"THE SUCCESS OF CHARTER SCHOOLS"
COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
HEARING HELD IN WASHINGTON, DC, SEPTEMBER 28, 2000
Serial No. 106-129
Printed for the use of the Committee on Education
and the Workforce
"THE SUCCESS OF CHARTER SCHOOLS"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN BILL GOODLING, COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, DC *
OPENING STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE TIM ROEMER, COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, DC *
STATEMENT OF MR. MICHAEL FEINBERG, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, KIPP FOUNDATION, HOUSTON, TEXAS *
STATEMENT OF MS. ANITA OLINGA, FOUNDER AND PARENT, CARTER COMMUNITY SCHOOL, DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA *
STATEMENT OF MR. HERB GRIMES, PARENT, EDISON-FRIENDSHIP PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, WASHINGTON, DC *
STATEMENT OF MRS. DONNA GRIMES, PARENT, EDISON-FRIENDSHIP PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, WASHINGTON, DC *
STATEMENT OF DR. PHILIP ESBRANDT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DREXEL UNIVERSITY/FOUNDATIONS, INC., TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE CENTER FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS, MOUNT LAUREL, NEW JERSEY *
STATEMENT OF MS. KATE FORD, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, PHOENIX ADVANTAGE CHARTER SCHOOL, ADVANTAGE SCHOOLS, INC., PHOENIX, ARIZONA *
STATEMENT OF DR. KATRINA BULKLEY, PROFESSOR, RUTGERS GSE, NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY *
APPENDIX A - WRITTEN OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN BILL GOODLING, COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, DC *
APPENDIX B – WRITTEN OPENING STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE TIM ROEMER, COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, DC *
APPENDIX C – WRITTEN INTRODUCTION OF KATE FORD BY THE HONORABLE MATT SALMON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ARIZONA *
APPENDIX D - NEWSPAPER ARTICLE SUBMITTED BY THE HONORABLE MATT SALMON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA *
"THE SUCCESS OF CHARTER SCHOOLS"
Thursday, September 28, 2000
Committee on Education and the Workforce,
U.S. House of Representatives,
The committee met, pursuant to call, at 9:35 a.m., in Room 2175, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. William F. Goodling [chairman of the committee] presiding.
Present: Representatives Goodling, Petri, McKeon, Castle, Schaffer, Ehlers, Salmon, Fletcher, Isakson, Roemer, Scott, Woolsey, McCarthy, Kind, Ford, Kucinich, and Wu.
Staff Present: Becky Campoverde, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning and Communications; Linda Castleman, Office Manager; Pam Davidson, Professional Staff Member; Blake Hegeman, Legislative Assistant; Cindy Herrle, Professional Staff Member; Dan Lara, Press Secretary; Sally Lovejoy, Education Policy Coordinator; Patrick Lyden, Professional Staff Member; Michael Reynard, Media Assistant; Kent Talbert, Education Policy Counsel; Kevin Talley, Chief of Staff; Steve Sollis, Fellow; Gail Weiss, Minority Staff Director; Mark Zuckerman, Minority General Counsel; June Harris, Minority Education Coordinator; Alex Nock, Minority Legislative Associate/Education; and Roxana Folescu, Minority Staff Assistant/Education.
Chairman Goodling. The Committee on Education and the Workforce will come to order.
We are meeting today to hear testimony on the success of charter schools.
I am eager to hear from our witnesses today, so I am going to limit opening statements to 5 minutes for the majority and 5 minutes for the minority. If members have statements, they will be included in the hearing record.
I ask unanimous consent for the hearing record to remain open for 14 days to allow members' statements and other documents referenced during the hearing to be submitted in the official hearing record.
Without objection, so ordered.
I now yield myself 5 minutes.
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN BILL GOODLING, COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, DC
I am very interested in this hearing, because as I travel throughout the country, where I see successful charter schools, I am reminded that three things are present in almost every one of the successful charter schools: The parents are responsible to enforce the discipline code, the parents are responsible to enforce the homework code, and the parents are responsible to enforce the dress code.
So then I ask myself, well, why doesn't this happen in all public schools all over the United States? If it works in charter schools, why wouldn't it work in every other public school?
As I prepare to leave Congress after 26 years of service, I remain optimistic about the future of our nation's public education system. In large measure, my optimism stems from the efforts of individuals whose stories we will hear today. Their dedication to the simple belief that children should be given a high-quality education is indeed inspiring.
As most of you know, charter schools are public schools, minus all the red tape. They are a combination of the best of the old and the best of the new. Burdensome rules and regulations are set aside and replaced with flexibility and accountability for results.
The "charter" establishing each school is a performance contract detailing such items as the school's mission, program, goals, and means of measuring success. The length of time for which charters are granted varies, but most are granted for 3 to 5 years. At the end of the term, the entity granting the charter may or may not renew the school's contract.
Under the Public Charter Schools program, title X part C of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, federal charter school dollars are provided only to those states that have a state charter school statute. These funds assist in the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools.
In October of 1998, Congress passed the Charter School Expansion Act, which targets more money to the most autonomous charter schools. Specifically, the Charter School Expansion Act of 1998 extended the authorization of the Public Charter Schools program through fiscal year 2004, cut in half the percentage of money that the Department of Education can set aside for national activities, encouraged more private capital investments into charter schools, and ensured that charter schools receive their fair share of federal education dollars.
In short, charter schools are accountable to their authorizers to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. Specifically, their accountability is to several groups: their authorizers, the parents who enroll their children in them, and the public that funds them.
With this model of charter school success in mind, it is no wonder students are once again eager to learn, teachers are enjoying teaching again, and more dollars are getting to the classroom.
During the course of the authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, this committee borrowed heavily from the flexibility and accountability principles of the charter school model of success.
Under the Student Results Act, which reforms title I and other programs for disadvantaged students, parents of students in low-performing title I schools were given the option of having their sons and daughters attend a better public school - either a regular school or a charter school, with money available for transportation.
Charter school success is based on performance, and we have used that model for other legislation. We passed a revolutionary bill that unshackles states so they can target their programs and funds for students who need them the most. Straight As, or the Academic Achievement for All Act, is an optional program for states. In exchange for unprecedented flexibility of federal regulations, states must significantly increase student achievement.
SEE APPENDIX A FOR THE WRITTEN OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN GOODLING
Chairman Goodling. With that said, I would like to turn to Mr. Roemer.
OPENING STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE TIM ROEMER, COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, DC
Mr. Roemer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I ask unanimous consent that my entire statement be entered in the record.
I thank the chairman and salute him for his 26 years of leadership on the committee, and especially on this issue of charter schools, where I am very anxious to hear from our distinguished panel to hear about how innovative, how accountable, how creative charter schools can be throughout the country.
This is an issue we have worked on in a bipartisan way throughout the Congress. In the 105th Congress, I was a strong supporter of bipartisan legislation to strengthen the federal charter school law and to provide even more funding for these innovative public schools.
A Republican from California, Mr. Riggs, and I authored the legislation to amend the Charter Schools Expansion Act of 1998, to strengthen accountability provisions at the federal, state, and local levels in order to ensure that public charter schools are of high quality and truly accountable to the public.
Public charter schools are a bold and innovative public school choice model. We know parents are looking for choice and accountability, and I believe that charter schools offer us both. They provide an alternative to the traditional public school system, strengthen accountability for academic achievement, and inject innovation and reform into the public school system.
In short, public charter schools expand public school choice for parents and students and demand accountability for student achievement.
Charter schools in communities across the country are driving change in schools and improving education, not only for those enrolled in charter schools, but also for those children at other public schools that are competing for enrollment.
I can say that we had a field hearing in Chicago a couple of years ago, and I went into the Chicago public school system, which is using charter schools as one of the many arrows in the quiver to turn around the Chicago public school system, which was once called, 10 years ago, one of the worst public school systems in the country, and now, with charter schools, with more public school choice, with reconstitution of schools, with stopping social promotion, with quality teachers and smaller class size, we are seeing huge improvements in Chicago public schools, and it actually is one of the model for reform in the nation.
In March of just this past year, our Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on charter schools, and we heard from a woman by the name of Irene Samita from Fenton Charter School in Los Angeles, California. The school consists of a large minority population, about 90 percent; 84 percent of the students are identified as eligible for title I; 64 percent are limited English-proficient; and 90 percent are eligible for free or reduced meals.
Since this school converted to charter status in 1994, I want to read some of the results. The number of students scoring at or above the 50th percentile increased by 383 percent in reading, 253 percent in math, 280 percent in language.
Even more importantly, one of the most important things that determine a child's success is parental involvement. Parent participation has increased at Fenton from a handful of parents attending school meetings and events to over 400 parents a week utilizing Fenton's family center.
Saturday workshops for parents and students attract from 150 to 200 participants. When Congress authorized the grant program in 1994, there were seven charter states and 50 or 60 schools. Today there are 37 charter laws and about 1,700 schools, with charter legislation under serious consideration in half a dozen additional states and hundreds of schools in various stages of development all across the country.
There are many charter schools that are working well besides Fenton, like Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School, Lowell, Massachusetts, which serves high school dropouts on the campus of Middlesex Community College.
Another successful school is the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Academy in Trenton, New Jersey, one of the first public boarding schools which provides a safe environment for students who would not otherwise have one.
I also want to note that public charter schools are accountable. I recently had somebody say to me, well, Mr. Roemer, I understand that they had to shut a charter school down. That is the point. If it is not performing well, we can put them on probation. We can reconstitute them. We can make them work better. We can put additional ideas, maybe resources, into it and not give up on them, and hold them accountable. I think that is another benefit of charter schools.
I look forward to hearing from today's witnesses and hearing from your personal insights.
Just as an aside, Mr. Chairman, I did want to mention that I was interested to see in a preliminary way the Glenn Commission Report, issued yesterday, and especially their call for recruiting new math and science teachers. They suggest a program to help recruit and train mid-career professionals to increase quality in teaching, similar to a bill that Mr. Davis from Florida and I have introduced, the Transition to Teaching bill. I am hopeful we will be able to pass our bill in the final days of Congress, and ask for your support in that, Mr. Chairman.
I yield back the balance of my time.
SEE APPENDIX B FOR THE WRITTEN OPENING STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE TIM ROEMER
Chairman Goodling. I will now ask Congressman Salmon to introduce one of the panelists.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I am delighted to introduce Kate Ford, the regional director of Advantage Schools. Kate served as the director of Phoenix Advantage Charter School last year before being promoted to her new post. Kate Ford has a distinguished career in education as a teacher, principal, and administrator. The committee has much to learn from her experiences.
It is fitting that the committee invited a representative from Arizona's flourishing charter school community to the hearing. No state in the Union has more charter schools than Arizona. Many charter schools in Arizona deserve high praise, but Phoenix Advantage, which I recently visited, deserves specific and special recognition.
