Fourth question from the OEA Endorsement Questionnaire with my response:
What do you see as the effects of charter schools on OUSD students? What do you believe should be the relationship between OUSD and the charter sector?
Charter schools were first sold to us as a few experimental schools that the public schools would learn from. But in Oakland, 30% of students go to charter schools, which is destabilizing our ability to have neighborhood schools. The schools have become a marketplace where charter and public schools compete, but it is not a fair competition since many charter schools do not serve students with special needs, newcomer students, and other subgroups that require more resources to support, at the same rate that our public schools do.
I commit not to vote for any new charter schools in Oakland. I will also ask our charter office to hold renewals to a high standard, pushing charter schools to offer more programs to serve students with special needs, or to join the OUSD SELPA (special education local plan area) so they are contributing their fair share towards the cost of special education for the district. Currently, most charters belong to the El Dorado County SELPA as a way of dodging those costs.
I will also work with our legislators to level the playing field between OUSD and the charter sector, on issues such as requiring charters to participate in our SELPA, or on Prop 39 reform (see below).
I also believe we should seek a path, either legislatively or by negotiating with charter school organizations, to convince some charter schools (with a carrot and stick approach) to join the district as regular OUSD schools.
Part of this means not villainizing all of the human beings in charter schools. Too often it sounds like we are blaming the parents, teachers or students at those schools for the situation. This alienates people who are our friends and neighbors, and percolates into attitudes between students. We need to recognize that this is a systems issue and not personalize it in a divisive way.
We also need to recognize that a campaign to abolish all charter schools will not be successful because many are deeply rooted in our community. Instead, we need to deny renewals to the ones that are not serving our community well, and create a path to gradually incorporate the others into our district as public schools.
There are some charter schools that are trying to do right by students with special needs, and the exception proves the rule that other charters could also be doing more. For example, I visited Community School for Creative Education, which uses the Waldorf method, where 14% of students have IEPs. Of course many of them have mild to moderate needs, but they are also using innovative strategies to work with students who have moderate to severe needs. This is a school which is trying its best to meet the needs of the community, and I believe we can all benefit from some of their methods. Compare this to Yu Ming where only 6% of students have IEPs and less than 15% get free or reduced lunch.