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The Future of Peninsula Charter Schools

Charter School advocates and union leaders discuss the contentious issue of charter schools, and specifically how to evaluate teachers

As the school year fast approaches, many parents and their children are anxiously awaiting word on whether they were accepted off the waiting list to some of the Peninsula’s top charter schools.

Schools such as San Carlos Charter Learning Center, Summit Prep, North Star Academy and the East Palo Alto Charter School are known for low drop-out rates and boast far higher college acceptance numbers than their public school counterparts.

In the heavily debated 2010 film, “Waiting for Superman,” non-union charter schools are portrayed as the ultimate solution to the issues of poor teachers and underperforming schools.

Patch set out this week to talk to charter school advocates and union leaders about the pros and cons of charter schools, and how to develop them.

Todd Dickson, the former Executive Director of Summit Prep, one of the schools featured in “Waiting for Superman,” said charter schools have greater autonomy than most schools, giving them the flexibility to try innovative approaches.

Dickson, who is currently working to develop several new charter schools in Nashville, said one misconception about charter schools is they do not have to teach all students.

However, admission to charter schools are awarded via a lottery system.

Another benefit Dickson sees of charter schools is the fact that they have “great control over the hiring and firing of teachers.”

Though Dickson does not see himself as ‘anti-union,’ he expressed concern that many unionized public school teachers are judged solely on seniority when it comes to salary increases.

Salary increases, Dickson said, should come from improved performance.

“Public schools give salary increases even if there’s no evidence a teacher is improving,” said Dickson.

Teachers’ salaries at public schools in California can go up to $100,000 per year for senior teachers.

Dickson professed no objection to improving salary with experience, however, he stressed even the more experienced teachers should provide supporting evidence their experience has improved their teaching.

“As you’re a 15 or 17 year teacher making more, I would expect that you demonstrate your value and that the outcomes of your kids are so much better than those of younger teachers,” said Dickson.

Redwood City Teachers Union Head Brett Baird insisted that Teachers Unions have no objections to charter schools provided that they are staffed with unionized teachers.

“I’m all for parents doing right by their kids,” said Baird.

California Teachers Association Spokesperson Mike Myslinsky also expressed no specific objection to charter schools, but voiced skepticism about many of their practices.

In terms of teacher pay, Myslinsky said that teachers’ unions oppose performance based pay because performance is often based on students’ test scores.

“We oppose using standardized test scores when measuring ability,” said Myslinsky, who added that he believed seniority often corresponds with performance.

When it comes to the process by which teachers are held accountable for poor performance, Myslinsky stressed teachers unions are also concerned about poor quality teachers. The belief the ‘at-will’ employment contracts at non-unionized charter schools will fix that problem becomes problematic.

“Many teachers are dismissed at the whim of a charter school owner without just cause,” said Myslinsky.

But for some charter school principals such as East Palo Alto Charter School’s Sharon Johnson, unions are not needed because teachers’ points-of-view are listened to and often put into practice by the administration.

“Teachers have a voice directly here in decisions,” said Johnson, whose graduating classes have a 100% acceptance rate to colleges.

Johnson added that teacher pay at East Palo Alto Charter School is competitive with other schools in the region, and that the mostly young teaching staff is given ample opportunity to develop more teaching skills throughout their tenure.

For the California Teachers Association, however, teacher compensation is as much about preserving a middle class lifestyle as it is about rewarding performance.

“Teachers should be able to afford to live in the districts they teach in,” said Myslinsky. “There are many teachers in Palo Alto or San Mateo or Burlingame who cannot afford to live there.”