The school has developed a reputation in the community for successfully educating limited-English-proficient children. The key to success: A structured immersion program that teaches kids English by teaching them in English. Test scores have proven that bilingual experts who claim it takes English-limited children 7 years to learn English aren't such experts. Children, particularly younger children, can learn English rapidly if they are given the opportunity.
As word of Advantage's success has spread, its enrollment has boomed. Parents of students trapped in dysfunctional, educationally crippling Spanish-only bilingual classes now have a choice. They are exercising this choice feverishly. The school's population has increased from 240 students in 1997 to over 1100 today.
When Arizona voters pass an initiative to dismantle bilingual education, which is on the ballot for this November and is currently favored by 75 percent of the respondents asked, they will have a choice. I expect that other schools will come to Advantage to copy its successes.
Advantage teaches nonlimited English proficient children as well, using a novel approach and a novel teaching technique. According to recent test scores, these kids are also making significant academic progress.
I would like to include for the record, if I may without objection, an article from the Tribune Newspaper that discusses the success of Arizona Advantage Charter School.
Chairman Goodling. Without objection.
SEE APPENDIX C FOR THE WRITTEN INTRODUCTION OF KATE FORD BY REPRESENTATIVE MATT SALMON
SEE APPENDIX D FOR THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLE SUBMITTED BY REPRESENTATIVE MATT SALMON
Mr. Salmon. I appreciate the opportunity to make an introduction. I must apologize; I have to go to a markup. I have a bill in another committee. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Goodling. Thank you.
Mr. Michael Feinberg is the CEO and co-founder of the Knowledge Is Power Program, the KIPP Foundation, in Houston, Texas, where he currently serves as Superintendent of KIPP Houston.
KIPP is an academically rigorous, college preparatory public school that begins working with students as they enter the fifth grade to prepare them with the academic, intellectual, and character skills that are necessary for success in high school, college, and the competitive world.
Ms. Anita Olinga is a parent and the founder of the Carter Community School in Durham, North Carolina, where her three special needs children ages 9, 12, and 14 attend.
She has been very active in special education issues over 10 years.
Mr. Herb Grimes and Mrs. Donna Grimes are parents of students that attend the Edison-Friendship Public Charter School here in Washington, D.C. Mr. and Mrs. Grimes are here to discuss their decision to send their two children to Edison-Friendship and the positive effect that decision has had on their lives and the lives of their children. We welcome the children from Edison who are in the audience. We are very happy to have you here. I don't know whether this will be better than being in school all morning or not. Time will tell.
Dr. Phillip Esbrandt is the executive director of the Drexel University Foundation's Incorporated Technical Assistance Center for Charter Schools in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. He has over 30 years of experience as an educator, including among other things, serving as a principal and assistant principal of a Pennsylvania high school and as superintendent and assistant superintendent of schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Dr. Katrina Buckley is an assistant professor of education policy at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She has extensive experience in research on charter schools, has authored several publications on various education issues, and has addressed many educational conferences. Much of her research has focused on charter school policy in different states.
We will begin with Mr. Feinberg. The light system there, when it is green it is go, and when it is yellow, it is slow, and when it is red, we hope that you can soon stop after it turns red so they will have time to ask questions.
STATEMENT OF MR. MICHAEL FEINBERG, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, KIPP FOUNDATION, HOUSTON, TEXAS
Mr. Feinberg. Thanks, Chairman Goodling and distinguished members. Thank you for having me here today.
I am testifying before you as a charter school founder and principal. However, the most important role I bring before you today is I am a teacher. Actually, given the multitasking that goes on in charter schools, you can also be the school bus driver, handyman and lunch lady all rolled into one.
In 1992, Dave Levin and I were two Teach for America Corps members doing whatever it took to help our students learn. We were growing more and more frustrated by watching our eager, bright, well-mannered students go off to secondary schools and fail. They were joining gangs, skipping classes, doing drugs, and becoming teenage parents at an alarming rate.
Instead of finger-pointing, we decided to assume responsibility, not for educating our students during the one year we had them, but the end outcome of preparing our students for the academic, intellectual and character skills they would need for success in high school, college, and the competitive world beyond.
All this passion and frustration became bottled up in our effort, the Knowledge Is Power Program, KIPP, which was started in 1994 and focused exclusively on fifth graders. The premise of KIPP is that there are no shortcuts to receiving a quality education and enjoying a happy life. There is no magic cure to the ills of public education. It is about going back to some basic elements, which we all know, produce success: Desire, discipline, and dedication.
Therefore, we had our students come to school from 7:30 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon. We also had them come for 4 hours on Saturdays, and for a month during the summer. We gave them 2 to 3 hours of homework every single night. We thought that should do it.
It worked. Our students proved our premise. They went from 50 percent passing the TAAS test to 98 percent passing. However, we quickly realized that even though our students achieved wonderful results, 1 year of this effort was not enough. We had to transform our program into its own school, still starting with the elementary age, but going through middle school and bridging the gap between elementary school and high school.
Charter school legislation made it possible for us to transform our vision into reality and start such a school. Through that process, we now have two charter schools, one founded by me in Houston and the other founded by Dave Levin in the South Bronx of New York City.
The entire KIPP community is very proud of the KIPPsters' results. In both KIPPs we have a combined student population that is 99 percent minority and 95 percent free breakfast and free lunch. In Texas, the TAAS scores continue to be at 98 percent when they enter into the fifth grade, and up to 100 percent thereafter. We are the leaders of TAAS in Houston. We have the highest scores in all of Texas. In New York, Dave recruited kids out of the lowest performing schools in the South Bronx.
Today, KIPP is the highest performing school in the South Bronx. On the Stanford national test, the kids performed well above average in reading and in the elite group of math. As far as getting into high school, they are getting into the top magnet public schools in both Houston and New York. In addition, they are getting into the top private schools in Houston, New York, and around the country. Last year our eighth graders got $4 million in scholarships for their parents to send them to such schools.
Now KIPP has evolved into two very different schools. It is interesting to look at the common operating principles or pillars that led to its success. We have found six pillars that are the same in both schools. There is the extended school day and extended school year. There is a contract between parents, students and teachers outlining expectations. There is a school leader with control over staff and control over the budget. There are incentives and disincentives in place for the kids, as well as for teachers. There are high expectations, which are observable. There are great results, which are measurable.
With the generous assistance of the GAP founders, we are now able to initiate an effort to train a new core of school leaders to plan, open, and run their own KIPP-like schools. They do not replicate KIPP but they do replicate those very operating principles, which have propelled the KIPPsters' to high achievement. We are looking to talk with local school board members, superintendents, other local leaders, and House members. Basically, we will talk with anyone who is interested in exploring the possibility of creating a KIPP-like school in their community.
Of course, one way to start a school like KIPP is through charter legislation in a majority of the states. That is not the only way, but it is an important avenue to allow educators like Dave Levin and myself to not only dream big but also act big. If a charter school does not do the job it promised the states, then it will be shut down and should be shut down. What is wrong with a bad school closing? I just wish all schools were under the same scrutiny.
An additional benefit is that the schools which start and flourish act as a lab environment for other schools. There are a growing number of schools in Houston and New York City that are coming to KIPP to observe what we do, and they are going back to adopt some of the very same principles and pillars we have used to help our students achieve.
In this environment of greater freedoms, charter schools can provide advances in instructional strategies, student management, and administrative management for the entire educational community.
Finally, charter schools are providing families who cannot afford private schools a choice, something they had not had in many communities before charter schools started to open. Beyond test scores and dropout rates, I think the manner in which we can be the most accountable to parents and their children is by allowing them an option of which school to attend. Lots of feet moving to one school building or away from another school building speaks volumes.
Thanks again for letting me talk here today. I hope we can bravely continue to sell policies, which will work in providing a quality education for all children in the United States.
Chairman Goodling. Very well done. It just went red.
SEE APPENDIX E FOR THE WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF MR. MICHAEL FEINBERG
Chairman Goodling. Ms. Olinga.
STATEMENT OF MS. ANITA OLINGA, FOUNDER AND PARENT, CARTER COMMUNITY SCHOOL, DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
Ms. Olinga. Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me here to talk about Carter Community School. Our mission is success for every child. I have three children at Carter Community School, Gabe, Tony, and Katy. Starting a charter school is very much like being a parent. It sounds like a good idea. Other people who have done it will encourage you. By the time you find out what you are in for, it is too late to change your mind. Then one doesn't seem like enough. That is why I currently have another charter application before the North Carolina State Board of Education.
I started Carter in 1997. I have three children who receive special ed services. I had attended workshops; I had read books and articles. Why wasn't there a school, a good school, which would work with me? It seemed as though the traditional public schools wanted to guard their special services closely so as not to give out too much and nobody but nobody was willing to translate special educationese into plain English for me, so Carter Community School was conceived.
With help from an organization that had started two other charter schools, I wrote the charter and they submitted it to the state. When it got approved a few months later, many people were shocked, while I was not. It was time.
We opened in 1998 with 60 students the first day, and 40 more to come during the first year. We expanded to 150 the second year and we now have 190 with a waiting list. Our population is predominantly inner city, low-income minority students, with about 30 percent of our students identified as exceptional education students. This is the how and why Carter got started.
Now let me tell you what Carter has done since then by sharing the stories of our students.
The first parent that I recruited from the homeless shelter had two school-aged children, both with special needs. I told her about the school and what we would offer her children. She shared with me the terrible experiences she had had at other schools, and then we both cried. Here was someone we could help and we have. Those children have continued to attend Carter Community School, and are thriving.
We continued to seek out children from the shelters, children with exceptionalities, children on probation, and children in difficult situations. We sought out the families and children that needed us. One of our parents had been told by the experts that her daughter should be in a self-contained classroom for severe and profound children. She knew that was wrong. Now her daughter is in the second grade reading and working hard alongside other children.
My own daughter has cerebral palsy. Until the middle of her second grade year she attended a traditional public school with 900-plus students. Everybody loved Katie at her old school, and she loved everybody. She was the only one in a wheelchair and the only one with a visible physical disability. When she came to Carter, there was an eighth grader who also had cerebral palsy and used a wheelchair. She and Amelia would meet each day after school in the hallway making what looked like small talk to the outside world, but was monumental communication for a child who never had a role model, and for a girl who had never been a role model. Even though Amelia was in eighth grade and Katie was in second grade, their friendship was meaningful and important to both of them. Amelia finally had someone look up to her, someone she could be a big sister to, someone who admired her.
Those were intangible and immeasurable gift experiences for these girls, but ones that affected both of them and changed them for the better.
Our first day of our second year a child, lets call him Robert, stood up in the six grade and asked the teacher, is this the BEH class? That stands for behavioral and emotionally handicapped. The teacher told him, no, this is the sixth grade. A minute later he raised his hand. Again he asked, is this the 6th grade BEH classroom?
The teacher replied, no, son, this is the sixth grade. You are in the sixth grade. You are not in a BEH classroom. He had never been outside of a BEH classroom his entire school life.
