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OUSD taking harder line on charter renewals

By Katy Murphy
Monday, February 23rd, 2009 at 6:02 pm in charter schools, high schools, OUSD central office, students, test scores.

These days, it seems, charter school operators had better dot every `i’ and cross every `t’ if they expect to stay in business in Oakland. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but my point is this: The charter school renewal process is hardly pro forma.

The latest example? The OUSD Office of Charter Schools and its external evaluators say Oasis — a small, independent study high school in downtown Oakland — has not lived up to the goals set in its 2004 charter and that its leadership makes excuses for those shortcomings. The district evaluators have recommended that Oasis withdraw its request for a charter renewal and submit a stronger one, along with an improvement plan – or to close by the end of June. You can read the full report here.

You can find the rest of Wednesday’s school board agenda here. I should note that the district’s charter school office is recommending the renewal of two Aspire charter schools — Monarch and Millsmont — this week. Two other charters, E.C. Reems Academy and the Oakland Military Institute, are about to be scrutinized as well. Their public hearings are scheduled for Wednesday.

Do you think that charters should be held to a higher standard than traditional schools?

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  • http://www,sfschools.org Caroline

    Yes, because charters are given “freedom from burdensome bureaucratic regulations” in exchange for supposedly meeting a higher standard. That’s the deal they made, so why shouldn’t they have to live up to it?

    Also, since charter schools are supposed to be “incubators of innovation” and not even the most fervent charter supporters can cite a single “innovation” that any charter has “incubated,” perhaps they should face sanctions for failure to live up to that promise too…

  • Chris G

    Charters are not innovative? Hpw about success! Oakland is so bad that a school that succeeds is innovative! How many district schools boast the hard to get Blue Ribbon Award? ZERO!!!

    I believe three oakland charter got it.This is a dead argument. Everyone knows that the district will close charters because its bad for their business, nothing to do with kids!

  • Nextset

    No.

    Charters take people who want to be in that school. If there was a quality problem the students would be enrolled in their assigned public school. That process is a quality check traditional public schools don’t have. Because of this we don’t have to be obsessive with the charters.

    The charters are simply a poor man’s private school.

  • Maggie

    This is interesting not just as an example of charter school review–Oasis serves a very particular student population: as the report states: “14-18 yr old dropouts who would like to attain a high school
    diploma”
    What I found most interesting reading the report was the line: “At the time of renewal, the school leadership and governing board were unaware of California’s Alternative School Accountability Model (ASAM) which provides opportunities for schools serving unique, high risk, populations to demonstrate impact on student learning through alternative measures.” This could make it a completely different ballgame.

  • del

    Yes, having a clue as to the basic laws that govern your organization would make it “a different ballgame.” But if you don’t have a clue, and you don’t ask for help, all you are doing is victimizing the students at the school. These are some of the same problems that existed at U-Prep.
    And Nextset, that is incorrect. Charters take the students who they recruit to go there, often with misleading statements. But since they don’t have to follow the laws that govern public schools, there is no accountability there. Since they are run with public money, they need to be accountable to the public, it is that simple. That being said, I challenge you to find even a private school where in 2009 students wear a dunce cap like the one my nephew was forced to wear at American Indian Charter.

  • cranky teacher

    Nextset, re: “assigned school”:

    Oakland has open enrollment, albeit with a some students getting priority based on residence, siblings, etc. Oh, and parochial school is a poor man’s private school. Charters are not private schools, why confuse the issue? School shopping exists in the non-charter schools just like it does with the charters. BUT THEY ARE FREE TO ATTEND AND PAID FOR BY THE TAXPAYERS.

    Chris G: What are you talking about? The district has been the state leader in granting charters, which they are under no state law to do. They’ve even granted charters to schools outside of the Oakland city limits.

    Del: Do you know anything about Oasis, or are you just throwing UPrep in there as a smear? Seems like a cheap shot to overgeneralize.

  • cranky teacher

    I read the report and I also know a bit about Oasis and its history. This is really interesting stuff, and really gets at some of the real tensions inside urban education in general.

    In the report, the school gets high praise for the following:

    – Significantly increasing buy-in from drop-outs who were previously completely alienated from school.
    – Both attendance and enrollment at the school have significantly increased every year of the school’s charter, to respectable numbers. (attendance is 88.5%]
    – The API scores have increased steadily every year.
    – The school is very safe, despite its alt student pop.
    – The school has handled their money well.
    – Great field trips and service learning.

    Here’s what the school gets slammed for:

    – The API scores are still low compared to other Oakland small schools.
    – The school documents almost nothing. The school has not pursued the rather ambitious goals it had for itself in the charter of documenting through surveys many things about the school culture, outcomes, and environment.
    – Similarly, the school at its charter promised to instill programs like internships which have never materialized.
    – The school is self-satisfied and refuses to embrace systematic attempts to increase rigor, consistentcy, etc. The report accuses the school of making excuses.
    – Teachers are inexperienced, receive no formal professional development, and don’t use enough “best practices” in the classroom.

