Re: Three Threads in a Fountain

Dbyates@aol.com
Fri, 31 Jan 1997 15:05:58 -0500 (EST)

I guess it is time to jump into this line of conversation which I have been
watching with great interest. I would like to throw in some more information
on Charter schools. I was heavily involved in designing and opening Charter
School #1 in California which was the second or third state (I believe) to
have a charter law.

It is quite dangerous to make blanket statements about Charter School laws.
They vary all over the lot depending on the state. California probably has
the most open law of any of them. It is absolutely possible, and I have tried
to find someone willing to do it, to open a SVS school in California under
the current law. It requires those opening the school to submit a thirteen
point charter to the local board. The first of these requires a definition of
the philosophy of the school including what it means to be educated in the
21st century. The second requires a definition of the outcomes from the
school. The third asks how these are to be measured. One other requires a
definition of how the school is to be governed. In none of these is there any
requirement having to do with what they say. It is totally up to a
negotiation between the charterers and the board - and there are boards, I
believe, that would charter such a school If your board approves and a
certain percentage of teachers in the district approve having a charter - not
this particular charter (and it is written to make it easy to get this
percentage) the school is in business. The State cannot reverse the decision,
they only assign the number to the school. Once they have this, the school is
exempt from ALL requirements of school districts. That means curriculum,
bargaining, even earthquake safety requirements.

The only hitch SVS wise is that the law originally said students had to pass
the CLASS tests - tests given at the end of three grades that are meant to
measure the school not the students. At the moment this is moot as the
governor did not fund this so there is no testing.

I lay this out to show that the idea of charters is basically sound in that
it allows anyone to try out something new. The bad news is that most of the
charter laws are not, as some of you have pointed out, as free as this.
Furthermore, the folks doing the charters are not, in general, even coming
close to using the freedom even the most stringent ones allow to try out new
things. I had great hopes for the charter movement in the beginning, but have
pretty much given up on it because they are still living in the old paradigm.
The point is, though, that the issue of changing towards SVS type learning
communities is not in the laws but in the thinking of those writing and
living out those laws. At least in California the door is open. Unfortunately
no one is going through it.

Don Yates
dbyates@aol.com