The first few weeks he was at Carter we were not sure we could make a successful experience for him. He had to be restrained numerous times a day. But the principal, an incredible saint named Becky Sterling, and the teaching staff, stood by him. His therapist visited him weekly at school. We all loved him and encouraged him and praised him when he did right. And little by little he got more praise and needed to be restrained less and less. He made some friends and learned more in one year than he had in previous years. By the end of the year, Robert was just one of the kids with good and bad days. When he moved to another city that was too far away for him to attend Carter, much of the staff cried.
At Carter Community School, one thing is expected. We expect the kids to do their best. Sometimes nobody knows what that is because it has never been required of these kids before. With my own daughter, we didn't realize that she couldn't read at all until she came to Carter. She had learned how to get along, how to get people to help her to the point of doing her work, and nobody noticed. Katie works harder than she has ever worked. She is learning both in and out of the classroom. She has learned about Vikings, oceans, divisions and fractions, how to play well with others, be nice and share, and that the wheelchair she uses to get around in doesn't entitle her to special privileges. She has to work hard like everybody else.
I would like to close with a story I heard that has guided me over the years. An old man is on the beach at low tide throwing back starfish. A young man walking past stops and observes and then says to the old man, why are you so foolish? Look at all the starfish on the beach. Surely you know you cannot make a difference. To which the old man says as he throws one more back, I made a difference for that one.
SEE APPENDIX F FOR THE WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF MS. ANITA OLINGA
Chairman Goodling. I am not going to get involved in determining who speaks first and with the most authority in the Grimes household. I will let you people decide that.
STATEMENT OF MR. HERB GRIMES, PARENT, EDISON-FRIENDSHIP PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, WASHINGTON, DC
Mr. Grimes. Thank you very much.
Good morning. When we were asked to come and speak on behalf of public charter schools, we deemed it an honor, but we are truly humbled to be in the presence of such distinguished people.
Our children were enrolled and doing well in a Catholic school prior to their transfer to Edison-Friendship Charter School, the Chamberlain campus. Our parents and Donna's grandparents and great-grandparents are Catholics and active Catholics, so it wasn't an easy decision for our family. We decided to make a change as a result of their expectations, "Their" meaning the Catholic school our children were in. Their expectations were not our expectations for our children. They were preoccupied with behavior and punishment, and the environment that they created was not conducive for the full development of our children.
So a friend suggested Edison and a few other schools. We researched the school thoroughly, and on the strength of Edison's approach to educating our children and the wonderful reputation of the principal, Dr. Pannell, we decided that we would enroll our children for 1 year and then reassess after that.
Not only did our children do very well, as their grade point averages and SAT 9 scores will indicate, but their character developed as well, which is of the utmost importance to me. I believe that if your character and your values are intact, there is nothing that you cannot achieve. The world truly opens up to those who know where they are going.
So Edison not only acknowledges students who do well, but they honor them and hold them up as examples for the entire student body.
My children discovered a love of learning at Edison. They were both in a program called Olympics of the Mind, conducted by Dr. Pannell, which opened their minds. We mention Olympics of the Mind because Dr. Panell has 900-plus students, parents and faculty to manage; yet he chose to start this program after school because of his commitment to our children. We are very pleased with that. He has my full support in his effort to offer our children a world-class education.
I take my children to school and I pick them up each day. I have also volunteered to proctor the SAT 9 test. I gave a lesson on African history to several classes during Black History Month. I also gave a demonstration of Kwansaa right before Christmas holidays for the children, so I get a chance to see them on a day-to-day basis, "them" meaning the students and the faculty.
I believe students are being touched and wonderfully introduced to a life of the mind and the world of ideas at Edison-Friendship Charter School.
STATEMENT OF MRS. DONNA GRIMES, PARENT, EDISON-FRIENDSHIP PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, WASHINGTON, DC
Mrs. Grimes. I think you can see from our written testimony and from what my husband said that the education of our children is extremely important to us. We don't have a lot to give them. We give them all we have, though. One of the things we really want to make sure they have is the best education we can afford.
We looked at private schools in the area, we looked at the Catholic school system, and we tried that. We also looked at the charter school system. We said, this is exactly what we are looking for, education that makes sense.
We had some very definite ideas about what education should entail and how our children should be prepared. We felt entitled to have a good education for them, the best that we could get for them. That is what I think we have done. Having kids come home and say they enjoy their homework, seeing them ready to get on the computer because there is a technology partnership at their school, seeing them get on a computer that they are very proficient on, and being willing to just try things out is very gratifying.
One of the things that really excites me, of which there are many, is being involved in education that makes sense, which is important to us. I think the charter schools law is for parents such as ourselves, who have definite ideas about what education should entail, to have the option to choose, and to have a role in helping to shape it. The curriculum is extremely exciting, even for me as a parent. I find that I am very engaged with it.
I have a couple of points I want to make about the charter school itself. I feel it offers a very solid foundation in terms of the basics. Time is used very well. The children are in school for a long period of time, from 8 to 4, and they only have 7-1/2 weeks of vacation for the summer. However, they are having fun in school so they do not really miss it. Of course, everyone likes to have a vacation, a little extra time, but it was very worthwhile to them to have their time used well.
They do warm-ups when they first get to school, just academic - like a quick math lesson. I attended curriculum night as a parent. That is what really sold me on the program. I got an opportunity to go through a mini lesson for the whole day, what my children would experience. I like the fact that it prepares them to work in a collaborative way, which is where we are moving in the future. It teaches them how to work individually and in groups, to work with others; to work on long-term projects; to spend time pursuing things of interest and not have to stop after 45 minutes or 50 minutes. Those are the kinds of skills that they are going to need in the future. Also, there is a commitment to learning how to use technology, learning about the world, and learning a second language. So, there are many things about that it I can say.
I know I have really gone over, so I won't go much further. I want to say that another reason we made this decision, in looking at the alternatives - we realize that there are attempts being made to improve school systems all around, but this was an opportunity that fit for us. This is our children's childhood and their school years right now. We can't wait 3, 4, or 5 years. They will be past the power curve after that. We needed to take advantage of it now. We are really pleased to have had an opportunity to do that and to have made the choice as parents. Thank you.
SEE APPENDIX G FOR THE WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF MR. HERB GRIMES AND MRS. DONNA GRIMES
Chairman Goodling. Dr. Esbrandt?
STATEMENT OF DR. PHILIP ESBRANDT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DREXEL UNIVERSITY/FOUNDATIONS, INC., TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE CENTER FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS, MOUNT LAUREL, NEW JERSEY
Mr. Esbrandt. Thank you, Chairman Goodling, and members of the committee. It is a pleasure to be here among the distinguished panel members.
I have worked with charter school people for the last 3 years, and maybe 125 to 150 different school groups operating charter schools and planning charter schools.
What I would like to share with the group this morning is some observations about the charter school movement, the founders that are part of it, and probably the founders that are likely to be part of this movement in the future.
Our organization is a small but rapidly growing one, and since August of 1997, we have been involved in working with charter schools. In these efforts we have adapted the Small Business Administration model by providing an expert or a team of experts to assist any aspect of elementary, middle, or high school operation.
We customize our products and services to accommodate a client's specific needs in all areas of education and business services for schools.
Viewing charter schools as education-business ventures highlights their most interesting features and challenges. Growing from a charter school application and an approved charter to a fully operating school system with a half a million dollars to $4 million budget and 60 to 1,000 students, with 10 to 90 new employees who probably have never worked with one another before, presents many difficult and sometimes overwhelming challenges for everyone involved.
In spite of these difficulties, challenges, and potential for failure, the interest in starting new charter schools remains very high.
The creation of charter schools provides students, staff members, and parents a chance to express their commitment, enthusiasm, and loyalty in ways not usually available at many public school systems. Amid the pain of opening new schools with new clientele, students, and parents, and with a new work force, charter schools have been establishing a growing credibility among their stakeholders. In many urban neighborhoods, charter schools offer freedom to families which were unable previously to see the promise many other Americans in more affluent areas take for granted.
The heroes in this freedom movement are many and varied and they are represented among the panel today. They display a drive and tenacity which pushes them to succeed, and their vision and hope for the future pull many others into the movement. The following descriptions offer some insights into what has propelled the charter school movement in its first decade of existence. The TAC partners with three major categories of these heroes who become our clients.
The first group are individuals that have a unique vision and passion for a new school that will more adequately provide the education and meet the needs of students. Among them are public educators, parents, corporate employees, professionals, philanthropists, private school operators, and others.
These educational entrepreneurs visualize imaginative ways to provide programs, which attract parents and students.
The second major category is the group we call community organizations. They have a vision and a mission that they originally started with. They combine that with the charter school movement. These organizations usually have provided some type of educational experience, which winds up uncovering some student inadequacies, and they designed a charter school to meet those inadequacies.
Among these community organizations are current schools and school districts that admit they have had a problem, social welfare agencies, community and economic development organizations, faith-based organizations, colleges and universities, employment-related schools, and municipal and local governments.
The third major group representative of the groups we work with are for-profit corporations. They support the vision of individuals and community organizations through financial support, real estate acquisition, program development and/or management expertise in exchange for a mutually-agreed upon fee.
The foregoing analysis of charter school founders suggests some unintended yet positive consequences. Social, business, and educational entrepreneurs have found that the formation of charter schools can accomplish a great deal more than just providing more effective academic programming. Charter schools have become a very significant tool to address several unmet societal and community needs.
Now, I have a number of observations and tasks that need to be addressed in this movement. I will just mention a few.
Our experience offers quite a bit of optimism for this movement. First, charter schools adapt more rapidly to the needs of students they serve than the larger school districts around them. Small schools tend to be more customer-friendly.
Charter schools look at their missions and marketing strategies frequently. Employees in an institution that provides educational choice function differently from those where students and families have no choice. Choice schools shape programmatic opportunities that satisfy students and parents.
Experienced nonprofit groups, which establish charter schools often have a financial advantage over those charter schools founded by individuals. Such nonprofit groups are more readily able to borrow money based upon their prior business history and the assets they can pledge as collateral. Since lenders perceive them as lower financial risks, they can borrow money at lower rates of interest.
One of the issues, among the many that are present, in spite of the hostility that is directed towards for-profit corporations, is the number of for-profits serving charter schools is growing. An increasing number of charter schools use their support. This growth is the result of an unclear policy commitment to charter schools at both national and state levels. Without appropriate taxpayer support for facility preparation and start-up costs, an increasing number of charter school founders will look to organizations that can provide financial and programmatic support. At present, for-profits are providing that support.
Thank you for the opportunity to share this with you. I look forward to the continuing debate over charter schools and how to improve education for all children in this country.
SEE APPENDIX H FOR THE WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF DR. PHILIP ESBRANDT
STATEMENT OF MS. KATE FORD, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, PHOENIX ADVANTAGE CHARTER SCHOOL, ADVANTAGE SCHOOLS, INC., PHOENIX, ARIZONA
Ms. Ford. Good morning. Many years ago, Frank Lloyd Wright did a bold and rather controversial thing. He moved his best young architects to Arizona and created Taliesin West.
