A Potential Charter School Crisis

A comprehensive plan must be developed to chart the best course for the ever-expanding charter school movement—before it is too late. Like urban sprawl, the unplanned process will be disastrous. I believe there is still time for a win for our students, a win for the teachers and a win for our region.

From my vantage point, the County Board of Education has attempted to work on the big picture issue of ensuring a high quality public school learning experience for every child, irrespective of income or race/ethnicity. Over the voices of dissent of school district colleagues, the Board has approved a number of high quality charter schools in the last three years. And more are on their way. This competition should lead to collaboration at the highest levels, but this element is still missing in the Board’s calculus.

Unfortunately, the Axis condo debacle, and public scorn of both former Superintentendent Weis and the SCCOE Board, makes leadership going forward more difficult. Certainly this is a mark against my headship on the SCCOE Board, and for that I take responsibility. It will be addressed, most assuredly by trying to get back every lost public dollar ASAP. In addition, I will advocate to prevent future board of trustees from making the same egregious error through the development of a Board policy to mitigate the risk of loss of public dollars in any future housing loans, if any are ever given again.

That said, I believe that we are on the verge of a perilous crossroads with the growth of charter schools and the clinging vestiges of the status quo at some traditional public school districts. The integral stakeholders at the table must include teacher union presidents, superintendents, school board members, charter management organizations, and school parent leaders. The SCCOE must bring these groups together.

I have concluded that the SCCOE must lead the development effort of a strategic plan to govern the changing landscape; call it the Traditional Public and Charter School Master Plan for SCC. All relevant social and educational issues must be on the table for the critical conversation. These issues should include:

— Quality of middle-level education
— Zoning exemptions
— Collective bargaining to prevent a Chicago Teachers Strike while reforming collectively
— Gates Collaborative Compact successes in other parts of the nation, including Sacramento
— Teacher preparation pipeline
— Location of charters
— Grade level configuration of charters
— District consolidation
— Special education equality
— Facility sharing and planning

At our Oct. 3, 2012 meeting the SCCOE Board will hold a hearing—vote to take place in November—about a second Discovery Parent Involvement Charter School in San Jose Unified School District. The County Board members have received several emails and letters of support from future Discovery Charter School parents.

One such parent wrote: “Last year I researched both public and private schools, the school that topped the list by a long shot was Discovery Charter School. Strong innovative ways of teaching, positive discipline, parent participation, smaller class sizes and inspired leadership all attracted me to the school. We are 186 on wait list for Kinder 2012.”

If we agree to authorize this school in November, there will be rippling effects across the educational landscape—some good and some not so good. Summit Charter School is planning 10 more countywide charters in the 101 corridor. We must do better at understanding and managing the big picture as this monumental change to our public education system continues.

Joseph Di Salvo is president of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

7 Comments

  1. “The integral stakeholders at the table must include teacher union presidents, superintendents, school board members, charter management organizations, and school parent leaders.”

    Too often in regular school districts (non-charter) the teachers union, other staff union, and district administration control what’s happening and even try to control the board and school board election results to maintain a board majority which will vote to rubberstamp the administration. Why?  Because they don’t want to listen to the parent or the taxpayers in the community who are paying for the schools when the parents and taxpayers want change (improvements in academic achievement, for example).  Hence, the upswell of charter schools.  Parents will vote with where they place their children, and school districts ignore what parents want at their own peril.

  2. Joseph,

    Reading your list of stakeholders and, worse yet, your list of issues, I quickly became exhausted and realized that this kind of nonsense is largely responsible for the failure of our public school system. 

    I volunteer at a charter school most weeks and I witness firsthand the dedicated teachers, the remarkable interest and progress of the students, a sensible and well-balanced curriculum and methods and practices that contribute to excellence in learning.

    To overuse a tired phrase, charter schools are “the new paradigm.”

  3. I also volunteer at a school and “witness firsthand the dedicated teachers, the remarkable interest and progress of the students, a sensible and well-balanced curriculum and methods and practices that contribute to excellence in learning.” 

    However, my school is a traditional public school.  One of the best in the state.  Not middle-level education.  Outstanding, innovative, cutting-edge *research-based* education of the whole child.  And we are facing possible closure of one of these outstanding schools because of a county-chartered school which does not serve a representative sample of socio-economic, special ed, nor english language students, does not have a board of directors answerable to taxpayers, and which cannot show measurable objective benefits over the traditional schools that it competes against for facilities.

    Charter schools are not necessarily “the new paradigm”.  Some cause damage and erode the abilities of high-performing schools to continue their work.

    The county board and voters in this state need to seriously reconsider Proposition 39, which requires districts to provide facilities to charter schools without regard to financial or other considerations which could be detrimental to district students.

    I implore Mr. DiSalvo to include that in his comprehensive plan.  Without some changes in this area, any plan will be disastrous in Los Altos.

    • Too funny, you live in Los Altos and it’s likely your school gets two to three times the per pupil funding, when ALL sources are considered.  Let’s see now, Woodside, Palo Alto, Atherton, Hillsborough, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos and Saratoga – did I omit any of the uber-wealthy districts?!

      You need to recognize that the aforementioned districts are all statistical outliers and represent perhaps two percent of schools statewide.  Stop breathing rarified air and try enrolling your children in San Jose Unified, or Alum Rock or East Side Union.  Only then will you find out what most public schools are really like.

    • > And we are facing possible closure of one of these outstanding schools because of a county-chartered school … does not serve a representative sample of socio-economic, … students ….

      What the hell does serving “a representative sample of socio-economic, … students” mean?

      I suspect that this is just a sneaky way of justifying the time worn, tried-and-failed, “convoy” theory of education where the performance of a school is tied to the slowest, dimmest student, and ethnic politics prohibits criticism of the progress of the slowest, dimmest student as “racism”.

      In other words, it’s just political innoculation of the education establishment against any kind of accountabiity for their poor performance.

  4. Your list is exactly why Mr. Di Salvo should take notice.  There are high performing districts in this county, presumably with best practices that others could learn and improve from.  I am not saying that there is no place for charters.  If parents want to try an experiment rather than the traditional, that’s fine.  But if the traditional is already meeting and exceeding all measurable and expected performance metrics, then don’t force them to shut down a school to accomodate one.  Let the (also well-funded, btw) charter find its own facilities.  Don’t mess up what works in an attempt to fix what is broken.  That part of the law doesnt make sense.  For Alum Rock, East Side, SJUSD, or anyone.

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