Protect Our Public Schools: No New Charter School

Opinion

Alameda's great public schools are the foundation of our community. They benefit all of us by upholding the promise of equal opportunity for all, by strengthening our collective bonds, and even by helping property values. Now is not the time to cripple our public schools by gambling with charters, vouchers, or any other quasi-private school plan.

Providing equal opportunity through public education is a moral imperative. As the Supreme Court explained a half century ago in the Brown case, public education "is the very foundation of good citizenship . . . it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. . . [it] must be made available to all on equal terms."

Should the school board approve a new charter school? No. Not now, when it would gut our public schools. Not for a risky K-5 plan. Not for the few on the backs of thousands of others.

If the board approves the new charter school, the result will be a $1million-$2 million hole blown in the AUSD budget. The result would be an acceleration and deepening of the painful cuts in student programs and services that AUSD has already endured in recent years, including, for example, the larger class sizes and reduced counseling services this year at Alameda and Encinal High; increased probability of school closures/consolidations, as almost occurred last winter with Wood Middle School; layoffs or reduced hours for the staff and teachers who serve the students, as happened with office and support staff at most school sites this year; and even more pressure to cut arts, music and athletic programs.

Would it ever be good public policy to make such harmful cuts (and more) affecting more than 9,000 students, all for an unsound, uncertain charter program that would at best only benefit a few hundred students? In 2008, with a projected $14 billion state budget deficit and the high probability that there will be statewide cuts in education spending coming this spring, the answer must be no.

Apart from its disastrous financial impact, the charter application should be denied for an equally important reason: the charter applicants (NCLC) are unlikely to successfully implement the unsound program they propose. NCLC has acknowledged publicly the risk surrounding the K-5 (elementary) portion of their charter by explaining that it would be "a bit of a trust walk." That's not good enough for our kids and it's not good enough under the law.

As just one example, it would not be sound practice to have five to seven year olds in grades K-2 participate in a "democratic community" where they are not directly taught their foundational academic skills such as building basic literacy but are instead led by a "facilitator" to "understand the need to take ownership of their educational experience." This approach is particularly risky and unsound for students reading below grade level (on the "downside" of the achievement gap) whom NCLC claims to be striving to attract to their new school.

Leaving aside for now the question whether ACLC's good tests scores really tell the whole story about the extent to which their existing 6-12 program is as successful as claimed, there is no question that the ACLC/NCLC organization itself has no experience outside grades 6-12 in the very different world of K-5 education. Moreover, NCLC's K-5 leaders lack recent classroom teaching experience and are unproven as administrators.

Finally, ACLC serves a skewed population, with certain groups overrepresented among those who enroll and different groups overrepresented among those who leave.

This may not be ACLC/NCLC's intent, but it has been its practice. Since the proposed new school has no significantly different recruiting or retention plan compared to the existing practices at ACLC (other than eliminating sibling priority), a random lottery for enrollment won't change anything.

A random lottery of a skewed population will still yield a skewed population.

It would be wrong to approve the NCLC charter to possibly benefit that small, skewed population when the budgetary impact of that decision would necessarily be borne by the thousands of AUSD students who will not be participating in the charter school.

Our strong public schools are Alameda's most important asset. Let's work together now more than ever to protect our public schools and to help them overcome the serious challenges they face, not turn and walk away. Contact the school board and urge them to vote no on the proposed new charter.

Rob Siltanen is an Alameda parent and teacher.

Next Week: An Opposing View

 

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