Considered radical and outrageous at the time, this architect's version of a think tank resulted in some of the most creative and astounding results for its time. This is not unlike some of the effects that the Phoenix Advantage School has had, both locally and nationwide, in the charter movement.
This flagship school, which is now one of 15 across the nation, was born of the following vision on which Steven Wilson and Ted Rebarber courageously banked their intellect and their reputations:
To create a new generation of world-class urban schools that will enable all children, regardless of academic performance or socioeconomic background, to reach the heights of academic achievement.
This was in 1996, and Arizona, so far out in the West, was chosen as the place for this vision to become reality. Just as the beautiful, isolated desert was perfect to cultivate the architects' minds, Arizona, the most charter-friendly state in the nation, where lawmakers embraced the concept, was perfect for Advantage.
So the school opened up in September 1997, as Congressman Salmon said, and we have grown steadily since.
The Phoenix Advantage School started with a small student body of about 250 in an old Social Security building and now, at the beginning of its fourth year, is very much busting at the seams with almost 1,100; with documented excellent lesson progress, and also impressive test scores.
Company-wide, we are seeing an increase of 7 percentage points on the SAT 9 for the last year when most schools would be happy with a 2 or 3 percent point increase. Right here in Phoenix, on the measure of academic progress, which is a newly-designed way to plot growth and improvement, nine out of 10 cohort groups achieved much more than 100 percent expected gain.
Our vision is supported by three main elements, which we think are also rather radical and outrageous as part of our school design.
We have direct instruction, which I know you know is a research-based instructional program, which puts students into instructional groups, not based on age or grade but on their skill level. This is an instructional program, which demands mastery before you move on to the next level of learning. Also, we have polished scripted lessons that are consistent throughout the entire grades. This helps the teachers.
We have virtues education. We do not shy away from character education. That means that we include it as part of the curriculum and our students and our teachers are guided by the code of civility. So, everything we do at school from the time we arrive until we leave is molded and based in respect.
Also, we have intensive professional development and support for the teachers. Without this, we could not even operate. This is the bottom line for our teachers and how they are able to receive feedback constantly.
There is more. The Phoenix Advantage School is a free public school of choice. Students attend from all over the Phoenix metropolis. They are 70 percent Hispanic, 30 percent second-language learners, and 80 percent are on free or reduced meals.
Their parents chose this school willingly. You can be sure they know our instructional methods. They know we have 200 days and a longer school day. They know students must dress appropriately, and the behavior code students must sign and adhere to is strict.
They know all these facts, and that is what brings them to the school willingly and enthusiastically. As a former California public school educator, I can tell you, many, many schools should be so lucky.
Now it is the year 2000, and in partnership with local groups around the country, Advantage's 15 schools are serving over 9,000 students from primarily urban, disadvantaged families. All of our schools started as K-5 schools, and now in our fourth year in Phoenix, we have added eighth grade and are busily preparing for the high school that our parents want so badly.
We are also working very hard to operate and open two more schools in Phoenix next year.
Our challenges continue to keep us very busy, and we still have much to learn. However, because some time today has been set aside to celebrate and even rejoice in the accomplishments of the charter movement, I am proud to say that the Phoenix Advantage School offers choice, achievement, and hope.
Frank Lloyd Wright is also generally credited with the term "thinking outside the box," as the way he demanded that his students create a whole new way of looking at architecture. At Advantage, by thinking outside the box, by being thoughtful and passionate risk-takers, I believe that we are creating a whole new way in public education.
SEE APPENDIX I FOR THE WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF MS. KATE FORD
Chairman Goodling. Dr. Bulkley?
STATEMENT OF DR. KATRINA BULKLEY, PROFESSOR, RUTGERS GSE, NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY
Ms. Bulkley. Thank you for allowing me to talk about charter schools, and specifically, about charter school accountability.
For the last 5 years, I have been conducting research on charter schools, talking with policymakers, authorizers, and members of individual school communities.
I have been to some charter schools that I truly believe are wonderful and educational places for the students in them. During this period, however, my research has begun to raise questions about how well the theory of charter school accountability is operating in practice.
I would like to offer an example that illustrates the challenges that seem to be arising. Imagine that you are a charter school authorizer. Five years ago you granted a charter contract to a small K-6 school that is located in an impoverished urban area. The school struggled to stay afloat in the first few years, and you watched and at times assisted the devoted groups of parents and teachers trying to make the school work. Recently, teacher and student turnover is down, there is a substantial waiting list of students, and your own visits suggest a warm and supportive school environment.
However, results on the state standardized tests are very discouraging. As this school's charter comes up for renewal, you are faced with a painful dilemma, to close a school that parents and teachers are convinced is a good place for children, or grant a new charter that allows a school with questionable academic credentials to continue to operate.
This challenge reflects a very real dilemma faced increasingly by charter authorizers and a challenge for the very idea of charter schools. Charter schools arise from the idea that one can trade autonomy for accountability; specifically, that if one provides greater autonomy to schools, then one can place greater expectations on those schools. This enhanced accountability comes through two forces intended to complement each other: market-based accountability through parental choice, and performance-based accountability, through contracts with authorizers that specify educational outcomes.
The reliance on both government and the market is a critical aspect of the charter school idea, and a method for ensuring that charter schools serve both parental and broader societal interests.
Essentially, the idea of charter school accountability for student achievement or performance rests on the assumptions that authorizers can accurately determine the quality of education offered by charter schools and that they will act on their assessments by revoking or not renewing charters that cannot demonstrate quality education.
In practice, it appears that both of these assumptions are problematic. The early anecdotal information suggests that most schools coming up for renewal are being granted new contracts. One explanation for the continuing operation of the vast majority of charter schools is that they are indeed improving student achievement. However, research and evaluations show a less clear story.
My research suggests that authorizers share a number of significant challenges to closing schools. First, educational performance is not simple to define or measure. Authorizers want to be very confident of their assessments before closing a school. While authorizers do monitor the test scores of students in charter schools, it is extremely important to distinguish between gathering information about school quality and using that information for accountability purposes.
Second, other aspects of a school's program are also important for families and authorizers. The feel of a good school, for example, can be an indication of quality.
Third, teachers, parents and students become very invested in particular schools, and closing a school becomes extremely difficult for authorizers. As one authorizer said to me, the theory sounds great about shutting schools down. The practice is much more difficult. The reality is, you have got teachers, you have got parents, you have got a community that is now used to the school, and depending on the school, loving the school.
Finally, charter schools are a highly politicized issue, and some authorizers are reluctant to close schools for fear it will be seen as a failure of the movement.
Overall, the forces working against the closure of charter schools based on student performance seem likely to result in schools being renewed at a very high rate. However, there are a number of ways authorizers are working to establish more productive and educationally substantive accountability relationships short of closing schools.
Examples include requiring audits or additional reports, explaining test score results, encouraging at times the replacement of board members and administrators, and discussing strategies for changing school personnel.
Authorizers have also provided schools with technical assistance, and worked to build capacity among parents for making good choices by providing better information.
Currently, however, authorizers' ability to intervene is limited as charter contracts are generally seen as an all-or-nothing proposition. If renewal does not serve its intended function as an accountability mechanism, the autonomy-accountability bargain on which charter schools are based will be out of balance.
In this case, the goal should be to make sure that accountability for educational performance is maintained throughout the contract by building in a range of incentives, supports, and consequences less drastic than nonrenewal. The challenge is to do this without getting the authorizer so involved in the day-to-day operations of charter schools that the autonomy that makes them distinctive is threatened.
Where does this leave us? These findings are preliminary, but the challenges discussed here must be faced by all policymakers. Charter school authorizers have come up against this challenge and authorizers are going to continue to face this. However, we do not want to be put in a situation where we are throwing the baby out with the bath water by saying that charter schools simply do not work. Instead, policymakers can look to accountability from the market and from inside the school and work to develop methods for ensuring that charter schools are meeting their responsibilities to demonstrate performance as well as responding to the preferences of individual families.
What we need is to ensure that government is indeed setting a threshold for quality in charter schools, rather than simply relying on the market.
Thank you very much.
SEE APPENDIX J FOR THE WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF DR. KATRINA BULKLEY
Chairman Goodling. I will call on the members according to when they arrived. This will be done to encourage them to come promptly.
Mr. McKeon. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have enjoyed the testimony. We have a wide range of panelists, from people who have started schools to people working at the university level.
The visits that I have made to charter schools have been me very inspirational to me. It seems to me that there has been a lot of talk about vouchers, but they seem to have a lot of political problems. People have taken positions against them. It seems to me that vouchers that charter schools are our best chance to really have an impact on helping children.
You have gone to the inner city, Mr. Feinberg, and you have really helped change people. What do you see as a future way of expanding what we are trying to do with charter schools?
Mr. Feinberg. I think, as we talked about between both the parental accountability and performance accountability, allowing authorizers in the different states' growing number of schools to be able to put it out there, if they work, they work, and if they don't work, they should be shut down.
I feel, though, that what charter schools do offer by expanding them is allowing the educational system to get right to the heart of the problem right away, without some of the mish-mosh and clouds that surround getting in to be able to free up the teachers in the classroom to do what they know works best: to teach the kids at the kindergarten level, the elementary level, the middle school level, or the high school level, to be able to really achieve the vision.
I think exchanging that freedom for additional accountability is what we need to do. It is not a lesson just charter schools should do, but in my testimony I gave, I hope those lessons learned apply beyond just charter schools into the traditional public schools as well.
Mr. McKeon. I come from California. We require for a high school, a public school, 40 acres; for a junior high school, 20 acres; for an elementary school, 5 acres. Then we have very strict requirements on building out those schools, and what should go into the physical facilities.
It seems to me the charter schools I have seen – you find an old building and you recruit teachers and you go to work in educating students, young people. Do you see that as a positive or a detriment to providing education, any of you?
Yes, Ms. Olinga.
Ms. Olinga. Thank you.
I know from our school's standpoint, the one thing that everybody shares is a commitment to success for our children. Our teachers would not be there with the pay that they get and the hours that they work if they were not committed to the children. I think that is the difference for us. We have a mission. We are on a mission. That unites us in a way that some of the processes that pop up, such as crummy buildings, budget constraints, those kinds of things actually help unite issue in our effort and in our mission; knowing that what we are doing is the right thing.
The problem in North Carolina is that we have a limit of 100 charter schools. We have a cap of 100. We are at 95 right now. Therefore, our legislature won't increase that cap for at least another 2 years. So, we won't have any increase in charter schools beyond this year.
However, I think that those things, adversity builds character, and I think it works that way with schools, as well.
Mr. McKeon. Ms. Ford.
Ms. Ford. I agree. I think what we are all talking about is choice. Our parents know exactly what our facilities look like. Certainly they are not Taj Mahals, and I wish I had a bigger playground, for example. However, I think it does speak to the fact that they make a choice for the academic achievement. They are making a choice for the safe and orderly environment. They are making a choice for understanding that they have a voice, and it doesn't get down to being just a matter of acres.
