Saturday, January 18, 2014

Charter Schools Can Vary Greatly

The readers of this blog know that I am very skeptical of many of the charter schools that have proliferated in this state in recent years. I want to make it clear however that I am not opposed to all charter schools, and I do not believe that all charter schools are bad. So let's look at some of the differences among charter schools.

Recently I visited a charter school in Avoyelles Parish called LaSAS. This is the Louisiana School for the Agricultural Sciences. It just so happens that this school is dedicated to certain goals that I believe are highly commendable. Many of the students that attend LaSAS are students that have struggled with the typical college prep courses that have been pushed incessantly by our LDOE for the last 10 or more years. The fact is that approximately 60 percent of our Louisiana students either are not college material or have interests in career fields that do not require college degrees. Even so our top education officials have attempted to prepare all students for college, just in case they should decide to try college after all.

It is clear now that the "college prep for all" program has not worked. Louisiana actually has a slightly smaller percentage of our students completing 4 year degrees than we had 10 years ago. At the same time, Louisiana industries are complaining that our educational system is no longer preparing a sufficient number of students for construction trades, welding, health care occupations, machinists, and agricultural science specialists. That's why Superintendent John White is now proposing to help boost such career pathways in our high schools.

Louisiana has a lot of catching up to do in this area. LaSAS however is at the cutting edge of preparing students for agricultural careers as well as providing its students with other valuable hands-on skills training such as modern welding. As a bonus, a lot of kids are graduating that would have dropped out of school if the Avoyelles Parish system had insisted on keeping them all on the college prep track. LaSAS is a locally grown charter school that was created to meet a specific need. Several such charter schools have been quite successful in meeting their charter goals. Unfortunately John White's school grading system penalizes LaSAS as well as all the alternative public schools in the state because such students do not preform well on the pure college prep rating system used to determine school grades. That school grading system must be changed or eliminated if Louisiana is to fairly evaluate specialized schools such as LaSAS.

LaSAS exemplifies the original intent of charter schools. These schools were not intended to compete with regular public schools but to offer special programs and to try out innovative ideas and opportunities for students that could then be duplicated in other public schools. This approach is very different from the approach of schools that I call predatory charter schools. Such predatory charter schools have no interest in testing innovative programs that can be expanded in public schools. They are intended instead to be competitors to public schools. They are established by charter management organizations, usually from out of state, whose goal is to use public tax dollars to make just a few people very rich. They hire the cheapest, often poorly trained teachers, cut out benefits such as retirement and health insurance, and often boost profits by housing the charters in cheap substandard buildings so as to maximize the profits of the managers.  Sometimes they charge exorbitant rent to the charter school. Then they use every unethical trick possible to reject low performing students and to artificially boost their charter school's state test scores. Again the object is to misuse our tax dollars in a way that shortchanges both the students and the taxpayers.

But don't just take my word for it. Just click on this link  to the Diane Ravitch blog to read the story of a former teacher in one of those predatory charter schools so that you can have a first hand account of the abuses that are occurring in Louisiana as well as many other states.