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    When it comes to charter schools, the PTA board knows best

    The Washington PTA board turns up its nose at charter schools. Even after two separate votes to the contrary by its delegates.
    West Seattle High School

    West Seattle High School Joe Wolf

    The board of the Washington state PTA voted 11-6 on Aug. 10 to reverse the earlier stance of 262 rank-and-file PTA delegates and decided not to support charter schools as proposed in Initiative 1240, a measure that will appear on the ballot in November. 

    I-1240 would lift the state ban on charter schools — independent public schools that are tuition-free and open to all students. 

    On Oct. 15 and 16th last year, PTA delegates representing teachers and parents from across Washington gathered at the SeaTac Marriott for their annual Legislative Assembly. After hours of intense discussion and debate, PTA delegates voted to endorse lifting our state’s ban on charter schools

    “The Washington State PTA shall initiate and/or support legislation or policies that drive innovation and accountability in public education by allowing the operation of public charter schools in the state of Washington,” the resolution said.

    The PTA delegates further noted: “Public charter schools are independent public schools granted more site-based authority. Usually, this frees them up to be more innovative.”   

    Then on May 4, PTA delegates again met in their annual convention. This time, they voted 170-92 to pass a resolution to support non-profit charter public schools. With this vote, they made support for charter public schools official PTA policy.

    But on Aug. 10, the PTA board chose to take a position opposite to the one that its own elected delegates have taken twice — that Washington should lift the ban on charter schools. 

    With this sudden reversal, Executive Director Bill Williams, President Novella Fraser and the rest of the PTA board summarily cancelled two carefully considered votes by the representatives of PTA members. These delegates in good faith had traveled from across Washington to come together and discuss, deliberate and vote on the pressing issue of public school reform.  For two straight years, PTA delegates have endorsed allowing charter schools in Washington state. 

    What is the point of holding statewide meetings, carefully considering the facts, and taking a public position in support of a proven reform that helps school children, only to have the decision later overturned by a small group of top leaders?

    The state PTA has taken a clear position in support of charter schools. The PTA board only hurts its own organization’s respected position in the education debate by undermining its members' official position.

    Liv Finne writes about education matters for the Washington Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

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    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 5:51 a.m. Inappropriate

    Despite Ms Finne's claims, the Washington State PTA's support for charters was qualified support and I-1240 didn't qualify.

    The PTA resolution approved by the few PTA reps who could afford to take time off, travel to the legislative assembly, and pay to attend the vote (PTA members who wanted to vote had to be present for all-day meetings and pay over $100) gave only conditional support for charter schools.

    From the WSPTA:
    "Nationally, PTA has conditional support for these independent public schools. Our focus is not on the label of the school but of the supports in place for student success. While we are not opposed to alternative governance structures or school autonomy, neither are we relaxed in our support. All schools – innovative, traditional or charter -- need to be embraced by the local community, support student learning in an inclusive manner, and engage families in a shared-decision making process."

    Initiative 1240 does not meet those conditions.

    So, rather than opposing the adopted resolution of the (frankly un-democratic) legislative assembly, the WSPTA Board's vote actually is perfectly aligned with it.

    The world is not as simple and dichotomous as Ms Finne would have us believe. It is not a simple binary question of for or against charters. She presumes that support for charter schools means support for all charter schools no matter what, and that isn't real. Neither is opposition to charter schools an opposition to all charter schools no matter what. That isn't real either.

    It is exactly this sort of dichotomous thinking that makes I-1240 so bad. The members of the charter school commission, according to the initiative, must be charter school supporters. If they are charter school supporters like Ms Finne, who supports them no matter what, then how can we expect these folks to ever decided to close a charter school? Surely a charter school supporter like Ms Finne supports them at all times and in all situations. That is not the person I would trust to provide the promised accountability.


    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 8 a.m. Inappropriate

    Some things never change. The PTA exec board are eliteists, who "know best" and Know that their beloved teachers (I was one) can do no wrong, and only have kids at heart.

    Bullbleep, they have their paychecks at heart, at least the leadership.

    While I highly respect Mr. Williams, I have little confidence in the PTA. Run by those with too much time on their hands, an unwillingness to deeply parse the issues, they do not make good decisions. If they want involvement, which is evidenced by their membership, why would they oppose "one other option" for educational delivery?

    The Geezer


    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 9:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    Once again you see the elite liberals blocking real reform. Why would they fight anything that has a remote chance of improving education. Washington state is 47th in education and 50th in 3rd year college students.

    Of course this takes power from the elite liberals and puts it in the hands of parents.