Ms. Olinga. We recommend 10,000 square feet for every 100 students, and among the many schools we work with, I don't know if there is one that has that kind of ratio. There are fewer square feet available for students.
Having been through maybe 50 to 60 buildings that have been abandoned in urban areas in the last 3 years, and then seeing those schools succeed and the parents continue to send their students there, the facilities need to be acceptable, but they don't have to meet the criteria that come out of PlanCon or some other State Department education set of requirements.
So the program, the opportunities, and the promise that this is going to be a better performing student down the road serves to meet the student’s and parent’s needs. The parents are happy with that if the schools can succeed.
We do see parents and children leave schools, but they are not leaving because of facility issues; there are other issues that cause that kind of problem.
Chairman Goodling. Mr. Roemer?
Mr. Roemer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am delighted to hear all the good news about charter schools as a strong supporter of charter schools, but I am also here to learn about how we make them better. I want to ask Dr. Bulkley a couple of questions about her testimony.
In terms of how states have passed enabling legislation through their state legislatures and they have put caps on certain numbers of schools to be created, and they have limited the duration, they have talked about newly created, preexisting, and preexisting private_and please, try to be brief, because I want to get to a couple of other questions. I don't have a lot of time_in your academic research, what kinds of charters pass through the state legislative level seem to create more successful charter schools?
Ms. Bulkley. Well, my response is going to be very brief, because one of the things - and I hope it was clear from my testimony - I am really looking in my work at the level of policy.
I have certainly visited schools that are wonderful schools. I have visited schools where I had some concerns about the education going on there. But my work is not really looking at the quality of schools that are being produced.
I have some personal opinions from what I have seen, but I don't feel that my -.
Mr. Roemer. Your personal opinion, then. We have very different charters in Arizona, Minnesota, Massachusetts, California. What kinds of things tend to create and keep more successful schools with higher renewal rates?
Ms. Bulkley. One of the things that I have seen is that in those cases where you have authorizers who really work up front with schools to try to develop plans before schools are opened - I can point to some examples of some universities in Michigan, and certainly in Massachusetts where there is a very concrete process, to try to ensure prior to schools opening that all the different pieces are in place. I think that can be very valuable: Looking at the business plan, looking at the educational plan, looking at the kind of staff.
It is not looked at that much, but I was glad to hear about professional development for teachers in charter schools, because that is a very important piece that has really, I think, been overlooked, largely. You see some of the larger companies providing some professional development, but you often don't see some of the small start-ups being in a position to do that. I think that continuing to train and work with teachers is important in any kind of educational process.
Mr. Roemer. I would agree. I think we need much more professional development and emphasis on quality teachers in our public schools and in our charter schools.
You also mentioned accountability. You cited or kind of referred to three different paradigms: a district-based, a market-driven, and a centralized approach.
Is there a particular one of these that works better?
Ms. Bulkley. I think one of the interesting things about charter schools is the idea of trying to bring together different paradigms of accountability and trying to take advantage of the strengths of each.
As I pointed out, at this point it does not necessarily appear that the more government-oriented methods of accountability are working as expected in charter schools, whereas the market - you know, by its very nature, these are schools of choice. The market is having an impact there on whether or not students and families are choosing particular schools.
I would say that there are cases where you can bring markets and government together in ways that are effective, and there are cases where you see traditional public schools that are very, very good, where there is not a market element. So, I think that there is not one clear solution to the accountability problem.
I do, however, see a role for government in accountability.
Mr. Roemer. Okay, thank you. We would certainly like to hear more from you and work with you on assessing the success of these schools.
Ms. Ford, I don't mean to pick on you, but I just want to ask you a tough question. I look at the number of schools shut down, charter schools shut down in Arizona, and it says 16 as of September, 1999.
Again, as a supporter of charter schools, 16 schools shut down in the state of Arizona_what do we do? What happens to those children when those classrooms are shut down? Where do they go from there and what are their options? Are they renewed then and opened later? Are they sent off to other public schools? What happens?
Ms. Ford. I was glad that the gentleman from KIPP Academies mentioned the way that we can have an impact on public education, because I think we do. I think the things that we do eventually will trickle down and be enforced and implemented at public schools.
We have 400 charter schools in Arizona. As you can well imagine, a lot do fail. Part of the reason is that it seems like it is a lot easier to do this than it really is. I think any of us here at this table are experts at knowing just how intense a challenge it is to make a school fiscally responsible as well as educationally accountable. I think that is probably the most difficult thing to do, especially in states where the capitalization rate is too low. Also you get none of the general capital money that is allocated for students.
I would guess that those students go on to the public schools or are able to find -because especially in a state like Arizona, like California, like Texas, can find another charter school where their needs can be met. They are very, very popular and well publicized.
Chairman Goodling. Mr. Castle?
Mr. Castle. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Basically, I am going to ask two questions. I am going to state them both now and get a discussion going on them.
Let me state what the second question is going to be. I will come back to it.
Ms. Ford touched a little bit on it just now. I want to know about the greatest problems you are running into. In my state, I hear about the no-capital funds and issues such as that. Before we get to that question, and I hope we get to it, I want to ask Mr. Feinberg and Dr. Bulkley a question to follow up a little bit on something that was just repeated.
It was about what you said, Mr. Feinberg, about the lab environment for other schools.
Public schools provide 90 percent of our education in this country. Private schools are becoming a measurable percentage, but they are still very small. Ultimately in this country we are still going to educate most of our kids in public schools. While I am all for charter schools and the innovations that we have heard today, and congratulations to all of you who have done this, I am still vitally concerned about how we can take the various assets and improvements that we have seen in charter schools and apply them to our public schools, or whether we can or not.
I am very interested in your comments.
Dr. Bulkley, your comments with respect to that are interesting, and in terms of the whole future of charter schools vis-à-vis our public schools, in terms of there growth, in terms of whether there best function may be to help the public schools gain, or whatever you have to say about that will be appreciated.
Mr. Feinberg. Congressman Castle, as I said, we have lots of educators coming and visiting the two schools; they are learning, taking back and implementing things like the specific instructional strategies in the classroom, the extended day model, the strategies to get kids to finish their homework at night, things like that.
I think that the biggest impact can be seen in the example regarding the two elementary schools in the neighborhood that we draw most of our kids from, both of them, after our second year of operation, started implementing new programs. One elementary school implemented a gifted and talented program, with the biggest message to the parents being, you don't have to send your kids to that KIPP school to get higher-level thinking and learning.
The other elementary school started a middle school on their own campus with the message being, just like that KIPP school, you don't have to send your kids to a local middle school, you can keep them here.
That is the kind of effect we have had. They have been able to keep more kids. I haven't had to make kids come from our school. I think that is great. If every charter school can have a similar effect in the local feeder pattern, that is how we are going to leverage the success.
Mr. Castle. Thank you.
Ms. Bulkley. In terms of charter schools providing a lab environment, that is certainly an ideal. There have obviously been some real challenges to that, because in many cases, there has been a lot of animosity between district schools and school districts and individual charter schools, which limits the kinds of connections that can be made.
The other reality, or what seems to be - we seem to be learning that charter schools certainly do offer some very innovative practices, but many of these practices are already found in the public schools, in traditional public schools. Some recent work by Michael Mentrim at Michigan State University suggests that has been the case in Michigan.
I think some of the barriers to innovation in traditional public schools go beyond simply learning about innovations that are out there and go to a more structural level. So, I am not clear how much borrowing you are ever going to completely see. I think you will see some, particularly in structural areas, such as adding kindergartens and after-school programs.
In terms of curriculum, I think it is very unclear what we are going to see. In terms of the growth of the movement, I think that is also very unclear. Historians would say that this is something that would be likely to grow a little bit more, and then even out, and not change a lot. But I think we really don't know. Choice is having an impact on public education that leads a lot of people to say, we just really need to wait and see because this is something new.
Mr. Castle. I hope you are being pessimistic in regards to the first part of your answer.
Let me go to the second question, the funding issue. We need some brief answers.
What are the funding concerns or problems that you have run into or know about in terms of running or starting a charter school?
Ms. Olinga. Building.
Mr. Castle. Capital needs, building?
Ms. Olinga. Our capital funds, building costs, come out of our operating budget. We get the same money per child as any other traditional public school in North Carolina from the state and local government, but we have to pay for our rent, electricity, and all of our building expenses out of that. So, while an elementary school gets $5,000 per child and the building, we get $5,000 per child and have to pay for our building out of that.
Mr. Castle. Is there anything anyone wants to add which you have run into?
Mr. Esbrandt. We have run into groups that do not have start-up monies and have to borrow. Generally, individuals who are founders of charter schools borrow money personally. They put up their houses and get second mortgages. So the interim, from approval to opening, in some states is not accompanied by any payments whatsoever, start-up funds or per pupil costs starting until the summer or September 1. Therefore, a combination of both facilities and start-up costs are borne locally.
Mr. Castle. Thank you. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Goodling. Congressman Scott.
Mr. Scott. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Feinberg, do you get public funds?
Mr. Feinberg. Yes.
Mr. Scott. Do you get per student what the public schools get?
Mr. Feinberg. Yes, we get the same state and federal operational money, but not the capital money.
Mr. Scott. You have private support in addition to that?
Mr. Feinberg. Yes. Because we don't get the capital money, we run a deficit, and our goal is to raise between 700 to $800 per pupil per year to cover additional operational expenses.
Mr. Scott. How valuable is that private support to your mission?
Mr. Feinberg. Given how hard we work the kids, the funds we raised have gone for things like snacks every day and keeping the kids there until 5:00; Saturday lunches, because the lunch program does not have any program on the weekends; as well as incentives, such as field lessons and field trips, taking the kids to Washington, D.C. and places like that, which have been very valuable to motivate them to keep working hard.
Mr. Scott. The salaries you pay your teachers, how do they compare to the public schools?
Mr. Feinberg. Teachers get paid 20 to 25 percent more than they would in the local school district.
Mr. Scott. They work different hours?
Mr. Feinberg. They work a lot more hours. We do not have a monopoly on hard-working teachers. Every single school in this country has teacher cars in the parking lot until 7:00 or 5:00. The difference is that at KIPP we are acknowledging those extra hours by paying the teachers overtime during the week, on weekends, and during the summer.
Mr. Scott. Dr. Bulkley, you indicated a problem with revoking charters.
How often does this happen, and how long do ineffective schools go before their charter is revoked?
Ms. Bulkley. Well, in terms of revoking charters or schools closing down, the last count that I saw was by the Center for Education Reform, which did a report a year ago that said that 39 schools had closed nationally. I know the numbers have gone up since then.
In terms of how long –
Mr. Scott. Have you noticed ineffective schools lingering on and on without ever being revoked?
Ms. Bulkley. As I said, my work is not specifically focused on issues of school quality. However, honestly, I don't have a lot of doubt that in the current situation, there are some very ineffective schools that are operating and are likely to continue to operate. Unless the market forces work, which I think is not the only thing you want to rely on in this kind of situation, those schools will continue to operate. There is not a lot suggesting that they are going to be closed down.
