Response to AFT’s Letter to Editor

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Re: “Needed Reform — Scuttled Texas needs better way to close failing charters,” Dallas Morning News Editorials.

The recent editorial heaping praise on a failed charter-school bill and heaping blame on Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, for blocking it misses the mark on both counts.

The bill’s primary impact would have been to make it much easier for mediocre to poor charter schools, not just successful ones, to create new campuses. The bill’s modest accountability provisions were essentially window dressing. State officials already have the authority to shut down bad charter schools. What’s been lacking is the will or capacity to exercise that power effectively.

Texas does have some excellent charters, but they are rare exceptions. In most cases, the vision of charter schools as laboratories of innovation has not been fulfilled.

Study after study has shown that traditional public schools typically outperform charter schools — particularly in states like Texas that set the bar low for initial charter approval and follow up with weak oversight and enforcement of quality standards.

President Barack Obama’s secretary of education has warned charter operators that the charter movement is putting itself at risk by allowing too many second-rate and third-rate schools to exist. Their goal, he said, should be quality, not quantity. The charter bill that failed in the Texas House last month had its priorities backward, stressing quantity over quality, and Burnam was right to block it.

Linda Bridges, president, Texas American Federation of Teachers, Austin

_______________________________________

My Response

Ms. Bridges, following in the tradition of many teacher union leaders, is very “creative” when it comes to the truth.

In the second paragraph, Ms. Bridges refers to the section of the bill that creates an expedited approval process for (only) excellent charter schools to open new campuses.

In order for a charter school to qualify for the expedited approval process, it must meet the following standards of quality:

1. 90% or more of the campuses under the charter are academically acceptable or higher for the 2 preceding years (for a charter with less than 10 campuses, 90% or more = 100%), and

2. no campus has been rated as academically unacceptable for 2 out of the preceding 3 years, or such a campus has been closed, and

3. the charter holder satisfies generally accepted accounting standards.

These standards clearly exclude “mediocre or poor charter schools.”

Also in the second paragraph, she refers to the bill’s provision to give the commissioner the authority to revoke a charter without a meeting with the charter owners, as “window dressing”.  Perhaps we should ask the commissioner whether he would consider it window dressing.

In the last two sentences of the second paragraph, she says, “State officials…[lack]…the will or capacity to exercise…[their] authority to shut down bad charter schools.”  Who is responsible for the state officials lack of will?  You can blame it on the TEA, the Commissioner, the State Board of Education, or finally the legislature or governor.  But you can’t blame the charter schools. To say that we need less charter schools because of these “state officials” is deceptively shifting the blame from the “state officials” to the charter schools.  It is analogous to saying, “We need less doctors because the government cannot adequately administer the licensing exam,” or “We need less restaurants because the government doesn’t have enough health inspectors.”

Now, on to paragraph 3.  Ms. Bridges asserts with no supporting data that excellent charter schools are rare and that they rarely are laboratories of innovation.  I point to KIPP Academy charter schools to refute her.  KIPP schools have 12 campuses in Texas.  There are no academically unacceptable campuses.  Only 3 5th Grade classes on three campuses are academically acceptable.  All other classes at all campuses are recognized or exemplary. (Grades younger than 3rd Grade are not tested.)  Clearly KIPP Academies are models of innovation and they provide at least 12 excellent schools.  Harmony Science Academies, Rise Academy, YES Prep, and IDEA Public Schools also provide excellent educations.

In paragraph 4, we have “study after study” with no references.  According to Dr. Jay Greene, professor at the  University of Arkansas and a Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow, the recent Stanford Study that found charter school students behind ISD school students is biased because it doesn’t correct for the fact that the average charter school student ENTERS the charter school behind their ISD school peers.

Regarding any other study, I would refer the reader to Dr. Greene’s blog.

Also in paragraph 4, she says that “Texas… set the bar low… and follow up with weak oversight”.  She reiterates the “shifting the blame” deception that I mentioned early, just in case she didn’t slip the first one past you.

Ms. Bridges engages in a brazen lie when she attributes to Education Secretary Duncan, words that he did not say that are exactly the opposite of what he actually said.  He emphasized quantity when he warned states to remove their caps on the number of charters or they would forfeit their portion of $5 billion from Washington.

In summary, Ms. Bridges made only two true statements.  1. “State officials already have the authority to shut down bad charter schools.”  2. “Texas does have some excellent charters.”  All other statements in the letter to the editor are lies.

She has a clear vested interest motivating her lies.  Nearly all charter school employees are not members of any teachers union.  So she can’t collect union dues from them.

Another example of this vested interest deception was the NEA’s lies about the DC voucher program reported in the WSJ’s article, “The NEA’s Latest Trick”.

Speaking the truth for the children,
Bob Schoolfield
bob@ceoaustin.org
Austin, TX

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