The New(?) Strategy of Charter Schools in the Wild West “Free-Market” System in Texas

Posted on November 3, 2011

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In Austin, the school district has decided that it does not know how to educate students in some particular feeder patterns in the area of the town serving poor and minority students. The schools on the East Side, as it is known in Austin, have long been ignored, underfunded, or changed on a yearly basis since the early 1990s. Some schools on the East Side do quite well. They tend to have outstanding principals who work to improve the capacity of teachers, involve parents, keep good teachers, and counsel ineffective teachers out of the schools.

Rather than attempt to replicate what works in the existing neighborhood schools, Dr. Meria Carstarphen (the superintendent) has decided to not do the hard work of improving the schools with AISD staff, but to hire a charter company to come in and improve the schools.

The district had decided that the IDEA “Public” Charter schools were most appropriate. KIPP and Harmony already have schools in the Austin area.

But look what the IDEA spokesman had to say about the current situation (as reported in the Austin American Statesman http://www.statesman.com/news/local/forum-on-charter-school-proposal-to-introduce-community-1947821.html):

“We’re collaborators with the district or we end up here as competition,” said Matt Randazzo, the chief growth officer for IDEA.

IDEA has no plans to sign a noncompete agreement with the district without a guaranteed program enrollment of 10,000 students or a feeder pattern of elementary, middle and a high schools , Randazzo said. “Then we could say we won’t launch a separate school. They’re probably not going to do that .”

So, essentially the IDEA Charter system is holding the district hostage by threatening to compete with the district if the district does not pay $8,000 per student for at least 10,000 students (roughly 1/8th of the entire district). This is a threat because IDEA (and most other so-called high-performing charter schools in Texas) come into an area and enroll average- to above-average students from the surrounding schools, thus further concentrating low-performing students in the local neighborhood schools. In addition, the lower-performing students in the charter schools end up leaving and returning to the neighborhood schools, further segregating kids by test scores. Since we know peer effects are very powerful and the accountability system recognizes only status indicators (such as percent passing) and not growth, the charter schools improve their “performance” while concomitantly negatively affecting the performance of the neighborhood schools.

Of course, the charter folks never admit this is what they are doing, but I have the data to substantiate these claims. In fact, the data on KIPP. YES Prep, IDEA, and Harmony will be included in my final report on Texas Charter Schools funded by TBEC and to be released in January.

But evidently, this is the how the free-market works in education–pay us money, or we will take your better performing kids away from your schools and drive down your performance, accountability ratings, and your public support.

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