    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 10:06 a.m. Inappropriate

    I find Educator1's characterization of charter school opponents as "elite liberals" not only amusing, but side-splitting belly-laugh ridiculous.

    Take a look at who is funding I-1240 -- Bill Gates, the Wal-Mart owners, Jeff Bezos the CEO of Amazon, Nick Hanauer the venture capitalist, and hedge fund and private equity managers around the country. Look at all those billionaires, and then tell me, with a straight face, which side the "elitists" are on.

    These are the same people who bankroll Liv Finne. Look at the initiative, that is, if you have any pretense whatever of having an open mind. Tell me after reading its oversight provisions if parents would have more, or less, control. You know the answer, and so does Finne. Your argument is not credible, any more than hers is.


    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

    What in the world has happened to August?  We're suffering through more elections than days over 90.   

    First we threw an early state primary and 38.4 percent of the voters decided to attend the party.   The biggest controversy the media could drum up out of the primary involved a supreme court race in which the establishment candidate received only 60 percent of the vote.  The story?  If his name had been more familiar, meaning more Johnson and less Gonzalez, his percentage probably would have been even higher.  The evidence?  The establishment candidate in another race got 63 percent.             

    If that was the best our state could do to create a juicy election tale, we might have been in danger of losing the award we won during the governatorial recounts of 2004 and moxie media antics of 2010.  But the PTA board took pity on us and once again proved that:

    Giving voters/members a say in the policies that govern their lives is a risky business, especially when their answers are controversial;

    While voters matter on election day, those in charge control matters every day; 

    The less a group's action matters, the more visceral the politics; and

    In politics as in life, you dance with those who brung you.

    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 10:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    Only if you have no imagination or moxie. Isn't that kind of a dumb comparison: dancing partners to political challenges? Good god. No wonder we're in trouble.

    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 10:37 a.m. Inappropriate

    Yes, WAPTA supports charter schools. No, WSPTA does not support I-1240 because of lack of local oversight. Resolution 18.9 of WAPTA Board Positions and Resolutions (updated May 2012)states
    "Therefore, be it Resolved, that Washington State PTA support/initiate legislation ensuring that all public education funds be appropriated for public purposes only and channeled through locally elected school boards."
    Since the charter commission is appointed, not elected, PTA cannot support I-1240 as it is written.
    Yes, attendees to the Legislative Assembly and Convention had to be able to miss a day of work, pay a babysitter, travel there and pay $100+ to attend. Many members from poorer PTA's could not afford to send members there. Region 2 had the most members at both events. Region 2 consists of the Bellevue, Issaquah, Lake Washington, Mercer Island, Riverview, and Snoqualmie Valley School Districts. These are primarily the districts that carried the votes for charter schools.
    I applaud the PTA for doing the right thing and voting to NOT support a poorly crafted initiative.


    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 10:44 a.m. Inappropriate

    Don't you think that you should prove that it is an improvement first?

    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 12:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Wow. I guess if you have your facts right that makes you an "eliteist".

    After all, knowing stuff doesn't have any value or merit, it just makes some people feel superior.

    Geezer asked "If they want involvement, which is evidenced by their membership, why would they oppose 'one other option' for educational delivery?"

    The answer is simple: Because that other option doesn't offer involvement.

    Educator1 tells us that Washington is 47th in education. Really? By what measure? Washington state has the highest average SAT scores for any state with at least 50% participation in the test. How can we be 47th in education with that going for us?

    Then Educator1 says something really confusing: "Of course this takes power from the elite liberals and puts it in the hands of parents."

    The PTA ARE parents, Educator1. The PTA is saying that they don't support I-1240 because it does NOT put power in the hands of parents. Your comment is directly opposite of the actual situation.


    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 10:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    For the record Washington ranks 47th when public school financing is compared to personal income. I am not sure if that is a reason for or against charter schools but it is a fact.

    Washington students do pretty well in the SAT and ACT but the state is not at the top when scores are adjusted for participation and family income.

    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 1:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    I-1240 aligns with some, but not all of PTA's criteria for charter schools. For instance, it establishes mechanisms for transparency and accountability for student outcomes. Where it comes up short for WSPTA is its failure to establish a mechansim for involving parents and the local community in school governance. National PTA has a specfic condition of including parents on charter school boards -- something I-1240 does not do. (Though it does reserve a parent spot on the state commission.) WSPTA also has additional positions around community involvement and management of school funds.

    A charter school board that does not have parent or community representation and that answers to an appointed state commission does not align with our criteria for meaningful partnerships or local involvement and oversight in public schools.

