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    This is your kid's brain on charter schools

    Charter schools have officially passed. Now what?

    Students at registration for Charleston Charter School for Math and Science. South Carolina is one of the states that allow charter schools.

    Students at registration for Charleston Charter School for Math and Science. South Carolina is one of the states that allow charter schools. Hdescopeland (Henry De Saussure Copeland)/Flickr

    Supporters call the results of Initiative 1240 a “clear victory,” though the latest tally shows it passing by a margin of 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent; similar, but diametrically opposed to the voting margin between gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna, a charter school supporter, and Jay Inslee, who opposed the measure. 

    Opponents say they were dramatically outspent and so the closeness of the vote proves that many people took time to carefully consider what charter schools would mean for Washington, now the 42nd state in the U.S. to allow them to operate, after saying no to charters three times before. Supporters say they had to counteract a campaign rife with misinformation and that the initiative was carefully written based on lessons learned from the failed 2004 charter school ballot measure.

    The national media points out that charter school support cannot easily be linked to red or blue political leanings. In Washington, households and groups of friends were divided over whether charter schools would be another tool in our state’s educational toolbox or a distraction from the need to fully fund and efficiently run public schools. King County, home of Bill Gates, Paul Allen and the parents of Jeff Bezos, the initiative’s biggest supporters, voted against the measure. It fared better in Snohomish and Pierce counties, and had solid pockets of support in Eastern Washington.     

    For better or worse, charter schools are coming to Washington state. What happens next?

    Melissa Westbrook, a longtime schools activist and blogger who chaired an anti-charter schools campaign, says “School districts and the union brought themselves to this place by not asking what could be done differently.” She’s proud that organized opposition to Initiative 1240 sparked vibrant, robust discussion about the good and bad in Washington’s public schools. 

    Westbrook would like to see these discussions continue, perhaps moderated by someone with the stature of Bill Gates, Sr. (no matter that his son is a key supporter of charter schools). In the meantime, she is carefully watching how implementation will unfold and collecting names for a charter schools watchdog organization on her blog, Seattle Schools Community Forum. 

    She’s disappointed that implementation of the State Supreme Court’s determination that Washington has failed to meet its “paramount duty to fund public education” (known as the McCleary decision) was not resolved before the charter initiative returned to the ballot. Charter schools could make enactment of McCleary even more complicated, she worries.

    “Our ‘north star’ is providing high quality schools to serve struggling students,” says Shannon Campion, executive director of Washington Stand for Children, one of the architects of Initiative 1240. Stand for Children endorsed Rob McKenna for governor, in part because of his support for charter schools. Campion says the reason Washington's charter school campaign gained traction because of a widespread acknowledgement of the need to close the academic opportunity gap and provide creative solutions for struggling students.

    Though Campion won’t divulge whether there are already organizations waiting in the wings to open the first charter schools in Washington, or where the first schools might be, she is confident that there will be adequate oversight and strong community support associated with the establishment of any charter school. Not only will they not settle for anything less, neither Campion, nor her education reform coalition partners, plan to put all their eggs in the charter schools basket.

    “Charters are part of the solution, not the silver bullet. We are also continuing to work on other structural changes, including making sure our state makes good on the McCleary decision. We need to put our money into the highest-yielding programs, such as more pre-kindergarten programs, all-day kindergarten, expanding academic acceleration opportunities, including more access to advanced placement and international baccalaureate classes.”

    Campion also says it is crucial to devote resources to support the new teacher evaluation system, including providing the necessary professional development.

    Hints of which communities might put out the welcome mat for charter schools have cropped up in the press. The Spokane Spokesman-Register reports that Superintendent Shelley Redinger, who helped set up charter schools as an Oregon school superintendent, is already thinking about what sorts of charters she’d like to see in Spokane. Meanwhile, Seattle School Superintendent Jose Banda, who has been reticent about many issues during his first months on the job, publicly opposed charter schools, along with leaders of 260 of the state’s 295 school districts.

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    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 8:07 a.m. Inappropriate

    Today it is 50.79% to 49.21%. Everyday the yes vote seems to go down in number. I am waiting until Dec 6 and the final count. If the yes does prevail it will be by the slimmest of margins which indicates to me that there is no mandate for charters.

