Dallas' Charter School Plan May Be a Good Idea, But It Was Badly Executed

I need to talk about Kenya, but the larger conversation is about Dallas and especially poor minority Dallas. So I see in advance that some people will think I must be a racist idiot. What kind of racist idiot would draw parallels between Africa and southern Dallas?

The short answer, I suppose, is this kind. But I know what I'm doing. The parallels I want to draw have not one thing to do with race, color or national origin. These are universal principles.

Swear. Check me out on this.

Last week we saw a big blowup at City Hall over an attempt by a charter school organization to enlist the help of city government in financing the construction of some new schools. The exact mechanics of the issue had to do with interest rates and tax-free bonds.

Can we not talk about that? It's just that it's basically root-canal boring, and if I really understood high finance, would I be doing this job? Let's move on to something I do understand — City Hall cluster-love.

This complicated charter school finance issue was slipped into a portion of the city council agenda normally reserved for small, noncontroversial housekeeping issues, which the council votes on all in one big batch to save time. Usually a controversial issue is slipped into the council's "consent agenda" only as a trick — an effort to slide it past them when they're not sure what they're doing, which is most of the time.

Charter schools are controversial. They are funded with public tax dollars, but they are run by private organizations — people the public can't vote for or against. Charter schools take tax money out from under public control and spend that money as if it were their own.

The theory is that some forms of public control over public money are bad. School boards, for example. They achieve lousy results. During the debate on this particular issue, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings made an emotional speech in which he pointed out that only 12 percent of high school graduates in the Dallas public school system are prepared to go on to college.

The idea behind charters is that they will produce better results and in so doing exert competitive pressure on traditional public schools to improve their acts.

Recent national and state research suggests the charters rarely live up to that promise. But I spent some time last week looking at the test results for Uplift Education, the organization that got caught in the headlights here last week, and their results are impressive.

I spoke with Yasmin Bhatia, Uplift's chief executive officer, who told me Uplift took its request to City Hall last December and then had nothing to do with it and no idea how or why the question was brought to the city council as it was — the timing, the place on the agenda, none of it.

The council, by the way, refused to vote on it and asked for a full briefing at this week's meeting before it makes a decision.

I believe Bhatia. Know why? Because she also told me they did not hire a professional City Hall consultant to carry their water for them. They just went down there like a bunch of American citizens and made their request, trusting City Hall to take it from there.

People. You cannot do that. That's like taking your nest-egg to Vegas, handing it to a casino lady with no top on and asking her to invest it for you.

It's not even City Hall's fault anymore how screwed up City Hall is. We won't raise taxes. They've had to can two-thirds of the key staff. The price you pay for low taxes, if you have a really important City Hall issue, is that you have to hire protection. They didn't do that. It blew up in their faces.

But here's why it blew up. Uplift runs nine schools within the boundaries of the Dallas Independent School District. DISD just closed 11 schools the district said were underutilized, in spite of passionate opposition from parents and community leaders in southern Dallas.

The juxtaposition of the school closings with this request for city assistance for charter schools created massive paranoia in the community, especially given the appearance of a parliamentary scam.

Was this some insider plot by a bunch of Lady Bountifuls to begin shutting down the public school system and replace it with schools only the Bountifuls will control?

You know what? It's a fair question if for no other reason than its inevitability. It's like that question I raised right at the top here about Kenya and Dallas.

So what about Kenya? Last week I had dinner with Patrick O'Sullivan, a retired Apple executive and founder of a foundation called Build African Schools. By recruiting a host of well-heeled sponsors, including tennis star Serena Williams and Dallas' own digital inventor/entrepreneur Russell Fish, O'Sullivan has been able to build 11 schools in remote Kenyan villages.

A sponsor must kick in about $70,000 to pay for a school. O'Sullivan told me that a person whom he is asking to pay for one of these schools usually has a set of questions in mind:

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15 comments
Jean Lamberty
Jean Lamberty

Not all charter schools are run by for-profit companies. They can be very successful, well-run, community schools. If you want to see what public education can be when run by a community involved charter, check out Lusher School in New Orleans. It is not only the antidote to the horrible pre-Katrina New Orleans school system, it is a model any district could benefit from. It does not take just the best students; it is the public school for that area of New Orleans--and it is fabulous.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

Let's try an economic argument:

Charter schools have a huge off-the-books asset: public schools, who act as a safety net to catch all the problem kids charters don't want to deal with. So why do we accept that it is OK for a school with a safety net perform at the same level as one without? Shouldn't we expect the charter to perform higher? Uplift appears to do so, but by and large charters don't.

So it would seem that charters aren't economically efficient for society, unless you abolish public schools completely and go to a charter-only system. But then, you've effectively gone back to square one, where families could not choose public vs. charter. Only you've put all the money, kids, AND choice in charter operators' hands. They might want the money, but I guarantee they won't want the kids. So then what happens? What's the endgame?

Insider
Insider

Huge conflict of interest , the same guy that's on uplift board also was appointed by By Bernadette nutall to the budget review commitee and he also serve as the director of the mayors committ education program. This budget review board recommended that the 11 disd schools close down. Uplift should stop comparing itself to large school district. Uplift have 5000 student disd has 150000.

Bbetzen
Bbetzen

Jim,The charter school issue is much bigger than just money.This week an excellent article was published by the Washington Post by Dr. Diane Ravitch, a well respected educational expert. The title of the article is "Why states should say ‘no thanks’ to charter schools" You can find it at http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

Here are 6 of the reasons she lists for why charters are not good educational alternatives in the long run for public education. You have already mentioned some in your article:

1 - Numerous national and state studies have shown that charters on average don’t get better results than regular public schools. A small percentage get high scores, more get very low scores, most are about average in terms of test scores. Why kill off a community’s public school to replace it with a privately managed school that is no better and possibly worse?