    A point of clarification on WSPTA's endorsement process: The WSPTA Board of directors are elected representatives charged with carrying out official member positions. These positions are decided at an annual fall legislative assembly and an annual convention. Each PTA or PTSA may send delegates to vote on its behalf. It is up to the local PTAs to choose if they want to participate and to pay applicable convention or assembly fees. The fees offset the cost of the statewide gathering.

    It is also up to each local PTA to choose who its voting delegates will be. Generally these are elected officers.

    Staff does not vote on issues or endorsements. The WSPTA Board of Directors has just 1 vote at our fall legislative assembly and again at our spring convention. Once a position is taken by membership, the board is obligated to uphold it.

    If you are curious about the positions WSPTA and National PTA are bound by, you can read them here: http://www.wastatepta.org/advocacy/association_position/index.html

    National PTA's position on charter schools: http://wsptagrassroots.blogspot.com/2012/08/national-pta-updates-charter-school.html

    WSPTA’s criteria for legislative support of charter schools: http://wsptagrassroots.blogspot.com/2011/11/support-for-charter-schools.html

    - Ramona Hattendorf, WSPTA government relations coordinator (staff)

    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 9:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thank you to the WSPTA for doing their duty and READING 1240 and understanding its limitations to the stated goals of national and state PTA. No one caved, Ms. Finne.

    Interesting how both the Times and WPC are trying to bully/shame the WSPTA into changing its mind. I believe WSPTA will do nothing of the sort because they have integrity. That's something both the Times and WPC might want to consider


    Posted Wed, Aug 22, 11:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    What is the WPC?

    Why are so many people so afraid of charter schools? If they are so bad then presumably they will be short lived because nobody will attend then. Wouldn't there be some benefit to being able to say I told you so that we can move on to more productive discussions rather than forever revisiting the same topic.

    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 5:38 a.m. Inappropriate

    David_Smith asks "Why are so many people so afraid of charter schools?"

    It's an interesting question because I don't know anyone who is afraid of charter schools. I do, however, know a lot of people who are opposed to charter schools as a matter of well-reasoned principle and who have a lot of well-considered thoughts about why charter schools are a bad policy.

    For David_Smith, and others, to trivialize the opposition to charter schools as "fear" is a rhetorical trick. He's suggesting that it is fear alone that forms the basis for their opposition. It's like asking people why they fear a Black President or a Mormon President. Fear is probably not the reason for their opposition.

    No one that I have ever met fears charter schools. The entire suggestion is a lie concocted by charter advocates who can't respond to the rational arguments against charters in general or I-1240 in specific.

    Why do charter advocates fear an honest debate?


    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 11:30 a.m. Inappropriate

    There is certainly room for a good debate on the merits of charter schools with reasonable arguments on either side. I am not sure I would want to send my kids to a charter school but I find that harder to translate into a position where I want to ensure that nobody has that choice. Why should your principles dictate what happens to everyone else?

    As best as I can tell, charter school opponents have three arguments - they do not work, they take resources from regular schools and they do not educate their fair share of educationally-challenged students. None of these arguments strikes me as sufficiently compelling as to stop them altogether in our State. If a charter school does not work then parents are unlikely to select it and it will be short-lived. In a school district like Seattle the number of skilled people in central administration/oversight as opposed to actually teaching is scandalous and so any school options that promote more decentralized efficiency are likely to be beneficial in the long run. At present, the distribution of educationally-challenged students is very uneven with relatively few in affluent school districts or affluent areas in mixed districts like Seattle. Unless one believes that it is appropriate to start shifting students around in the schools we already have to even these numbers out, it seems an unfair to apply this standard to new charter school.

    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 2:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    David Smith says:

    "As best as I can tell, charter school opponents have three arguments - they do not work, they take resources from regular schools and they do not educate their fair share of educationally-challenged students."
    They take resources from regular schools is not enough of an argument for you? Good God, man, this is a worse, and longer-lasting, raid on the public treasury, and a worse welfare check for billionaires, than the Sodo arena, also being pushed by a hedge fund manager.

    Why are these people so eager to promote charter schools here, and why are they so frantic to pass this initiative? Here's a clue for you. It's where the money is.

    Our schools are underfunded as it is. Charter schools will only make the problem worse, not better. If these guys are so rich, and they think they have the key to education, then let them start their own damn PRIVATE schools, with their own damn money, just like Hansen can build his arena with HIS own damn money.

    Then you can send your kid there, and you can have your "choice." Anyone who stands with the taxpayers on this one will be votng NO.