    Bill Gates is irksome for many public school advocates because he doesn't put his children where his words are. His children attend schools with very small class sizes and then turns around and says class size doesn't matter. His children are surrounded by other wealthy children and then says that poverty doesn't matter. It is all on the teachers. Bill should stick to software.


    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

    I waw opposed to the initiative because the results charter schools provide are mixed at best. Clearly, there have been some successful ones in a sea of overall mediocrity. The Gates-funded Stanford metastudy of charters concluded as much, to the chagrin of Gates staffers.

    However, as a member of the State Board of Education, I now have a responsibility to approve charters that are brought forth by public school districts. The new State Charter Commission will approve those proffered by others. Stand for Children and otner supporters of charters are motivated to "reform" public education for at-risk children. I laud that goal but equally understand that the complex variables involved in the lives of these children will not be resolved by any school without improving the balance of their lives.

    As we move forward in the charter approval process, keeping our focus on results for children who deserve  more than we've been able to muster despite what I believe have been our best efforts.


    Posted Thu, Nov 15, 2:17 a.m. Inappropriate

    Whelp, As long as charter schools are approved in Washington State I will vote for no school levy. I have no problem paying for public schools,but have no wish to pay for charter schools.


    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    Same-sex marriage is a no brainer, it's a civil right.

    Legalize marijuana, no problem.

    But 40 charter schools in a state of over six million people.......THIS is a risky proposition that requires further study, preferably forever.

    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 1:09 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm curious to know why the Spokane superintendent of schools hasn't already just changed some regular schools or added some alternative schools, rather than waiting for charter schools to become law. It's certainly a large enough school district that there would be enough school population to have some flexibility.


    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 1:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    And what your kid's brain is currently on:



    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 1:43 p.m. Inappropriate

    After the initiative's majority is certified, as it almost surely will be, the governor, the lieutentant governor, and the Speaker of the State House of Representatives will each name three members of the Charter School Commission. It would be interesting if any of them were to name Mel Westbrook, Dora Taylor, or Olga Addae as members of the commission. Interesting, but unlikely.

    Given the almost certainty of Court challenges to this sloppily written initiative, I don't think any of the big, national charter school organizations will be interested in submitting an application until the Supreme Court has spoken on the constitutionality of the law. There are a number of flaws which could be critical, but the failure to put the OSPI in a position of authority over the schools is a big one.

    Even after the schools start to form there will be problems to resolve. Although the initiative allows school districts to lease property to the Charter schools without charging rent, the law does not require it. The law's rules on the sharing of levy funds is of questionable constitutionality. The State may not have the authority to dictate how local levy money is allocated. Finally, there's the whole rent-free idea for conversion charters. This also presents constitutional questions about the state's authority to spend the districts' resources.

    It's a shame we couldn't get a better written law, but this one came from ALEC, and it was not tailored to the needs of Washington State.


    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 1:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    I have to say that as someone whose children went to private schools and now public, that the public school teachers are every bit as good as the private school teachers. What the private school teachers didn't have to deal with is kids not showing up to school, not doing their homework, abruptly leaving class in the middle of it. My daughter is doing very well in public high school but has been blown away by the behavior of her fellow students.

    In fact, I would argue that her public school teachers might even be better. My daughter learns and her teachers have to put up with crap.


    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 2:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    I don't really have strong feelings on the charter school issue, but I ended up voting for the initiative on this go-around. I guess my bottom line was this -- given the chronic sorry state of many of our public school systems, how can a little experimentation possibly hurt? What cherished values are opponents trying to protect by voting no? At best it seems to be the limited pie mindset: if charter schools get a slice of the action, then my piece just got smaller.

    I confess that my attitude is strongly influenced by the dysfunctionality of the mass testing model. Teaching to the test is not education. It is rat-maze Pavlovian conditioning. Even if standardized scores happen to inch upward, the net effect on students will be to deaden curiosity and engender loathing for the school experience.

    Here is the emerging brave new corporate education model: the rich elites will increasingly provide their offspring with individualized education at private schools, while the underclass will receive rote standardized (and computerized) vocational training in the underfunded public schools.