2 - Charter schools weaken the regular public schools. They take money away from neighborhood public schools and from the district budget. As charter schools open, regular public schools must cut teachers and close down programs to pay for them.

3 - Many of the “high-performing” charter schools succeed by skimming off the best students, even in poor districts. The more they draw away the best students, the worse it is for the regular public schools, who are left with the weakest students. (Almost universally, a child with a parent willing to apply for and move their child into another school is a better than normal parent with a better than normal student as a child.)

4 - Many charter schools succeed by excluding or limiting the number of students they accept who have disabilities or who are English language learners. They are also free to push out low-scoring students and send them back to the local public school. This improves their results, but it leaves the regular public schools with disproportionate numbers of the most challenging students.

5 - Many charter operators are for-profit, and the district winds up paying them tax revenue that should be invested in students. Many of the nonprofits pay exorbitant executive compensation that wouldn’t be acceptable in a regular public school district.

6 - Charters fragment communities. Instead of everyone working together to support the children and schools of their communities, charters and regular public schools fight over resources and space. This is not good for education or for children.

catbird
catbird

Just a little correction Jim.

Charters are regulated by the TEA just like any other public school but they have neither geographic districts nor taxing authority and so receive about 30% less public funding than their DISD-like competitors.

To me, the best part about Charters is that they are safe - they don't have to educate a child that has discipline problems so the criminals-in-training that dominate the halls in other schools are not allowed in Charters. Lots of parents send their kids to Charters specifically because of that.

Victoria
Victoria

Am I missing something here? I thought every child in an Uplift school is there because their parents decided to enroll them. And Uplift has huge wait lists. What more legitimacy does a public school need than the very deliberate choice of every family there plus all the ones with kids on the wait list? I would think if legitimacy where the issue that we'd be questioning the underperforming schools that kids are relegated to by zip code. I

Mo
Mo

Sounds like a new fresh piece of meat for hungry Dallas politico's to exploit!!!!

This is Dallas after all, and Dallas Politico's will chew up africans and spit our their clothes!!!

Remember King kong?

Ozgur Cengiz
Ozgur Cengiz

Charter Schools have not proven to work, they are privately managed and their teachers don't have to have certifications. This outsourcing of education WITHOUT much oversight academically and financially has opened the doors for many fraudulent organizations with much more on their agenda than education. Texas continues to give $millions to Harmony Science Academy and their multitude of Foundations and institutes (Cosmos Foundation, Raindrop Turkish House, Turquoise Council etc. The Gulen Movement has strong ties with all of these organizations and are benefitting from this. Their curriculum is Turkocentric with emphasis on Turkish culture, most of these showcases like: Science Olympiad, Turkish Olympiads, etc., are owned or sponsored by one of these Gulen NGOs.The new scam is bond financing, and sucking out as much government money as possible - much of it is wired out of the country or paid to h1-b Visa workers who in turn "Tuzuk" part of their salary back to the NGOs. Texas wake up, some of your politicans are getting money contributed to their campaigns, awards at Interfaith dialogue dinners and free trips to Turkey. Not all of the charter schools are bad, but unfortunately this group is giving a bad reputation to charter schools nationwide. If you think Harmony Science Academy is some unique or special school you have no clue, this group runs 130 of these Gulen Charter Schools with the SAME methods. Next you will see comments on here from "happy parents" and "happy teachers" it is predictable and obvious. http://www.gulenschoolsworldwi...http://www.gulencharterschools...http://www.harmonyparenttruth....

catbird
catbird

Just speaking for myself, the "endgame" would be the abolition of central control and financing of local schools.

The centralized education bureaucracy is skimming off large amounts of tax funding (read recently nearly 20%) with no value add.

Ax the bureaucrats, get rid of the teacher unions and return the responsibility for educating the next generation to the local communities of interest with plenty of choice for the parents.

Risky? How can it be any worse than it is now?

Mo
Mo

I agree with the CONFLICT OF INTEREST. We should have known there would be a tie-in back to Pizza Mike. This is the stuff that turns corrupt down the road. Just wait and hold your breath, its coming, as usual. This is Dallas!!! Expect the worst from the politicos!!!

Worried
Worried

Don't forget the fact that charter schools do not have the same safeguards as public schools do. They don't necessarily run the same background checks and in some schools the teachers don't even have to be certified to teach. How does this help our children?

catbird
catbird

Bebtzen: several of your "six reasons" are precisely the point of the charter school movement nationally.

The American public school system has been engineered to fail by the US Department of Education and NEA elites and the purpose of charter schools is to break the death grip that these people have on our childern and their education.

I'm glad to see it's working!

Cheers :-)

JimS
JimS

What's the correction?

JimS
JimS

Nah. Not really. Customer satisfaction is not the same thing as political legitimacy. So, yes, as long as you live on the public tit, you are, indeed, missing something.

catbird
catbird

"Charter schools are controversial. They are funded with public tax dollars, but they are run by private organizations — people the public can't vote for or against. Charter schools take tax money out from under public control and spend that money as if it were their own."

Maybe there is no correction needed but I read you words to mean that the public money is "given" to private individuals for them to do with as they see fit and this isn't true.

Charters are subject to TEA audits and can lose their charter and be required to refund the funding to the State if there are has been a violation of the regs.

 
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