    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

    Putting aside David Smith's use (as noted by cool papa) of typical rhetorical devices (why are you people so afraid of charters), he also notes three (good) reasons to oppose charters, but misses what I believe to be the most important: The "public" aspect of public schools, as expressed by my giving PUBLIC schools my tax money, having accountability and/or control via MY school board and its policies, and expecting that the board will spend my tax dollars in a way that helps the most children.
    A charter is, by its very nature (the charter), distanced from accountabilty. The charter document's purpose is to sever ties, to one degree or another, with the district. It'l like the charter becomes a boutique school, set up to help some few, but not a part of the district as a whole. In helping some few (if indeed it does: The Credo report out of Stanford says that charters are better some 17% of the time, the same about 50 or 60% of the time, and worse about 25 to 30% of the time - in other words, a net loss) charters are free to ignore all the other students in all the other schools and that's just not right. It's a system, set up to spend my tax dollar in the best way to serve the most students.
    I compare a request to start a charter with my money similar to somebody requesting my tax dollars for their own fire station: They want something different to protect their kids, something with a different pumping system, closer to them, with firefighters who are more like them. But hey, that's not the way it works: We expect the fire department to allocate it resources to the best of its ability, just as OUR board does.
    Charter proponents play this "choice" card all the time. I guess it's indicative of the "me generation" coming of age, they think they can play on that generation's expectations that they can have anything they want, their way, damn the public, damn society. But that runs contrary to the great system of "commons" our democracy has fostered. We have national parks (just not one specifically to your liking, next door to your house); we have fire departments; we have public school SYSTEMS. We're all in this together, and you just can't say, "give me your tax dollars for my new school over here, a school out of your district and unaccountable to you."
    Of course there are many other reasons for opposing charters, such as the three Mr. Smith names and then also, very importantly, the free market transferance of public assets (schools and tax dollars) into the pockets of investors of various types that are, as we speak, busy funneling public tax dollars intended for education into their bank accounts. There are so many examples of this profiteering that I won't bothor to list them all, but here's an illustrative example: Maria Goodloe Johnson, superintendent a couple years ago in Seattle, convinced the school board to make the (bad) decision to buy NWEA's "MAP" test. She didn't tell the board that she was on the board of NWEA. The CEO of NWEA, which calls itself a "non-profit," makes half a million dollars a year selling these tests to gullible districts. The Supe, MG-J, then was "let go" by the district based largely on other matters, and went on to a nice paycheck in Detroit, where she is working with other "reformers" (charter companies, test companies, curriculum companies, hedge fund companies trading on tax credits based on schools in distressed neighborhoods, property management companies, cheap "teacher" supply companies like Teach For America, she's making big bucks in the edu-business, along with thousands of others selling the "public schools bad, free market good, choose charters!" snake oil.
    Just say no to I-1240.

    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 4:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    "I am not sure I would want to send my kids to a charter school but I find that harder to translate into a position where I want to ensure that nobody has that choice."

    Because they are asking the rest of us to pay for that choice. They are already provided with plenty of choice. They don't need any more choices. Which is not to say that they don't need any better choices. There is no reason to believe that a charter school would be a better choice.

    "Why should your principles dictate what happens to everyone else?"

    That's the political process around here. Hadn't you noticed? There's a vote and the winning side's principles dictate what happens to everyone else. For example, in a lot of states right now the principles of those who object to same-sex marriage are dictating what happens for everyone. Are you new to this country?

    "As best as I can tell, charter school opponents have three arguments - they do not work, they take resources from regular schools and they do not educate their fair share of educationally-challenged students. None of these arguments strikes me as sufficiently compelling as to stop them altogether in our State."

    Wow. Really? You're okay with our precious education funding going to something that doesn't work? You're okay with a non-performing idea drawing funds from our schools? And you're okay with the exclusionary practices of publicly funded institutions? Gee. Then I guess there's really nothing you wouldn't tolerate. Why would you be in favor of these things?

    "If a charter school does not work then parents are unlikely to select it and it will be short-lived."

    What evidence do you have to support this contention? The reality is that there are a lot of non-performing charter schools all across the country and families continue to select them and the schools continue to operate - badly. Your conclusion is simply and demonstrably incorrect.

    If Seattle Public Schools - or any other district - performs badly, is top-heavy, or fails to adequately serve a population of students there is action that we can take. We can bring our grievences to the democratically elected school board and, if they fail to take action, we can vote to replace them. We, the citizens, control our public schools and if those schools have problems then we, the citizens, have both the authority and the duty to fix them.

