Accountability Bill Gates Charter Schools Education Industry Education Reform Gates Foundation Privatization Washington State

Washington State: “Bold Experiment” with Charters Is Flunking

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Give Bill Gates credit for persistence. He wanted charter schools in Washington State and he wouldn’t give up. The state held four referendums about whether to authorize private charter schools, and the idea was defeated time after time after time. Until 2012. Gates and his billionaire buddies raised a multimillion dollar war chest that completely overwhelmed the opposition of the PTAs, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Washington Education Association, and a long list of civil rights and good government groups.

And in 2012, the referendum passed by less than 1%, bought and paid for by Gates and friends. The opposition sued, and the state’s highest court ruled that charter schools are not public schools because they do not meet the State Constitution’s definition of a “common school,” which is governed by an elected board.

Gates then put up money to try to defeat the judges who ruled against his beloved charters, but they were re-elected.

Then he went to the Legislature and through his surrogates, persuaded the lawmakers to pass a bill to use lottery money to fund Bill Gates’ charters. He could have easily paid for them himself, but he wanted the public to pay.

A dozen or so were quickly set up, some of which were recruited by Gates and given seed money.

And so the bold experiment began.

Things went badly quickly. First, the Walton-funded CREDO from Stanford University evaluated the charters and found that overall they did not get better results from public schools.

Recently, some of the fledgling charters folded because of low enrollments.

Read this equivocal editorial in the Tacoma News Tribune, which alternates between acknowledging the disappointing performance of Tacoma charters, the closure of two of them, the good performance of one, blaming the Legislature for failing to provide facilities funding (why not blame Bill Gates?), reminding readers that “the voters” approved charters, but not reminding them that Gates for the vote and it passed by a hair.

This editorial board once called charter schools a “bold experiment,” but even we need to remember that kids aren’t lab rats; when we experiment with schools, we experiment with kids’ futures. The stakes are high.

Joe Hailey, board chairman of Green Dot Public Schools Washington, the nonprofit charter that ran Destiny Middle School, told the News Tribune that lack of access to local levy funding meant a “permanent structural deficit for our schools.” In other words, with a large funding gap, Destiny Middle School was destined to fail.

Hailey is right. Without levy funding, charters compete with one hand tied behind their backs. If the paramount duty of the state is to educate every child, that’s not happening. Instead of being all-in on charter schools, we’re only half-in, and guess who suffers?

Why didn’t Bill Gates warn voters that they would have to pay facilities funding? Come to think of it, why doesn’t he buy a building for each of the charters, since he wanted them so badly? This would be only crumbs off his table.

Due to the opposition of the teachers’ union and lack of facilities funding, Tacoma’s charters are doing poorly:

Opponents — the Washington Education Association being one of the loudest — have launched lawsuits and a hostile public relations campaign against these voter-approved schools. To counter their claims, charters have to prove themselves by meeting higher benchmarks for success, and at least in Tacoma, that didn’t happen.

Third graders In Tacoma’s SOAR Academy had reading and math scores 28 to 34 percentage points lower than their Tacoma Public School cohorts, and now, due to the school’s closure, some of those students will have to go back into the local district and compete with students who may be miles ahead in terms of academic performance.

With results like that, the WEA needs no PR campaign.

Why was anyone so gullible as to believe that entrepreneurs would be better at running schools than professional educators?

Ask Bill Gates.

 

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