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Rick Eymer August 05, 2012 at 06:53 AM
Links to stories from Los Altos Patch: http://losaltos.patch.com/articles/lasd-says-bullis-skims-affluent-students http://losaltos.patch.com/articles/a-parent-group-seeks-status http://losaltos.patch.com/topics/proposition+39
Marc Parent August 05, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Joan, 1.You are the one attacking. How many public schools are unionized? Care to wager its more that 18%? 2. Would you again care to wager which lobby is larger The CTA or Charter schools? This statement makes no sense at all, how are the politicians voting in tax increases, don't the voters do that, (LOL)? 3. Charters put more money in the pockets of good qualified teachers, and it seems you have a problem with that, why is that Joan? 4. Parents have the right to donate in all communities. In fact my school district takes children in from out of district (Tinsley) so that the less fortunate get the benefits of my communities (API) donations so I fail to see why this is a problem unless you are a socialist, which sounds like it may be a possibility. Perhaps you believe that the government would take better care of the money, like the the State Parks debacle of recent weeks. Why would you deny parents of such a choice? In this counry we all have a voice, and its called into action at the ballot box, if the people speak, government should listen. Charter schools are a wonderful alternative to a system that is clearly failing by all recognized standards, but I guess you like to eliminate these choices into a "one size fits all" system that is not working for all. Please state all facts wen making such a one sided baseless comments, We informed parents know better than you about the benefits of Charter schools. I guess you like living on the mean streets of Los Altos.
Caroline Grannan August 05, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Rick, even fairly moderate voices observe that charters were a benign idea originally, envisioned as partnering with public schools, but that the concept was rapidly hijacked by forces that are hostile to public education (yes, there are powerful forces pushing for eliminating public education entirely and shift to a fully privatized system), and definitely by forces that want to crush teachers' unions. The organization Rethinking Schools has some thoughtful commentary on that. The charter sector has made itself into an aggressive attacker of public education, so it's late in the game to ask if we can't all just get along. Part of the impetus is this: Charter schools have sought and been wildly successful in winning undreamed-of amounts in private funding from wealthy "eduphilanthropists" -- sources such as the Gates Foundation, the Walton (Wal-Mart) Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Fisher (Gap) Family Foundation and many more. A big part of the way to keep the money flowing is with the boasts about their superiority -- the misinformation or oversimplified and misleading information that charter sources gave Adam that showed up in the 2nd graf of this report, which prompted my initial objections. Every "charters are superior" boast constitutes an attack on public schools, though there are more aggressive attacks as well. The reality is that charters overall are less successful than comparable public schools. ...
Caroline Grannan August 05, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Switching to my media critic hat (I'm a newsroom veteran): I know the media criticism to which I posted a link is arcane, but it explains the attitude that often pervades press coverage of the charter sector. Here's a quote: "The sphere of consensus is the “motherhood and apple pie” of politics, the things on which everyone is thought to agree. Propositions that are seen as uncontroversial to the point of boring, true to the point of self-evident, or so widely-held that they’re almost universal lie within this sphere. Here ... journalists do not feel compelled either to present opposing views or to remain disinterested observers. (Which means that anyone whose basic views lie outside the sphere of consensus will experience the press not just as biased but savagely so.)" That's all a quote from media critic and NYU prof Jay Rosen. As we clearly see, it's widely assumed that charter schools are within the sphere of consensus -- on which “journalists do not feel compelled either to present opposing views or to remain disinterested observers.” Rosen here describes me, and fellow commenter Joan, and many other public-school defenders against the charter propaganda blizzard: "... anyone whose basic views lie outside the sphere of consensus will experience the press not just as biased but savagely so." Needless to say, I think that more self-awareness among the press might lead to appropriately skeptical coverage.
Joan J. Strong August 05, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Marc, your entire argument goes like this: 1. Unions are bad. 2. Charter schools eliminate unions. 3. Therefore charters are good. #2 in your argument is false. * Yes, charter lobbies are out-spending the TA's in many local elections across the country. Bill Gates and Walmart have poured millions into Washington State's charter initiative. It's big business and big money. The TA's are amateurs: here come the big-business pros with BIG money for lobbies. * I don't have a problem with good teachers getting paid more. Never said I did. Many charter supporters hold up charters as a way of saving money. This is false. * Our average donation in our admittedly high-end area is $500 per child. The charter gets $5000 per child. Slight difference. * Socialist? You understand you are advocating government dollars behind handed to private companies, right? That's not exactly capitalism. * I don't deny parents anything. They are free to attend whatever private school they wish to pay for with their own money. * There is a limited amount of public dollars available. Taking them all for yourself means other kids need to go without. * Failing? Our district is the top-rated in California. Studies have shown that Charters absolutely, positively have NOT improved test scores or outcomes. * Yes, you sure know a lot. That's why you use that "union" scarecrow so mindlessly. * Sadly, our streets are in fact a but meaner now--because of the charter school.

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