    Hey, if we can't get democracy to work at this, the most local level then what hope is there for democracy at any more distant range? To give up on the citizenry's ability to influence school boards is to give up on democracy. I'm not ready to do that. Are you?

    The solution is not to walk away from that duty and that authority and to surrender it to an unaccountable corporation in the unwarranted hope that they will do better when their track record clearly shows that they have not done better to date.


    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 6:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    As best as I can tell, charter school opponents have three arguments - they do not work, they take resources from regular schools and they do not educate their fair share of educationally-challenged students. None of these arguments strikes me as sufficiently compelling as to stop them altogether in our State. If a charter school does not work then parents are unlikely to select it and it will be short-lived.

    Really, sir? You think we have unlimited education resources to try a system that has not proven its worth over 20 years and 41 states? There is not one district in the nation with charters that can say because of charters, they have closed the achievement gap.

    You yourself said "they do not work." So why would you go there?

    So it would be okay to set up a system where the traditional schools take ALL the high-need, high-cost students and the charters cherry-pick and then look great on their test scores and everyone says, wow, charters? Seriously?

    And you're okay with charters being able to buy a closed school building for less than its worth? That's a good deal for taxpayers?

    And you're okay with an approved charter taking over a entire school, building and all, with just 10 teachers signing a petition? And the school isn't failing? That's in the initiative.

    There is one other key reason to vote no - we have done this dance three times. And every - single - time, Washington voters examined the data and the issue and said...no. And they will do it again but the question is how many times do we say no before it sticks?

    And, how many easy deflections of responsibility does the Legislature get via the "Hey, look charters, don't hold us accountable for not fully funding existing schools" pass?

    We don't fully fund our existing schools so how is bringing on an underperforming system of MORE underfunded schools going to help?


    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 10:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    Liv Finne should come to New York state and talk to some people who are actually involved in the charter school movement. A friend of mine in New Jersey is on the school board for a charter school, obviously a charter school supporter. He said one of the things that is happening is that religious groups are figuring out that they can get tax money to essentially run religious schools. There is a Jewish charter school in New Jersey and this has triggered applications for Catholic and Muslim-run charter schools.

    So already the church groups have gotten public money to run religious schools, a clear violation of the separation of church and state. On these grounds alone, they should not be allowed.

    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 10:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    Read this sordid tale from Louisiana, where the right-wing governor (no doubt someone Liv Finne would vote for) fell all over himself to not only embrace charters, but also vouchers.



    Posted Fri, Aug 24, 10:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    Yes, the New Jersey tale is almost funny. All these suburban parents thought charters were for those poor minority kids in Newwark and did not believe charters could come to their high-performing suburban districts.
    Now they find charters coming in, bypassing their local control and taking money out of their districts.

    As for Louisiana, it's the poster child for all that is wrong in ed reform. They are passing out voucher money - taxpayer money - for religious schools that teach about dragons and the Loch Ness monsters as being real. As for their charters, more of the same kind of low overall performance AND terrible expulsion rates for minority students.


    Posted Sat, Aug 25, 6:37 a.m. Inappropriate

    For all the well-articulated and intelligent reasons above to support a vote against the charter bill, there will still be the true believers. I hope they're numbers are few and we defeat this bill.

    Posted Sat, Aug 25, 6:38 a.m. Inappropriate

    "their numbers" - sorry

    Posted Sat, Aug 25, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

    It seems that the entire mantra of the Republican party is to get rid of government completely. The Washington Policy Center is one of those decidedly partisan 'non-partisan' think tanks that promotes that idea.

    For all of those Republicans who want small government, move to Iraq!! They hardly have any government over there at all.

    Posted Sat, Aug 25, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    Here's the mission statement of the WPC:
    Washington Policy Center is an independent, non-partisan think tank promoting sound public policy based on free-market solutions.

    This entire statement exposes the fraud of their mission. To state that you're nonpartisan and then include that your public policy is slanted toward free-market solutions is just dishonest.

    For example, how do you have 'free-market' elementary and high schools?
    How do you have 'free-market' police forces?
    How do you have 'free-market' fire departments?

    Here's a sample 911 call to a 'free-market' fire department.
    FD: 911, what is your emergency?

    Caller: Our garage is on fire and it's spreading to our house!!!!

    FD: If I can have your credit card, I will pre-bill you $10,000. Will that be Master Card of VISA?

    Caller: WTF. Isn't this the fire department?

    FD: Yes it is. But this is a free market fire department. Are you one of those commie socialists who expect everything for free?

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