licking their chops to get into areas with traditions of scholastic excellence to pick off low hanging fruit, with promises of what will be exclusivity and smaller class sizes (not excellence). No end of parents that have paid (or contemplating paying) for private schools will return to 100% funded new charter schools—and would win admission in a gamed system. This of course would not be accomplishing the stated objective of “bringing back” families to neighborhood public schools.

In summary, the state and local school systems can serve communities that need new schools, however questionable by approving them at the current pace under existing law. That while not introducing unneeded promotional stress on those areas that simply do not need them—by handing private companies full funding and easier approvals. The state should minimize private financing and private operations and provide more incentives for STEMS, IBs and conversion charters.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Doctor DeKalb November 02, 2012 at 04:09 AM
I agree. Plus, in many areas like the ones you mentioned, the public system is only educating about half the school aged population. If the parents currently paying for private school could start their own charter through the commission, we could see a sudden influx of new students which would significantly reduce the per student funding amount and we can't go much higher on the millage, so where will the money come from? A commission with a single purpose of approving new schools will quickly get down to doing just that - approving new schools. Until we can fund the ones we have without laying off people who are necessary to the system because of their direct involvement with the students, then I don't care what kind of school anyone is asking for - we can't afford it. And it is not worth changing the constitution just so a bunch of politicians can continue to spend money we don't have and get us into further debt. Nice try, but no.
Tom Doolittle November 02, 2012 at 07:36 PM
You say "no" to Amendment 1, but endorse people who escaped neighborhood schools to pay for private--starting a charter "under the commission". That doesn't follow. The point to the article was to say we don't need charters "through the commission" (your term)--we have the ability to start successful unique programs in our individual existing neighborhood zones--no new facilities, no lotteries, no exclusivity. THAT can help those who are on the fence stay in (truly) public schools. The exceptions would be kids with unique needs and those families that don't want their kids in schools that are 30-40% assisted lunch participants.
Doctor DeKalb November 02, 2012 at 09:08 PM
I wasn't endorsing anything. I was agreeing with you. My point is that there are private school parents who may have the funds and contacts that would allow them access to a commission which might be more likely to approve their request for a charter as opposed to the regulations of the local board. If it becomes easier to get a school approved, we might see a return of the kids who were off to the privates. If my tax dollars are going to a system that I see as corrupt, then I'll spend the extra money for the private school. If I have a shot at a new school system, with state authorizers, and my tax dollars can go toward my own child's education, then I might come back. We will be setting up competing school systems and not necessarily fighting over the same group of kids. Do you follow? Maybe I'm overthinking it, but the point is that there are so many opportunities here for more corruption and more problems. I'm voting NO because those in favor have done nothing to convince me that this is something we need.


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