    There are two ways of looking at this:

    – The school is a FAILURE: Students are not moving far or fast enough to being “caught up.” The school is copping out and making nice, and is self-satisfied with baby-sititng troubled kids.

    – The school is a SUCCESS: Kids who had dropped out or soon would have been spending days in a school with caring adults discussing the world, doing service learning and maturing as individuals rather than hanging out on street corners causing trouble.

    Your perspective depends largely on where you sit.

    Relevent to this discussion is that the head of Oakland charter schools — Mr. Montes de Oca — is a small schools true believer. I suspect he is hoping Oasis will rise to the challenge to “grow up”, come up with a new plan to improve the school and maintain its charter.

    I hope they succeed.

  • del

    I know that both UPrep and Oasis are being closed due to mismanagement. It appears that the excuse at Oasis is that they did not know how their school was supposed to be evaluated. I guess the difference at UPrep is that they DID know how they were going to be evaluated and they cheated. I still do not think anyone would find it excusable that a school would not know how it was to be evaluated. Whether you lie and cheat or you are ignorant and fail, you are cheating and failing the kids. In no way do I find that acceptable. In no way do I think that anyone should take my money and cheat my community’s children.
    And Cranky Teacher: aren’t these some of the same problems with the same population that UPrep “served”? “At risk” teens in a continuation school environment that where there was no accountability for the school’s actions? Whether or not anyone thinks that is an overgeneralization (let alone a smear), they are both examples of schools being run with public money and being grossly mismanaged due to a lack of accountability. The original question is should charters be held to a higher standard, but the reality is “should charters be held to ANY standard?” and the answer is unequivocally yes.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: I like the Success statement above.

    I see a lot of at risk people. The teens are often really a mess and not going to school. More than that they are not being socialized – they become feral in a way. Not psychotic like a feral cat on the street, but dangerously detached from societal norms in a way that makes them subject to criminality, health/disease problems, chronically unemployable.

    Any school that takes at-risk kids and keeps them physically showing up, on their feet and talking and interacting with adults and each other is a really important thing for the community and the kids. And this can make the difference between survival & growing up to be a “person” or just living in institutions until untimely death.

    So good for Oasis.

  • http://www,sfschools.org Caroline

    Chris, it’s a huge piece of the mightily funded charter movement PR that they are “incubating innovation.” But I have never been able to find an innovation developed by a charter. Sneering “how about success?” does not answer that question (in fact, sneering at the question rather confirms my observation).

    Just to be clear — on a national scale, charters do not outperform traditional public schools. Just like traditional public schools, some are successful, some are disasters and most are somewhere in between.

  • cranky teacher

    Del, I don’t know that much about UPrep, but my understanding is that they were busted for massive grade and test fraud.

    Oasis is not being charged with fraud at all. It’s being charged with not sticking to the ambitious goals laid out in its charter and in No Child Left Behind.

    There is a difference.

    Also, I think you and Maggie might be confused about the ASAM. That is a voluntary program which Oasis is not enrolled in. It seems that was put in the report to answer “excuses” the report accuses Oasis of making. In other words, if Oasis is saying “You can’t look at our test scores compared to these other schools because of who we are teaching,” then the district is responding, “Fine, then get yourself enrolled in ASAM so you can be judged by more appropriate criteria.”

    By the way, nowhere in the report does it describe the leadership structure of the school. Most of their criticisms would seem to be in the purview of the principal. I wonder if there has been an continuity in the principal position.

    People need to remember that these small schools are … small. You are not talking about a huge bureaucracy with admin assistants, tech staff, etc, but about a dozen adults doing a job the vast majority of even those who chose to teach teenagers find unacceptably difficult.

    Methinks a lot of this criticism of charter schools could just as easily be leveled at many of the small schools operating within the “regular” public school format. You will get a lot more variance in small institutions than in large ones.

  • Fruitvale Res

    I am always perplexed about Charter School oversight statements. Like…

    “The original question is should charters be held to a higher standard, but the reality is “should charters be held to ANY standard?” and the answer is unequivocally yes.”

    First – it assumes an accountability system within large districts that effectively drills down to the individual school level. The reality is that the adequate funding does not exist to provide quality staff to provide effective oversight. Nothing more elaborate or diabolical than that – it is a cash issue. There is barely enough money to staff classrooms.

    Second – these statements are either ignorant of or biased on two significant fronts.

    Front #1 – Academic Accountability – AB1137 is designed to deny renewal of charter schools that do not operate in the top half of their similar school pool. Yes, close. Not restructure. Not assign a new name and occupy the same building with the same kids and teachers. Nope – close. Go home people. Find new jobs. Find new schools.

    Front #2 – Financial Accountability. Charter schools must run on balanced budgets. Most do not have the capacity to issue debt via bond. Basically – to keep it local – they cannot run $60 mil in the red and keep the doors open. Spend too much – close. Again – go home people. Find new jobs. Find new schools.

    When will we all finally unite behind creating successful public school experiences for Oakland youth as opposed to perseverating over charter schools?

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