As an academic, I have to say that is my impression, and this is still very early in the process. We need to see. There are some states that have very specific provisions in their state laws about schools not being renewed unless certain performance criteria are met on state tests.
The states with those laws are just starting to hit the renewal process, so we will have to see if that kind of legislation will make the difference in the continued operation of schools.
Mr. Scott. Thank you.
Ms. Olinga, your child has cerebral palsy?
Ms. Olinga. Yes. I have three children with special needs and my youngest child has CP.
Mr. Scott. Do the charter schools have open admission where anyone can get in, regardless of handicap condition?
Ms. Olinga. Absolutely. We take all comers.
Mr. Scott. Are all the charter schools capable of handling children with special needs?
Ms. Olinga. Our charter school was specifically designed to reach out to children with exceptionalities, children with disabilities and learning problems, so that is our mission.
That has been a problem with other charter schools. I don't think a lot of charter school founders have that in mind: "oh, yes, we have to remember to have occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, those kinds of resources available for children who might enroll."
I think that has been a struggle with the charter school movement, but I think they are trying to respond diligently.
Mr. Scott. Thank you.
Dr. Esbrandt, can you just briefly remind us of what elements there are in charter schools which help them do a better job and why we can't institute them in public schools?
Mr. Esbrandt. When I was the superintendent of Cherry Hill School District in New Jersey, a district of about 11,000 students in a fairly wealthy community, I thought, if we can't do it here, I am not sure where we can do it. After 11 years as superintendent, I saw, in the last 3 or 4 years of that term, backsliding and not the progress being made, so I said, well, why don't we promote competition in charter schools.
I think what happens is that appealing to a mission, focusing on that mission, appealing to parents - does this meet what you would like to have for your child in a school. That thinking process and marketing process, and then backing that up with a program and success every day, day after day, determines whether that school is successful or not.
Part of that mission, of course, is getting the higher test scores, but there are so many other promises that are made in an application, and also appeal to parents and students. So that is the combination of factors that the charter school can offer that many public school systems are unwilling to bend towards.
Recently, we have worked with some schools that have set up charter schools and drawn students from multiple districts. In those districts, when the parents could not get the public school to adjust to that loss of students from that neighborhood to the charter school, they then went and moved to start a charter school.
They are capable of starting up faster than a public school system can adjust in many large districts, so there is an advantage there.
Chairman Goodling. Mr. Petri.
Mr. Petri. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. We in elected office are all, I think, aware of the benefits of competition for our constituents. If our employees in our offices are not aware of that, they are not employees for very long, because obviously one of the reasons for offering a high level of service is to have satisfied customers. That helps you to stay in business, whether you are a school or - a charter school or an elected official.
It has been touched on in previous questions about the impact. Charter schools are a small part of a very big public educational system, and the bulk is the regular public schools. In my area we have a state charter school law in Milwaukee. It has a broad range of approaches to try to strengthen the Milwaukee school system. There are some other charter schools in the state.
Our experience has been as often as not that teachers or parents get together with a charter school idea and go talk to the local school board and they adapt and try to incorporate the ideas that the charter school possibility has brought forward, and the school never actually gets organized as a separate entity.
Is, in effect, the fact that charter schools are more active in some areas than in others a function of the unresponsiveness of the local educational system or of the state being more open in its charter school-enacting option?
Are there things we can learn from charter school supervision that we can use to try to strengthen regular public schools? Should they be on a 5-year contract, be reviewed, and held to the standards? Why do this just with charter schools, where the parents and public are also supervising them, in effect? Why not hold other schools accountable to similar types of experiences? Is there anything states or local school boards can learn in that regard? I will just see who wants to comment.
Mr. Esbrandt. Recently our organization has been called in to rescue regular public school systems and schools in those systems, because they have become academically or at risk financially.
The comparison is being made - generally there have been no time lines or deadlines given to the regular public school system schools in order to make the changes. So without the time lines and also some threat or changes or requirements to be met at the end of that time line, it becomes difficult for public schools and the employees to focus on improving the performance of that particular unit or school.
Charter schools have a time line. Our organization now looks at 3 years for public schools that are in trouble and charter schools, in order to have the performance they have promised in their application. To get that performance in 3 years, you have to have a lot of staff learning. That staff learning has to be translated into behaviors that get student performance to be different.
That kind of standard has not applied to charter schools and to regular school systems until recently, where states have put teeth into test results. Unfortunately, it is one test over one week, but that is a new standard for many states that have it.
Mr. Feinberg. The Houston Independent School District is a good example of what you are talking about. Dr. Ron Page, the superintendent there, has taken advantage of the state charter law by chartering about 20 schools within the district. This includes some existing campuses that reconstitute as a charter school. I think the lessons learned from the freedom that exists in independent charter schools are hopefully going to be adopted more and more by the districts, as well.
Mr. Petri. Ms. Ford?
Ms. Ford. I was just going to say, when public school educators and administrators visit us often in Phoenix, they are most interested in our teacher evaluation and staff development systems. That is one area where we think public schools really need improvement.
Ms. Olinga. I would like to add to that, if I could.
I think one of the things you have to look at is who comes to charter schools. In North Carolina, overwhelmingly the student population is at the lower end of the achievement scale. They are minority, they are inner city, and they have not been served well by traditional public schools.
Sixty-five percent of enrollment in charter schools in North Carolina is made up of minority students and only about 40 percent of the students in North Carolina are minority students. That is the population charter schools are serving.
Ms. Bulkley. If I can add to that, I think that is true in a number of cases where you definitely see in urban areas and areas where the traditional public schools are not perceived as being particularly high quality - you are more likely to see more charter schools.
We have been talking about innovation, but the draw is not truly innovation so much as it is the innovation of small schools and personalized environments where you have - where you have what parents want and the American public wants. They want safe schools, orderly schools, and schools with high standards. These are not necessarily innovative practices, but the fact is that in areas where parents do not feel that the traditional district is offering them that, they are more likely to turn to charter schools and you are more likely to see schools open.
Chairman Goodling. Mr. Petri, if you would, go vote quickly and come back. We are voting on a conference report, and I think there are about 9 minutes left.
Mr. Ford. I am going to yield to Mr. Kind, and would love to have the opportunity when I come back.
Mr. Kind. Mr. Chairman, I wonder if we can get the person in charge of the camera to pan the students who are with us here today. They are dying to see themselves on camera up there. I have seen them all morning long trying to find themselves. This is your chance to wave and look at yourself on the TV screen. Isn't this technology marvelous? Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank the witnesses for your time and expertise. I, too, have been a very strong proponent of charter schools representing an area in Wisconsin. We are on the right track there. There are still some kinks to work out. I think there are a lot of marvelous success stories that are taking place right now. One of the questions that I have, since charter schools are relatively new, sometime it is awfully hard to get some good data back as far as assessment. I am wondering about the quality of the data and how much longer we are going to have to wait until we have something real tangible to take a look at.
Ms. Bulkley. I think I will take that one. Actually I was just telling Kate Ford that I have been working on a literature review of the research on charter schools for the Department of Education, and we have been looking over every state evaluation, every report that we can find that says anything about achievement data, and basically what we have come up with is we don't know a lot. The data is not very good, and it is unclear if the data is going to get better or not. The fact is that states change their assessments all of the time. This is why we don't always have good data on the traditional public systems, the same issues happen in charter schools.
Charter schools are such a unique entity that trying to say if charter schools as a whole are producing better achievement is not always the best question to ask, but rather where are charter schools producing good achievement and what can we learn from those schools. If you try to aggregate across all of these schools, which serve such different populations, you are going to end up with numbers that don't tell you very much. What you really want to know is what is out there that is working and what is not working.
Mr. Kind. Dr. Esbrandt, do you have anything to add to that?
Mr. Esbrandt. Another problem is caused by the approval of the grades to be opening in the school's first year. Many times they do not include the grades tested in the state where they are opening. Therefore, it takes a few years before that first test is given and a few more years before you have comparative data year to year. It may be 6-7 years before you have accurate data, which becomes viable information to be used. In many cases the students have turned over, and we are now looking at the data for those students who have stayed year to year to year. Sometimes the school is not open and those students pass on to another type of school. It is difficult. I think you need a decade of enough charter schools to see the information, and you need to follow students who continue with the program versus those that start and leave. That makes it very difficult to track.
Mr. Kind. One of the key things that jumps out at me when I visit charter schools in Wisconsin is the strong emphasis on parental involvement, and that is why I want to thank Mr. And Mrs. Mrs. Grimes for your testimony. There is strong emphasis in setting up parent councils and advisory boards, which is crucial. It has been very impressive.
My last question is in regards to the leadership that is coming into the charter schools. Not only do we have a 2 million teacher shortage over the next 10 years, we need to replace them with quality people in the classroom, but I think we have a crisis with leadership, the principals and superintendents. Are they finding it easier to recruit quality leaders because of the philosophy and concept, or are charter schools experiencing the same things that a lot of schools are across the country, and that is a real challenge of recruiting good people to come in and provide the leadership?
Ms. Olinga. Our principal is not a trained principal. Her background is not in education. Her background is in exceptional populations. I think what Kate said about thinking outside the box and not just using somebody who has been through principal school is very important. Our administrator knows how to manage a budget. Our administrator knows how to manage staff. Our principal is learning how to - she is learning the education part of it. But that is why we have good teachers and we hire other people to help us with the curriculum. We think outside the box and we have somebody who is absolutely wonderful and couldn't be more committed.
Ms. Grimes. We have one child in a middle school and a son in elementary school; both of those principals are extremely experienced and dedicated professionals with great reputations. And the quality of teachers that I have seen over the 2 years that our children have been there has been exceptional. There is dedication because the teachers have to be there a long time, and these particular principals could teach anywhere or be principals at any school, I am certain. The quality is extremely high and I would just say it probably varies with the system, with the charter school itself, and I would also say with the partnership. We do have a partnership with - a corporate partnership, which really helps a lot in terms of the standards and the accountability. I just put those out there.
Mr. Kind. The private sector role in charter schools, that would be a good topic for another hearing. I have to run to vote. I thank you all for your testimony.
Mr. Schaffer. [Presiding.] I thank you. I am Mr. Schaffer from Colorado. I am not the chairman.
I would like to continue addressing some questions to the Grimeses. I am the only member of Congress that sends his kids to a charter school. I helped start the Liberty Common School in Fort Collins, Colorado. We are very proud of it. In the 4 years that we have been in existence we have reached the top of the charts in reading and statewide testing. We are proud of that, and we managed to do it while enduring the same kinds of struggles you go through with capital expenses and space. We only get 80 percent of what the rest of the district gets and we still manage to pay our teachers better than the regular government schools. All of those things are part of the reason that I am enthusiastic about the school as well as test scores.
I am curious as to why you chose to send your kids – it is a hard decision for any parent to make because your kids are in a neighborhood school, and generally that is the option. You made the decision, and that is why charter schools are great. It reinserts parental authority into decision-making. Many parents are completely happy with the neighborhood school. A charter school is a choice. In the end I think that strengthens the decision. Now parents have a choice that they never had before. In the old days you would call the school district and say, here is my address. They would say if your address is 123 Smith Street you go to school A. We have kind of gotten away from that.