    Maybe some charter schools will indeed be sponsored by opportunistic hucksters. So what else is new? But at least the door will also be open for the creative few to try new approaches.


    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 8:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    I would submit that most students already loath the school experience and their curiosity is limited to the next great app for their smart phone. I believe that things in the educational field will get worse before they better and we all share the blame. Certain people outside of the education system are trying to drag the system into the 21st century. Good luck with that.

    Our trouble is that there are far to many folks who like the old way of doing business. It's heresy to mention charter schools or that the education "professionals" are the last ones who should be in charge of the system. Considering the pride that Seattle takes in being a "progressive" city, one would think they would want their school system to be somewhat progressive, but apparently not.


    Posted Thu, Nov 15, 5:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    woofer comment illustrates just how completely effective the charter school campaign was at spreading misinformation.

    woofer belief in "the chronic sorry state of many of our public school systems" has no basis in reality. Washington State public schools are among the best in the country and getting better. Our state leads the nation in average SAT scores for states with our participation rate. Our high school graduation rates are at all time highs and rising.

    woofer asks "how can a little experimentation possibly hurt?" Charter schools are not an experiment. They have been around for twenty years and they have been proven ineffective. Moreover, the bulk of them are not experimental at all. They operate no differently from traditional public schools. There is no reason to expect more innovative instruction in a charter school than in a public school. There is, at the same time, a lot of innovative public schools and more are starting every year.

    woofer's primary concern is disdain for "Teaching to the test", yet this is a hallmark of charter schools.

    Had woofer been informed of the truth about charter schools and our public schools, instead of overwhelmed by Education Reform organizations' campaign of lies, that vote would have been cast differently.


    Posted Thu, Nov 15, 8:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    coolpapa, I have hired the recent graduates of public schools. Education is indeed a sorry state of affairs. Even the straight A studend couldn't spell. How did that happen?

    Posted Thu, Nov 15, 8:34 p.m. Inappropriate

    Typo, student.

    Posted Fri, Nov 16, 6:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm going to presume that this irony was unintentional.


    Posted Fri, Nov 16, 6:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    I would not assess the quality of a state's public schools based on a single example of a graduate's spelling. Why would you?

    There are better measures available which are more comprehensive, have a larger sample size, and are more to the point. I will rely on those. I think you should too.


    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 2:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    The ed reformers asking for charter schools are some of the biggest proponents of testing which they use for teacher evaluation. Per pupil public schools get around $7000. Private high school costs at least $12,000 (Catholic) and up to $25,000 for an idependent high school. Plus, in north Seattle there is already a capacity issue. Too many kids not enough seats. If one of these northend schools flips to charter it will cause even more chaos.


    Posted Wed, Nov 14, 4:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    — woofer -- ".....given the chronic sorry state of many of our public school systems, how can a little experimentation possibly hurt?....."

    It will hurt the teacher's unions, and that's the point of the frenzied opposition.

    Their fear is not that charter schools will fail.

    Their fear is that they will succeed.

    Posted Thu, Nov 15, 6:04 a.m. Inappropriate

    This is another big lie told by Education Reform Organizations and swallowed whole by a significant segment of the population: the belief that the evil teachers' union cares nothing for children or their education and works actively against it.

    This belief has no connection to reality whatsoever.

    There was no "frenzied opposition" to this initiative from the teachers' union. They contributed only a tiny amount of money to the No campaign. If anyone was demonstrating "frenzy" it was the handful of millionaires and billionaires who threw so much money into this campaign and kept adding to their contributions in the final weeks.

    There is no "fear" about charter schools. This isn't about fear or greed. It is about policy. It is an intellectual decision, not an emotional one. It's a question about whether we want to keep control of public schools in public hands or if we want to delegate that control to unaccountable private interests.

