Response to Reuters Article on Charter School Admissions

February 18, 2013

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Reuters recently ran an article on charter school admissions, "Special Report: Class Struggle - How charter schools get students they want," February 15, 2013. CCSA submitted the following response:

Unfortunately, the article attempts to paint a picture of charter schools with a broad brush and fails to capture both the biggest trends that are happening in the sector as well as some of the specific issues arising as more parents are being empowered to choose between different educational options.

One of the most glaring omissions in the article is a failure to set in context what is happening in our nation's charter schools in comparison to what has persisted for decades throughout the traditional public education establishment. As an example, recently released data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals that only 60% of African American students and 58% of Latino students graduate from high school. Reflected in studies and documentaries such as "Waiting for Superman", traditional schools systematically sort students into different educational opportunities based upon students' perceived educational abilities. Visit nearly any city in America and you will find our traditional school system requiring evidence of aptitude as a requirement for admission into various programs and schools. This society-wide phenomenon shows that our education establishment allows traditional public schools to "get students they want" in ways that have prevented literally millions of families from having more equitable opportunity for generations.

It is against this general backdrop that the charter school movement is growing and thriving, and it is abundantly clear that charter schools are doing a great job serving students reflective of the diversity of our state while improving educational opportunity for historically underserved populations. In California's 1063 charter schools now serving nearly a half million students, we find that charter schools serve approximately the same percentage of low income students as traditional schools, and a significantly higher percentage of African American students than traditional schools. To compensate for the harmful sorting and choosing that has been happening within our traditional system, hundreds of charter schools have been created with missions to serve those who have dropped out of high school, incarcerated youth, foster youth, students with disabilities and other high needs populations. It is precisely this great diversity of effort happening within the charter school sector that has led the majority of Californians to conclude that charter schools are a bright spot within our public school system, and we think that an article that failed to take into account these contributions has done a great disservice.

The very clear fact is that charter schools in California - and to our knowledge every other state in the nation - follow enrollment practices ensuring that all students interested in attending have a fair chance of securing admission. Each and every charter school in California answers to state and federal law as well has an authorizer - a district school board, county board of education or state board of education - that carefully considers charter admissions practices from design through implementation. The California Charter Schools Association strongly opposes unfair admissions practices, and we are gratified that virtually all of our members stand strongly with us on this issue.

The broader societal trend occurring today is a shift from a system of schooling where "one-size fits all" with little choice available to parents toward a system where there is great diversity in the kinds of programs available and where every family has, or soon will have, multiple quality options to choose from. Charter schools are the primary engines creating new options for parents - back to basics options, project-based learning programs, military academies, six-day-per-week academic calendars, extended-day schedules, and online/hybrid programs to name a few. As these new choices become available, it is essential that parents learn enough to know that programs are right for their children before enrolling. Examples abound of many parents who presumed that a charter school would offer the same program as traditional schools learning after enrollment of things they didn't expect. In many cases, these parents end up switching programs after the school year has begun causing great disruption for all involved. This is another reason why we believe it is perfectly legitimate that some charter schools put in place admissions procedures requiring families to demonstrate that they understand the expectations of the charter school and all that its program does and does not offer.

Of course, one person's appropriate admissions policy is another person's effort to screen out students, and that is where authorizers come in. From time to time accusations of improper conduct arise, and these are examined by charter authorizers who have the deepest understanding of what is happening. In stark contrast to the misperception created by your article, the vast majority of charter schools are found to be following fair and transparent procedures designed to safeguard the interests of all students and families.

We at the California Charter Schools Association will continue to work with our members to help educate parents and the public about how best to navigate the transition from a command and control system of education to one where parents make well-informed choices between an abundance of quality options. We look forward to future articles where these dynamics may be more thoughtfully explored.

Jed Wallace
President and CEO
California Charter Schools Association

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