I am curious; you made a choice not only to leave the neighborhood school but also to pick a charter school, and that involved evaluating strengths and weaknesses. I am curious as to what went through your mind when that decision was given to you.
Mr. Grimes. When we were trying to decide on a charter school or a private school, we did some extensive research about the particular school, about Edison Friendship. The Edison Friendship charter school was a lot different than some of the other charter schools, which are in existence in our city, Washington D.C.
The Edison Friendship school not only has a principal, but a principal who is the CEO. They can make the kinds of decisions unilaterally, without having to go through a school board, superintendent and administration that is not - let's just say that is not sensitive to the children's needs, or the bureaucracy that takes so long to do anything - and we all know what schools are like in D.C.
So, making the selection of the charter school, for one, was because of the principal himself, who has a stellar reputation in the community. It was also because of the practices that they had. There is a partnership between the parents and the teacher and/or the principal. They have quarterly reviews. When the review time comes, the parent has to come into the school, meet with the teacher, get the report card, go over the report card, and talk about the student's strengths and weaknesses. In our case, our children were doing well so the teacher raised the bar. So when he raised the bar, he let us know what our children were going to be studying for the next quarter, and how we could support what he was doing. Then he knew how he could support what we were doing educationally for our children. We found that to be very, very helpful. And the child was present right there while we were doing it, so they knew what they had to do.
In our home we are excited about education and reading. We are excited about technology, and they give the kids the technology. Now our daughter, especially, is teaching us how to use the computer. So, we are very pleased with what they are doing, very pleased.
Mr. Schaffer. I was on the front line of the charter school movement, and I was in the state legislature before we had charters, and I was part of the legislation that we passed there. Frankly, I am thrilled with our school having high test scores, but that was not our only goal. There are parents frustrated with the management of regular schools and teachers who are tired of not being treated as real professionals, because the worst teacher is paid the same as the best, and many teachers want a professional environment where they are treated based on their merits. Charter schools are the only places where government schools are making that possible, and for a variety of other reasons. Sometimes it is the people that you have confidence in that are running a school of choice versus somebody that the district may have appointed to serve your neighborhood. I think the motivations and the culture are different and test scores are just one of many indicators, which brings me to you, Dr. Bulkley. I was reading through your description of your research and I want to be polite, but I think it misses the mark. It may be research that is interesting to someone but in terms of an overall evaluation for someone like us, it is interesting. And I think there are some biases perhaps in the way that you described it. I don't know if that necessarily carries through with the research.
For example, in terms of evaluating the school closures on the third page, as of 1999, only 39 schools had closed. The word only suggests that might be a small number, but I would submit that I heard the figure that there is about a 4 percent closure rate of charter schools across the country. I think that is about right. About 4 percent, which I have to tell you is about 400 times greater than the closure rate for failed government schools, and so only 39 is actually a large number in comparison. Government schools may close as a result of declining enrollments or crumbling buildings, but it is a very rare thing. You might find one in the country per year that closes because the school is failing its children and having low test scores. I am curious, and I also might be inclined to agree with you that the notion that charter schools closed for a variety of reasons is why they are so exciting. Sometimes they close because of contractual disagreements between the school boards and the charter schools themselves, on performance or one thing or another. More often they close because of cash flow, which is a statement as to their appeal to the marketplace. If you cannot attract the customer to come through the front door then the school runs out of money just like any business would. What that suggests is only in charters do you have that dynamic, where you have a market driven motivation that places the evaluation. The real accountability is in the hands of customers who are free to choose that institution versus some other.
I am curious as to the indication of being significant or insignificant when weighed against the experience in regular government schools which receive more money, which are eligible for more funds and resources, capital costs and all of the rest, such as electricity. I actually think 39 is a good indicator. It suggests that charter schools are doing better than regular government schools.
Ms. Bulkley. In terms of the 39 schools, you are right, 39 schools closing is not an insignificant number and it is worth noting. However, as you alluded to, most of these schools have closed for reasons related to management and to the market. I would say my estimate is that a much higher number have closed due to management reasons, fiscal management. You have had examples of schools where all of the teachers have basically left the school, and obviously you can't continue to operate in those circumstances.
Whereas, there are really no schools that I have been able to identify where the reason for closure has been because of academic performance. Now that does not mean that has not happened. There is very little systematic information about renewal in particular, but what we do know and see is that the schools are being renewed and the few cases where they are being renewed, it is a reflection as much as anything else on the market. The question becomes does - the ideal of charter schools was to bring government and accountability together. From your comments you made, that the market alone will provide - will ensure quality education, then it becomes a very different issue. But the ideal of charter schools was to at a minimum have government provide a certain threshold for quality. Say, if you do not meet this level of quality, whatever that level may be and however you may determine that level, that we are not going to continue to give you public funding.
What I am suggesting is that right now it is unclear if that threshold exists at all. You started your comments by talking about test scores not being the only measure of a school's success. That is an excellent point. The question is, however we choose to evaluate school quality, is that being used for accountability purposes?
Just one other comment, and I know that other people probably want to comment as well, in terms of comparing charter schools to the traditional public system. The fact is that we are seeing more and more pretty severe consequences in the traditional public system for schools that are not doing particularly well. We are seeing, for example, reconstitution, which Congressman Roemer mentioned as a possibility for charter schools. We are seeing that in the traditional public schools, which is not the same as closure because you are not sending the kids away, but for the staff in those schools it is often effectively closure. It is not as if there are not serious consequences for low quality schools. That is a segment of policy, which has been developing over the last few years.
Mr. Schaffer. That term of measuring quality from a public and private standpoint is always going to be a nebulous quality, a moving target. In my state, for example, our governor and legislature pushed through a new set of standardized test scores, which the school immediately rebelled against. Teachers are saying these test scores don't mean anything. So, only the governor and the legislature perceive the government’s measurement in Colorado as valuable. If that were the only measurement, according to most teachers in my state, it would be useless because the test is something that they don't believe in, which brings me back to my point. The underlying purpose and focus of charter schools is not just to provide choice. The philosophy of choice is based on moving that measurement of quality away from people in government and toward people who are parents, whose children really matter the most to them.
So even if we get to the point where you can come back to us 5 years from now and say we have new tests and we know what quality is, charter schools are still going to be a great idea. They are going to be a great idea in continuing to lead the way, because I think charter schools are defining new terms of quality and new measurements of success by appealing to parents with different goals for their children than people in Washington.
I care about kids, but I would completely understand if you said, Schaffer, we don't want your goals of quality defining the future of my child. I came to Washington because I got tired of people doing the reverse to me as a parent. I think that the notion that parents can walk out, the notion that other schools are now in a position where they have to compete - we have a thousand families on the waiting list at my school. That means every elementary school principal in my district has $200,000 worth of customers that want to leave. We are full. It tells every other elementary school principal that they have to start marketing to their customers, and they are doing it. The remarkable thing is that they are doing it.
There is now a school that specializes in math and science. There is a discipline school, and one that is good in sports. They are finding unique ways to appeal to the people that are paying the taxes because of a limited new competitive environment of alternatives.
You know, I have never been the chairman of this committee before. I don't want to leave.
Chairman Goodling. [Presiding.] I noticed. He turned the clock off.
Mr. Wu. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to ask about two potentially subtle areas in charter schools and I have to say that I favor experimentation. I think that experimentation in the form of charter schools is a good idea, but_and my wife who taught public school for about a dozen years has been involved in the process of setting up a charter school and it is in that context that I found these two little subtle areas. Each one cuts in a different direction and I would like to ask you about it.
That is in the process of interviewing people who have charter schools established already, they are very caring individuals who want to teach well and want their institutions to run well but as a reality of holding costs down, some of these folks have described to me how they are forbidden from selecting against high cost students, special need schools. But by relatively subtle mechanisms, such as putting your notices where they will be seen by certain folks and others, by going to some communities at some settings where you are going to draw, quote/unquote, better students or more easily educable, less costly children to educate, that is a method to achieve through a behavior pattern what you are forbidden to do informal process.
Would any of the panelists care to address that issue or challenge for the charter school movement?
Ms. Olinga. I would like to address that because our school is specifically designed to reach out to those children with exceptionalities. Like I said in my testimony, we reach out to kids from the homeless shelter. We go to the homeless shelter to recruit families. Some of our probation officers are on speed dial, I think, at school because we have a lot of probation officers bringing their kids to us because of our success. We look for the tough kids. So we don't have that kind of experience, but I have seen other charter schools that do shy away from that, from trying to get children that are high cost in terms of the exceptional education. I think that is a challenge that has to be addressed.
Ms. Grimes. I would like to answer that also. The school that my children attend here doesn't seem to have that type of a bias. I think there is sufficient corporate backing, but I don't know for sure. I did not notice that as a problem. Children are drawn from all over the city. Many of the children receive free lunches. We have a real mixture. We don't qualify for the free lunches and subsidies, but a good number of children do. They come right from the neighborhood, which is a depressed area. They also come from all over the city.
I also noticed the support to those children. There is a social worker in the school, and many of the supports that you might find in a public school system are there as well. I could not speak to you about all the charter schools in Washington, but of the ones that we looked at, in particular the Edison system, did not seem to be an issue at all.
Mr. Wu. So for many of you here today, you are expressly trying to get away from that kind of behavior pattern, but you might know of other institutions where it is sort of talked about or a matter of concern.
We have a much stricter timekeeper in the chair now, so forgive me. Let me move on to question number two, which is something that I hope will help you all out if there is a problem here, and that is I have also heard that even though school districts and other educational authorities are required by state statute to help you all out or at least be neutral, quite frequently there is a hostile environment for charter schools and that all sorts of roadblocks, subtle or otherwise, get dredged up and tossed in your path. Do any of you care to address that?
Mr. Grimes. I would like to say that just as an example, at Edison Friendship we are right on Pennsylvania Avenue, 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue, right across the street from the subway station. At 4:00, when our children get out of school, many of them have to cross Potomac Avenue, cross Pennsylvania Avenue in order to go home. That is the Potomac station. Last year we started requesting for a police presence or at least a crossing guard. We haven't had that. It has not come to fruition that we have a police presence yet. Only about 2 or 3 days out of the year have we had the police come out. We have a lot of buses and those things, and all types of vehicles there. We don't want to stop traffic, but the city will not respond to us in kind. We have written and they still will not respond to us. They say, yes, we are going to do it, but they don't do it. Dr. Pannell has related to me that even money for the programs, the special interest kids that you were talking about, the buses that come, we don't get the support right away. A lot of the costs she has to absorb herself.
Chairman Goodling. Mr. Grimes, you used one of my favorite words when discussing education, and that is "expectations." Mrs. Grimes, you used another one of my favorite words when discussing education, and that is "motivation." Unfortunately, as I travel across the country, those two words seem to be missing many times in schools that I visit. My wife, after 42 years of teaching first grade in a rather affluent school district, substituted in special ed for 2 weeks in a large center city, and then for a week in third grade in a large center city. Every night she came home and said no one had expected them to do anything. For someone who is a driving teacher, whose expectations are up there, that was very difficult for her.
