Guest Column: Charter Schools 101

March 2, 2011

Provided by Tom McNamee

Editor’s note: Tom McNamee is a concerned parent with a student at Washington Gifted Academy in Rockford.  He is currently president of Environmental Compliance Consulting, Ltd., and has been a business owner in the community for the past 22 years. He is the former president of the Board of Directors for Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful and has held several positions on various nonprofit organizations over the past 15 years.

Amid the controversy and turmoil of district budget deficits and the closing of schools, something is not being talked about nearly enough: the dismantling and privatization of our public schools. Taxpayers need to understand this agenda fully before decisions are made that will impact our school district and our community for many years to come.

The Broad Academy agenda

• Eli Broad is a rich philanthropist who RECEIVED $5.2 BILLION FROM AIG JUST A FEW YEARS BEFORE AIG WAS BAILED OUT FOR $80 BILLION BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT (REMEMBER THAT?) Broad, GATES, WALTON, AND OTHERS want to apply an EFFICIENT business model to public education in which school districts would be run with CORPORATE-LIKE management techniques.

• Dr. Lavonne Sheffield is a 2002 graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. The Broad Academy recruits administrators to teach them how to implement a plan to dismantle and privatize public school districts.

• The Broad strategy includes initially opening two to four charter schools and putting the district in severe financial straits to wring concessions from the union with the aim of eventually busting it. Sound familiar?

Charter schools

• The vehicle for privatization is the charter school. Charter schools are corporate, for-profit ventures.

• Public monies are given to private corporate charter schools, instead of used in the public schools. THEREBY BILLING TWICE. ONCE FOR THE CHARTER AND ONCE FOR THE EMPTY SEAT THE CHILD LEFT.

• Charter schools do not have to hire teachers with teaching degrees or state certification. They merely have to hire people to teach who have a degree in a “related field.” Just about anything could be viewed as a related field when it comes to education. Teachers are paid at a much lower rate and with little, if any, benefits. And, of course, they are not protected by any union. They do not have to hire specialists such as: art, music and P.E. teachers; or special education teachers, social workers or psychologists. This is how they make a profit.

• They have a guaranteed five-year contract, during which time they cannot be closed regardless of their academic performance. Where else does one get a five-year contract in education?

u They do not perform at a higher level than public schools. According to Stanford’s Credo Study, when schools with similar socio-economic statistics are compared, 17 percent of students in charter schools do better, 34 percent do worse, and the rest stay the same. Public schools generally do better than this.

u Many teachers working at charter schools have reported such problems as: special education students who did not get services, no library and out-of-date books, a strict military regime in which children were expected to stay in their seats from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon, overwhelming conditions on the teachers, who were expected to work exhausting 11-hour days (including lesson planning), and a dysfunctional administration.

• In many charters, teachers work in fear, knowing they can be fired without recourse for any perceived problem, including speaking out about conditions in their school.

• The charter school negotiates funding with the district, and it can be between 75 percent and 125 percent of the average per-pupil tuition in the district.

In light of this information, we should ask ourselves why District 205’s proposed budget cuts include the closing of some of the highest-achieving and most popular schools in Rockford.

Washington School has the Fifth highest ISAT (Illinois State Achievement Test) scores in the state. Montessori consistently makes AYP (annual yearly progress on ISAT tests) and has a long waiting list of families wanting to get into the school. New Milford had the third-highest ISAT scores last year. The Barbour Language Academy is beloved among its parents and students. But, consider that these schools are all potential charters. In fact, we have heard many whispered suggestions to the effect of: “Don’t worry. We’ll reopen you as a charter.” But, the chances are that even if these programs were reopened as charters, they would not be staffed with the same teachers; teachers with many years of experience and advanced degrees and levels of certification. For example, every teacher except one (the one new teacher) at Montessori has a master’s degree and national Montessori certification. This would not be the case at a charter.

Is this what we want for Rockford? A school district that provides substandard education to exploit our children for corporate profit? Has the District 205 administration even considered other budget reduction measures besides the closing of our finest schools? And what will be the long-term effects of this kind of school district on our community? Imagine the impact on property values and businesses as a failing school district keeps businesses and people from moving to Rockford and drives people to other communities and private schools as they seek what should be an American birthright: quality public education. Isn’t public education vital to what Jefferson called an “informed electorate,” the backbone of democracy?

From the March 2-8, 2011, issue

2 Comments

  1. john venovic

    March 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Millie Zimmerman

    I totally agree with Governor Walker’s attempts to rid Wisconsin of its Civil Service unions.

    Unions, by definition, are opposed to management and to further the goals of their members and union officials’ pocketbooks.. In the case of the civil servant’s unions, “management” consists of the citizens. Therefore, these unions are in opposition to citizens except for those who themselves are members of unions.

    I pray for all states to follow the example of Wisconsin, and further, to adopt open-shop legislation that frees workers from compulsory membership in unions.

    My bias in this comes from my 26 years of commissioned service in the Navy. The military does not tolerate unions except for their civil service unions, and yet young men and women still join and sometimes die for their country as a result.

  2. John Doe

    March 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    This article is the kind of truth bending that keeps our district from moving ahead. Everyone gets territorial and no one is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make our district the best possible district in the state. We’ve moved one of our kids from Washington to a charter school this year and are very happy with the move. That doesn’t mean that we were unhappy with Washington, but that the charter school was more geared toward our family’s life philosophy and direction. Our district benefits from having regular public schools, magnet schools and charter schools. Spewing misinformation like this does a disservice to all of the schools in our community.

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