Monday, August 31, 2009

School bureaucrats cry: "We shouldn't have to compete!"

What an incredible front page article in the Oregonian today.

The Corbett School District is a little district wedged between a couple east county districts and the Columbia River. Over the years, it has developed some very strong academic programs that gained the notice of a lot of parents in the area.

Parents who don't live in the Corbett district could still have their kids attend the Corbett schools as long as their resident district gave permission - which for several years most of them willingly gave. The superintendent signs an "inter-district transfer" form, and the district passes on the roughly $6,000 the state allocates to that student over to Corbett.

But as money became increasingly tight this last year, most of the east county districts said "no more inter-district transfers." They started refusing to sign the forms. Parents who loved the Corbett schools but didn't live in the district were out of luck. Their own district wanted to trap their kids into schools the parents didn't want, because each of those children had $6,000 taped to their foreheads.

But Corbett found a workaround. Charter schools in Oregon can enroll kids without regard to school district boundaries. And if a district wants to turn create a charter school inside one of its own buildings, it is a pretty easy exercise.

So Corbett created a charter school inside its K-12 school building, and now it is free to enroll as many kids as it can accommodate. And THAT is what has the other districts' noses out of joint.

The Gresham superintendent, John Miner was quoted: "We can't cannibalize one another under the guise of curriculum," Miner said. "There is a fundamental flaw in the charter school law that the Legislature must address."

In other words: The charter law allows parents to choose their kids' school, without going on bended knee to their resident bureaucrats. The legislature must fix this.

What Miner calls a "fundamental flaw" is really a fundamental PRINCIPLE of charter schools - parental choice and competition. District bureaucrats don't want to have to compete. It is much easier to have their students assigned to them.

Reynolds School District's superintendent doesn't like it one bit: "This new charter school definitely impacts our district finances negatively," he said. "And it blatantly circumvents the interdistrict transfer process."

If his district is losing students to Corbett, perhaps he should offer what Corbett offers. That's kind of the point of the whole thing: competition drives improvement, because you have skin in the game.

Also, it is absolutely true that charter schools "blatantly circumvent the interdistrict transfer process." In fact it is so blatant that the legislature designed the charter school law specifically to circumvent it!

What we are seeing here is the competitive dynamic at play. It was the whole idea of the charter school law in the first place. For ten years since we passed the law, districts have been able to keep the competitive pressure to a minimum through all sorts of quasi-legal shenanigans that I have spent the last decade fighting.

But finally, the pressure is being felt. It took a deep recession and an innovative, courageous leader from inside the education establishment to bring it to a head.

Corbett's Superintendent, Bob Denton, explained why he used the charter option when local districts started refusing transfers: "I wasn't going to let them take kids who want to be here, whose parents want them to be here. Kids are not a means to an end, to financially support you as a district. That is unethical."

Imagine a school system in which ALL of the school leaders held this view. THAT is the promise of charter schools.


Anonymous said...

What's amazing is that the Corbett Superintendent may be the only one in the state whose focus is on educating kids.

Anonymous said...

If the union goon squad in Salem crushes this effort, then we really will find out who is Governor in Oregon, Kulo or Nesbitt.

I bet that come Feb 2010, the special session will rescue the mediocre, celebrate the poor performing school districts and rule against the smart and successful kids.

Hopefully, then Corbett SD will lose their kids, and their funding, and then get absorbed into the neighboring School Districts.

Then the high national ranking that Corbett enjoyed for the last few years will be erased from the history books, removing one of the few high achieving schools on Oregon's otherwise mediocre, forth rate school system.

Unions will then win: game, set and match! Nobody else will ever dare to strive for excellence ever again!

OregonGuy said...

I wish there were more Bob Dentons.

Anonymous said...

Leave it to the Oregonian to showcase protest when the only reputable district/superintendent in the state opens it's arms to more children.

Anonymous said...

If they kick this one in the knee-cap too, there can be zero doubt, (if we aren't already in the negative,) what kind of corruption we're dealing with.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that the Corbett superintendent would not want you defending him. He's a liberal, after all.

That said, I mostly agree with your comments. The charter law trumps inter-district transfers. That's the way it is, like it or not. People who start or run charters are not wicked or under-handed for "circumventing it." Charter schools are schools of CHOICE. Choice for students and parents. Not choice for school districts.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know when Obama is making that speech to school kids? The televised one that schools are "encouraged" to show in the class room? The teacher's guide that goes with the speech is just creepy...

rural resident said...

"There is a fundamental flaw in the charter school law that the Legislature must address."

Superintendent Miner is right about there being a flaw in Oregon's charter school law. He's just wrong about what that flaw is.

The real "fundamental flaw" is that individuals and groups not associated with school districts find it almost impossible to establish high-quality alternatives to public high schools, especially in rural areas. School districts have a virtual veto over any charter proposal that comes from the outside. At the same time, school districts are allowed to establish their own charters with almost no assurance of quality -- because the school board gets to OK its own proposal.

If we're going to start fixing things that are wrong with charter school law, let's start here.

Anonymous said...

Rural Resident wrote: "school districts are allowed to establish their own charters with almost no assurance of quality" I strongly suggest the current high quality education services delivered by the Corbett district are an indication that students enrolled in the Charter School will receive the same high quality of education services. Besides, should the Corbett Charter fail to deliver, the new students will soon leave in favor of a better learning environment

Superintendent Dunton and his staff have implemented a top-notch education services delivery system. They are now taking steps to maximize revenues by filling empty seats with students from outside the district who are not satisfied with their home districts. According to the OREGONIAN article, forty percent of the charter applicants were previously in other charter schools, private schools or being home schooled. These would not be students poached from regular district schools.

If I were governor or superintendent of public instruction, I would find out Corbett Superintendent Dunton's beverage of choice and send a case to every other superintendent in the state.

rural resident said...

I wasn't talking about the Corbett charter. I'm sure it's fine. However, many other districts have gamed the system by establishing "charter schools" whose main goal is to get about $350K in federal funds. There is no meaningful system of quality review before these are established, because the local school district gets to determine whether or not any charter proposal (including its own) "meets the standards."

Our group tried to start a charter in a small town and ran up against this practice. Anon 12:56, I hope you don't think that, just because Corbett does it right, the current practice for approving new charter applications is OK. It isn't.

Anonymous said...

I think the Corbett charter is a smart addition to that district. However, there are instances when a charter is "developed" by a district superintendent, and funding goes to his pet charter rather than a more innovative proposal by a private group.

In the my local district, the superintendent spent years trash talking charters until he realized their financial advantages. Now he is attempting to convert standard schools to charters. But since he feels "charter school" is a negative term, he is calling them "motor schools." Of course he ensures these schools are subject to OEA contracts and have the same curriculum. He gains nothing but the grant money and shuts out his competition.

Anonymous said...

The Gresham superintendent, John Miner would be without any worries if he could just keep all of the $6000 per student when they leave for the charter school.
He could care less about that student's education.

Miner is a disgrace.

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