Could you tell me, Mr. and Mrs. Grimes, the difference when your children come home now as compared to when the children came home before they went to this school?
Ms. Grimes. One difference is that they come home happy. They tell me what they have done. I say, what happened today. They always have something to tell me that happened, academically in the classroom or values. It is the core value based school.
Instead of saying we were punished today - the class lost their recess in the old system. They lost their recess. There was no control. They would come home very disappointed. I asked them what they were learning. They couldn't tell me very much about what they were learning. We do homework together. My son reads to me. He is a good reader and they take pride. They tell me that they have done well. There is always something going on there, not a whole lot of just notes. They take responsibility for their own homework. They have a homework hotline, and if for some reason they are confused with the assignment, I see them go up to the telephone and dial that number. Oh, this is what I have to do. That is what the homework was. Those are some differences. They are anxious about getting those assignments done. I have got to go to the library. I have got to go today. My assignment is due. They are planning ahead, doing it in stages. They are thinking about it, organizing what they have to do, and taking it in bite-size pieces. They are very excited about school and learning, period.
Mr. Grimes. What I like about it is that they are taking the responsibility themselves. Not for us to be, yes, we have told them, yes, we have taught them, but they have adopted these principles for themselves. Especially my son, who is here today, understands the value of hard work and he knows what hard work will do for him. He set a goal last year to do the best that he could in the 4th grade and we were blessed that he was the student of the year for the fourth grade. He was the only - he was the one that was on high honor role all four quarters and that wasn't anything that we did. All we did was provide the resources and an environment for him to do what it is that he did. We are very proud of that.
Now, they got a spark, they started to love learning when they started to see that they could learn more and more and that learning was exciting. And I believe that Dr. Pannell did that himself by taking the time. He is the principal and the CEO, but he took the time to teach Olympics of the Mind. We are all seeing the Olympics now, but they were in a program called Olympics of the Mind. He fed them and fed them and they adopted that excitement, and now they are moving along great.
Chairman Goodling. That is very good. I have always said that charter schools have a tendency to attract the very best teachers, supervisors, and principals because every good educator wants to teach where they can demand and have high expectations. Can you imagine this former high school principal walking into a high school today and then seeing some kid walking in with his underwear showing or half of his rear end? He wouldn't have been showing it very long.
Mr. Grimes. Right.
Chairman Goodling. I have one quick question, Dr. Bulkley. The business of evaluating always intrigues me. I think one of the neighboring states has something like 36 tests for kindergarten through 12th grade. I am not sure what they learn other than how to take tests.
When you talk about accountability, are you studying the accountability in relationship to charter schools along with the accountability in our regular public schools? How do we determine whether the accountability in the charter school on this corner is better, worse, or less meaningful than the public school on the next block as far as who is responsible for that accountability? Is it any better in one area than it is in the other?
Ms. Bulkley. Obviously, that is a very difficult question to answer because it depends.
Chairman Goodling. It was even very difficult for me to state.
Ms. Bulkley. It depends largely on what you mean by the concept of accountability. The traditional public school system, of course, is accountable in a hierarchal fashion. The teacher is accountable to the principal, which is accountable to the school district, which is accountable to an elected school board.
Whether you think that is good accountability depends a lot on how much you are willing to rely on that particular set of structures. In terms of accountability for outcomes, and this is, I think, what really ideally distinguishes the kind of accountability that you see in the traditional public school from the kind of accountability that you see in charter schools, ideally you have charter schools expected to demonstrate performance and you have them expected to demonstrate performance not only to the market but also to government. I guess the issue that I am raising is if you want to have that kind of demonstration, it may be that the current structure is not effectively creating that expectation.
There are of course increasing expectations of the traditional public system to create - to demonstrate performance as well. But I think one must remember that charter schools, while they are often in a very tough situation, have to fight some very serious challenges to get up and running. It is a very hard thing to do. They are being granted certain privileges in terms of autonomy that are not present in the traditional public system.
As I said in my testimony, the idea was that this would be a trade. You can, granted this greater autonomy, not focus so much on inputs. The traditional system has traditionally focused on inputs and process. Are teachers certified and are certain procedures being followed. Some of the reason that has developed is because it is so difficult to figure out what the outputs of a system are. I think what we are seeing with charter schools is that it is both difficult to determine what those outputs as well as traditional public schools. It is also very difficult to attach consequences when the main consequence that is available is to shut down a school, which is a devastating thing to do to a community. Right now we don't have a lot for charter schools in between.
Chairman Goodling. Before I call on Dr. Fletcher, why don't the students stand up, turn around three times and sit down. I know your stomachs must be growling.
Mr. Fletcher. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding this hearing. I apologize for being late.
We don't have much experience in Kentucky with charter schools. Personally, I would like to see us have a little more experience. Let me ask you, Dr. Bulkley, what is your experience with what causes charter schools to struggle, how can that be prevented, and how can we take a look at making them more available?
Ms. Bulkley. I am getting all of the tough questions here.
I think that the reality is, and this is the absolute traditional academic talking, there is a whole lot more we need to learn about what is enabling schools to function well and to provide quality education. I think that is true with traditional public schools as well as charter schools. There are still a lot of things that we need to learn. In terms of what causes schools to struggle, I think the clearest answer to that is the issue of organizational viability, that just creating a new entity and having all of the pieces in place with facilities, staffing, with the fiscal side. That is where most schools are struggling. It is only after a school has been operating for several years, in most cases, that they are really in a position to focus on the educational program.
I think that is probably different in some of the newer schools that we are seeing, which are being opened by for profit companies that come in more experienced than the mom and pop start-ups that we initially saw. They may be more able to quickly apply their knowledge to the educational program.
In terms of how we create more of them, if that is your goal, I think that is pretty clear. We create more of them by writing certain kinds of legislation rather than other kinds of legislation. What the impact on quality is is less clear. Does legislation that - state legislation that leads in Arizona to a very large number of schools, does that have an implication for the quality of the schools in that state?
I think that is something that we need to learn more about. I think there is a lot of anecdotal information right now but not the kind of systematic information that I as a researcher would feel comfortable saying this kind of legislation leads to good schools and this kind doesn't.
I would say if you look at the state of Massachusetts, which is often held up as a model, they have a much more limited number of schools. But the process that they put through the application, the application process and the monitoring process, I think one can have a higher level of confidence in the kind of schools that comes out in a state in that kind of situation than one can in another state. I wouldn't say that that does not mean that we don't have quality in a lot of states.
Mr. Fletcher. Would you say, Dr. Bulkley, to make sure that I understand, that there are no studies demographically matched for students in charter schools versus public schools that look at test scores, achievement and those sorts of measuring entities?
Ms. Bulkley. There is to my knowledge one such study. That study is currently in the final phases before being released. My understanding is that there have been some methodological challenges in regards to that research.
Mr. Fletcher. Do you have any idea what early results are coming out of that study?
Ms. Bulkley. I was sent the study in draft form and because I understood that there were some methodological problems, I thought I would wait to look at it until it came out in a way that I felt what I was reading was going to be informative.
Mr. Fletcher. We will wait to see that then.
Mr. Grimes, I don't know if your experience - parental involvement is very important and you obviously seem to be parents that are very, very involved. Was your experience different in the charter schools versus public schools, of the charter school being friendlier? What do they do to encourage parental participation? Other folks may also answer the question.
Mr. Grimes. I went to D.C. public schools up until the eighth grade and then I went to a Catholic boarding school. There are a lot of parents who are not involved with the school itself because - one reason is because a lot of parents these days think that the school is supposed to educate their children, is responsible for their education. We believe that we are responsible for their education. We pick a school that is doing the kinds of things that we want for our children. That is basically our approach to the school.
The charter school in which we are a part of, Edison-Friendship, the thing that got me was the quarterly contract. I talked about it before. It was the quarterly contract and the excitement, which was created by the principal and the staff themselves. This quarterly contract makes you - I mean it actually makes you come in, talk to the teacher, and with the student, find out how the student is doing, and what he has to do to improve. Everybody knows all of those things right there. When you are finished with that, you should be in a position, when I say you, the parents, are in a position to know what the expectations are from the school and from the teacher, they should be congruent with their own expectations, and they can support them. Now they can support the teacher and his - with their job, his or her job, and the teacher can know exactly who the parents are and what they expect for their child. And they have telephones in their room. If you have a problem, call them up. If you want to, we have a common network in the computer. If you have something to say, e-mail the teacher, e-mail the principal. They will get back to you and they will call you if you call them. So we are very comfortable. That is what makes us comfortable.
Ms. Olinga. I would like to address that. Our charter school has struggled with parental involvement and I think one of the things that we did this year that is different, because we can be more creative, is when we enrolled a child, we told the parent you have a mandatory orientation. We raised the bar of expectation for the parents. Our parents showed up and went through orientation and they are fulfilling their obligations in terms of volunteer hours and that sort of thing. We are seeing more parental involvement because it is not only what we expect, but it is what we demand. If you want your child to go to this school, these are the things that we expect from parents. These are the things that we will do from a charter school perspective.
Ms. Ford. In Phoenix, I think we see the same thing. Our parents come to us because they tell us teachers never called them back in the public schools. They tell us that they never knew how their children were doing in the public schools and they weren't welcome at the schools. Aside from accountability and test scores and fiscal difficulties, parents accept many of the issues we address just because they feel welcome at our schools. And I don't know of any charter school that could get away with anything less than that.
Mr. Feinberg. We are not redefining parent involvement, but parental support. The emphasis is on the most expectation. Parental involvement is such an ambiguous phrase that most schools struggle with what it means. What does it mean to involve parents? What Edison-Friendship has done is to lay out clearly what are the expectations of that parental support that the parents are going to get the kids there on time in the morning and the kids are at home at night. They are going to make sure that the kids have a quiet place with a light to get their homework done and they will come to the school when they need to. When you look at parental support, the expectations become very clear, and that is what we have been able to do.
Chairman Goodling. Dr. Bulkley, I have one additional research project for you. Talk about government involvement, we spend $140 billion on title I. Our high expectations were that somehow we would close the achievement gap for the disadvantaged, and the opposite has happened. So the next time you have an opportunity to do some research I suggest that you give us those answers because it sure did fail, and that was a government with high expectations but it didn't happen.
Well, I want to thank all of you, and also for your patience. As I said at the beginning, this is a crazy time in the Congress of the United States. Those who are running again want to be out there campaigning and we still have 13 appropriations bills that the president has to sign, and I believe the end of the fiscal year is Friday night at midnight. If the students would honor me and very quickly come up behind me so that I could have a picture, I would appreciate it. Then you will be ready to dine again.
I want to thank the panel for coming, for your testimony, and for your patience.
[Whereupon, at 11:51 a.m., the committee was adjourned.]