    Finally, the absurd myths that the teachers' union dictates what happens in our schools and that teachers don't care about education could not possibly be stated by anyone who ever had any first-hand experience anywhere near an actual school. Go to a school board meeting and you will see than just about everything that happens in a school is decided at the district level (if not the state level) by administrators who rarely set foot in a school and never in a classroom. Read the collective bargaining agreement and you will see that it deals almost exclusively with working conditions and due process. That's all the union negotiates and the union doesn't control those - they negotiate them with the district administration. As for not caring about students and education, the idea is insane. The teachers are the union. The union officials are working teachers. These are the people who devote their lives to students and education, the people who actually do that work, who do it all day and all year (despite the limited period they paid for doing it), who accept a job that pays less than private sector jobs they could get, who do it because it is their calling. To suggest that there is anyone who cares more about students and their education than these people is simply madness.


    Posted Thu, Nov 15, 6:09 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm curious about how our media would allow so much misinformation about our schools to be circulated without making any effort to inform people of the truth about our schools.

    The Seattle Times made their editorial position clear. They fully support charter schools. They never made any effort to actually educate people about the quality of our public schools, the poor record of charter schools, or the true role of the teachers' union. It is difficult to believe that the newspaper's editorial view didn't influence their news content.

    And, hey, Crosscut, what's your excuse? Did you also not wish to offend the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that provides you with so much support?


    Posted Thu, Nov 15, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    To note (and I was the chair of one of the two No On 1240 campaigns):

    - our campaign was strictly grassroots, mostly parents and community groups. I invite anyone to look at our endorsement list at www.no1240.org. You cannot compare the No side with the Yes side and not see the striking differences - it was parents, community groups, Dems, labor groups, and nearly every education group including school boards, principals, school administrators and the Washington State PTA on the No side. It was mostly ed reformers and business on the Yes side. To say it was the "union" on the No side is entirely wrong.

    - Coolpapa makes a very good point. I started to realize as the campaign went on that media was giving the lion's share of attention (and quote space) to the yes side. This was quite apparent at the Times (but no surprise there but it only reinforces their less-than-great journalistic tendencies) and on the TV news. I'm not sure what to make of it. Crosscut was fairly quiet on this initiative but at least The Stranger (and its blog, The Slog) were quite out front on it. I note that The Stranger probably had the best record for accurately picking the winners in this year's election.

    - Coolpapa also makes a good point about Gates. I was interviewed by a reporter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution at one point. (Georgia had a measure to enshrine their charter commission into their constitution. Talk about overkill.) He asked about funding for the Yes side and I mentioned Bill Gates. He stopped me and asked if I was okay to go on record criticizing Gates. I was a bit startled as I couldn't understand why he felt the need to remind me.

    He said in Georgia and especially in Atlanta, people are loathe to criticize Ted Turner, Coca Cola and Fed Ex as that is their base of operations.

    I don't think of Mr. Gates as the Godfather nor do I want to try to negate/make light of his philanthropic work.

    However, he threw about $3M of his own money at 1240, got his Foundation to do so, his billionaire friends from Netflicks and Walmart to throw money in and yet we in Washington state are to keep silent because we fear his wrath?

    It's evident now between Sinegal and Gates, that wealthy individuals have now taken over our initiative system.

    Where are we in our democracy when we cannot voice our opinions about the actions of any group of people, wealthy or not, trying to change the course of life in Washington State?


    Posted Thu, Nov 15, 8:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    I missed how the headline related to the article.

    I voted for Charter Schools, in some ways much like woofer did. I also felt the screaming from the existing public school system was too fearful about potential competition.

    When any of us are afraid of a little competition, we do not excel. The current state of education in Washington state isn't just about money in my opinion. I pay nearly $3000 per year towards public schools. I have no children, and I don't mind paying, however - $3000 is a lot of money, and I think my money should be spent better.

    Posted Fri, Nov 16, 6:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    Again, the opposition to charter schools was not fear-based. That was a lie told by the proponents. The opposition to charter schools was based on a number of thoughtful conclusions. One was that our public institutions should be in public control, not private control. Another was based in the evidence that charter schools are not an effective reform. This never was about fear.

    And it certainly wasn't about fear of competition. Competition in the public sector doesn't work the same way as competition in the private sector. When there is open choice, the schools do not compete for the students, the students compete for the schools. That's what we saw when Seattle had an open choice assignment plan and that's what you see in the charter school propaganda like "Waiting for Superman". Think about it for just a little while. School buildings have finite capacities. Unlike businesses, they cannot expand the supply to meet the demand. Also, unlike a business, they don't have an economic incentive to do so. Plus, because there is very little excess capacity in the system, all of the students have to end up somewhere, so even the least competitive schools get enough enrollment to continue.

