Ironies Advanced by Young and Old – Will We Ever Call Them Out?

Good morning CharterFolk.

A reader pointed out to me that a link to an Iowa advocacy position I posted last week was incorrect. Here’s the right one. It’s a darn good job, CharterFolk, for any of you wanting to get advocacy right out of the gates in a new charter school state.

Meanwhile, for those of you more inclined to Grand Ole Opry environs, you may find this one from Nashville enticing. Another great one!

Keep them coming, CharterFolk.

Meanwhile, I extend to Porsche Chisley a special thanks for offering her Contributor Column yesterday …

… about the success that the Mind Trust has had in terms of improving student outcomes in Indianapolis and preparing to grow the organization’s impact by expanding into Texas. Among the Mind Trust’s great contribution has been a never ending stream of accurate communications about the impact that charter schools are having providing improved learning opportunity for all students, especially those who have been historically underserved.

The Mind Trust also provides accurate information about the underlying economics affecting the public education of all students in Indianapolis.

When we can’t get these kinds of communications done at the level required, the ironies that end up going uncontested contribute to narratives that completely miscast the impact that charter schools are having.

Some of you may have seen this op-ed from Pittsburgh this week.

A high school student who attended a K-8 charter school that he says was a great option for him and his family had to decide whether to stay with the charter through high school, switch to a private high school, or go to a Pittsburgh district school (PPS). He chose a district school, and now a few years later he reports:

While I made my decision for personal reasons, as a student leader at PPS, I know more about how those decisions impact every student and have learned more about the issues that charter schools pose to the district.

He then describes how charter schools serve 5000 students in Pittsburgh while the district serves 19,000, and the district sent $119 million to the charter schools, or 17% of its operating budget. It leads him to conclude:

My family’s decision to send me to ECS cost PPS over $140,000 at current rates. Although every child who enrolls in a charter school may appear to increase their opportunities and quality of education, their decision greatly decreases opportunities for every remaining PPS student.

My point here is not to go back and fact check the student’s numbers. It’s to shine a spotlight on the ironies that we allow to go uncontested.

I accept his numbers at face value which show that charter schools educate 20.8% of the students in PPS and receive 17% of the district’s funding. Those numbers reveal the following:

Charter school students receive almost $7,000 per pupil less than district students.

If you compute what the per pupil amount of expenditure would be were charter schools equitably funded in Pittsburgh, you see that charter schools actually make nearly $34M in additional funding available to the students who remained in district schools. And when you divide that across the 19,000 students served by PPS, you see that the charter school presence actually raises by $1784 per pupil the amount of funding going to the students remaining in the district …

… making plain the irony of the student claiming that the presence of charter schools “greatly reduces opportunities for every remaining PPS student.”

Again, my point is not to dive into the veracity of the student’s numbers, though it bears mentioning that funding levels in the neighborhood of $30,000 per pupil, which are at least roughly confirmed by quick checks against independent sources, are far in excess of national averages and warrant inquiry as to why any public school system funded at this level would be first focused on a lack of resources as a primary driver of challenge within the district.

I also find it mystifying how the student makes the general claim that charter schools do not perform better than district schools and then includes a link citation supposedly confirming the claim, but when you explore the link you see that all it leads you to is the state’s website reporting public school academic performance generally.

Sadly, though, these are not even the greatest ironies found in the op-ed.

Because if you look at the district school that the student chose to attend …

… you find that it’s a school like many other IB programs that uses selective admissions criteria that screen out low performing students, often along lines of race and class.

And, given that it is an IB magnet school, we know that the expense of implementing the IB program almost certainly means that the district is spending significantly more per pupil on Obama Academy than it spends on its other schools.

So, in terms of choosing to attend a school whose economic model decreases opportunity for students remaining in district schools, this student chose to attend the most damaging.

And yet he casts great blame on charter schools which do the exact opposite.

In fact, in the category of irony of ironies, it may very well be that, in providing the school district nearly $1800 in higher per pupil funding for kids remaining in the school district, charter schools provided exactly the excess funding that the school district needed to offer this student an IB option.

And yet, in this op-ed, and in countless other attack pieces like it across the commonwealth, ironies are allowed to go uncontested.

It’s one thing, when those ironies come from a young person.

How is someone still in high school supposed to have enough perspective to realize that he has chosen to attend a school perpetuating some of the greatest inequity found in public education today, a school that not only siphons money away from other students, but then prevents many of those very students from having even a chance to attend the privileged school they are being forced to subsidize?

It’s a whole other thing when ironies come from elders who clearly know better.

This week we saw one of the greatest purveyors of ironies assume one of the most influential positions in a large urban school district in the country.

Someone who clearly knows better but who keeps advancing the ironies anyway.

A sample of the some of the ironies she has advanced over the course of her career we’ll dive into next time.

But until then, CharterFolk, I’ll leave you with this.

Ironies are not just going to go away of their own accord. They have to be made to go away.

Not just by contesting them when they are irresponsibly advanced in the moment by young or old.

But by making the case proactively.

Teaching. Showing. Revealing.

The raw data is there, CharterFolk.

The true story of what is really happening in our schools is there.

The question is whether we will have the courage needed to bring the truth to light.