    Nowhere in the 41 states with charter schools did they ever create a competitive situation that improved the surrounding schools. Which of those 41 states has become an academic paradise? None of them.

    Finally, common1sense, has also bought the myth that our education dollars are not well spent. Was is the basis for this conclusion? There is none other than the drumbeat of Education Reform Organizations declaring our public schools as failures. By what measure are our schools failures and what benchmark would they have to reach to be regarded as successful? Do charter schools meet that benchmark?


    Posted Fri, Nov 16, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    Interesting and thoughtful comments discussion, but I have a real problem with a member of the state board of education, using an anonymous online moniker ("MukMan") to state a position on a public issue he or she is going to have to decide on. I do not think that's appropriate. If a public official wants to state his or her position on a public issue in front of them, they should make that statement in their own name and take responsibility and be accountable for it. Come out of the anonymous closet, MukMan.

    Posted Fri, Nov 16, 7:57 p.m. Inappropriate

    What are two problems for Washington State in education? Educating special needs students and bringing up scores for underperforming students. If charter schools can do either of those for less money more power to them. But I think those jobs will be left to the public schools.

    If extra money is allocated to special needs students and underperforming students, maybe charter schools would actively recruit those students, or school districts could have the power to transfer those students to charter schools proportionally to population. Then the grand experiment could really begin.

    Posted Fri, Nov 16, 8:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    Some of education is funded at the state level, but the buildings are owned by the district and the operating budget comes from a local levy.
    If a charter school wants to take a 20 million dollar building from a local district, they better have to pass a 60% local vote. Otherwise this is piracy. Of course if Bill Gates wants to build them a new school, that would be nice. What's not to like about a Carnegie Library?

    Posted Sat, Nov 17, 4:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    Hey, Melissa Westbrook, I'm pretty sure Bill Gates would champion your right to say what you think about who is pulling the strings. I do. Don't assign the tremors of a paranoid reporter to him. And this ain't Georgia.

    I noticed in another recent article on Crosscut that you were quoted as saying you wouldn't do anything to "obstruct" the process of establishing charter schools in the State of Washington, yet, there was discussion on your blog about how and who could initiate a lawsuit to challenge the voter's directive.

    You and coolpapa and ivan and Randy Dorn do understand that if you legally challenge the results of this election, you are calling into question the results of the last 3 charter school elections? You do understand that, don't you?

    Dos Equis

    Posted Sat, Nov 17, 1:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    Our blog exists for discussion and since Superintendent Dorn brought it up, we had a discussion. We don't control the direction of comments that our readers want to talk about at SSCF.

    No, I don't understand your last point at all. I just know this is a poorly written initiative, fraught with problems and that even a UW law professor has pointed this out.


    Posted Sun, Nov 18, 10:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    "figure out how to enact the McCleary decision" Which I suppose mostly means where to find that money in the state budget.

    Whether the CSC is under Randy Dorn or is a parallel state school system, the legislature still has to fund it. Initial costs are projected at 3 million. I take it that is the budget to get everything in place and write the rules. What will the annual budget for the state to administer charter schools be? I guess that is a question for the legislature unless it was spelled out in the initiative.

    Posted Wed, Nov 21, 12:37 a.m. Inappropriate

    Since it is poor, brown and black children who are at the bottom of the education heap, I. Would think I appropriate to have the input of these groups for establishing charter schools. There are schools and educators doing some creative teaching with good outcomes for these kids. Bringing outside charter schools to WA to make money on our children is not the answer. KIPP schools admit they learned to educate African American students from an African American teacher.


    Posted Wed, Nov 21, 11:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    Dabiha, you may be discouraged to learn that the NAACP, El Centro de la Raza, Asian Pacific Islanders for Civic Empowerment, Japanese-American Citizens League Board, Minority Executive Directors Coalition (MEDC), and Tacoma-Pierce County Black Collective all opposed the initiative.

    They did not believe that it would be good for "brown and black children who are at the bottom of the education heap".


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