The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

8 January 2007

Harder to charter?

What's a charter school like? We have ten charter schools in the Oklahoma City district. Tulsa has three, including the Deborah Brown Community School:

The Deborah Brown Community School, Tulsa’s first charter school, provides an alternative for you and other parents who want to give their children the best possible start in school. The Deborah Brown Community School teaches the total child, focusing on high standards of academic, moral and social behavior. The school promotes self-esteem, ingenuity, creativity and self-reliance, which ultimately contribute to the betterment and uplifting of the community.

Tulsa Public Schools pays Deborah Brown's school about $850,000 a year. All three Tulsa charters outperform the district as a whole, so obviously they've got to go:

The TPS Board will consider a resolution regarding charter schools this Monday evening that will make more Tulsa charter schools impossible.

What's in that resolution? Michael Bates parses it:

  • Renewals of charters with existing schools will be for at most three years, with a provision that funding from the school district will end the minute that the charter schools law is found unconstitutional.

  • Charter renewals won't be considered if the request includes plans to expand the number of students served.

  • No new charter applications will be considered.

And they're hoping that the law is found unconstitutional on technical grounds, since it covers only thirteen school districts. (Similar arguments were made against the law which permits municipal workers to organize, which applied only to cities 35,000 population and above; the state Supreme Court rejected them.)

As a resident of one of those thirteen districts, I'm firmly in favor of keeping, even expanding, the charters, and it's not hard to see why: if they improve the quality of education available in the district, it will make living here in the central city more appealing. Michael Bates explains:

I know many couples who started out in midtown, but as their first child approached school age, they stayed in the city of Tulsa, but moved into the Jenks or Union school district and left midtown behind. They hate to leave behind the shaded streets and the classic homes, but their children's education comes first.

And the regular schools, contrary to popular belief, benefit also:

Charter schools — and more of them — will keep people from moving out of the district, which means the homes are more valuable, which means higher property tax collections from homes. It also means that businesses catering to these families stay in the district, and that helps property tax collections as well. Then, too, more parents and grandparents who are happy with the school district will be more likely to help the passage of future bond issues.

The Oklahoma City charter experience has not been so unequivocally positive as Tulsa's — not all OKC charters are outperforming the district — but there's none of Tulsa's disdain, either.

The Tulsa school board will vote on this resolution tonight. Mark Twain is standing by with a remark about idiots, just in case.

Update: Steven Roemerman (the elder) attended the board meeting; the resolution passed 4-3.

Posted at 7:12 AM to Soonerland


  1. It's kind of hard to take this "all Tulsa charter schools outperform the district as a whole" claim at face value when:

    1. There's no link to any evidence of this (the links merely assert it's true without offering any proof), and

    2. The single charter school to which you link proudly has "Calendar" misspelled on its home page (and every other page - the graphic appears to be in the site template).

  2. I do not discount Michael Bates' personal experience, but as the difficult-to-attribute quote reminds, "the plural of anecdote is not data."

  3. Much like a previous post I can't find right now (about city planning), the bit about how charter schools "will keep people from moving out of the district" appears, once again, to be theory and not proven fact. Where's the data? Is there more than anecdotal evidence from other cities with similar economic status to strongly suggest this is true, or is this one of those things that conservatives just keep saying, like "raising the minimum wage will make people lose their jobs," that's simply unsupported by evidence?

I'm all for improving schools because I'm all against dumb people, and I'm in favor of "school choice" provided it's not a fig leaf for "get away from the icky non-white kids." But can we please have some evidence that this is all working correctly instead of just people asserting it does or does not?

Posted by: Matt at 11:18 AM on 8 January 2007

If you hit "News" at that site, you get a Flash version of a Tulsa World article with pertinent data.

And I swear to God, Matt, you'd look for racial issues in toilet paper if you'd heard that brown bears shit in the woods.

Posted by: CGHill at 12:17 PM on 8 January 2007

heh ... but that WHITE toilet paper does raise the cynic in me.

(btw ... 1)just kidding Matt :) I was wondering about the data as well & 2)thanks for the link to the news article Chaz!)

Posted by: Ron at 2:07 PM on 8 January 2007

As a father of three, I must admit that my neighborhood OKC school does lag significantly behind nearby Putnam City schools in test scores. While I believe the neighborhood is working very hard with the overwhelming population of English language learners, my own children suffer from the consequences of classmates that don't speak English. I saw the difference last year, when I had one child in the OKC school and one in a PC school. The academic climate was so different that we moved the other child to the PC school for this year.

When it comes down to it, I have to be sure that my own children are receiving the best possible opportunity for success in their later academic endeavors, and my neighborhood OKC school couldn't provide it.

I think the charter schools, if properly implemented, can help ensure that all students are having their needs met.

Posted by: scooby214 at 4:25 PM on 8 January 2007

I don't live in Oklahoma, but where I live there are Charter Schools popping up all over the place. My daughter is attending one. She seems to be much happier at the charter school, I think one reason is that she is allowed to work at her own level more, something she was not allowed to do in public school.

Education has definitely been one of the most difficult things we have faced as parents. Our child has a great deal of struggles with learning, it's something I don't think any parent is ever really prepared for.

Posted by: Heather at 12:06 AM on 9 January 2007

Matt, one does not have to 'prove that charter schools work'. One need only notice was competition has wrought in this country, and what happens when it is constrained. How responsive was the telephone company before there was competition? What about the Post Office before FedEx?

Knowing that, it does not matter whether the first charter schools 'succeed' or 'fail'. What matters is leaving the door open for entrepreneurial success to happen - and it WILL happen. Probably it will happen sooner rather than later, but it may not happen with the first attempts at a charter school. If that's the case, let those attempts fail also. Not every company becomes Google, but under the right conditions, a Google happens. Under the wrong conditions, Google never happens.

A monopoly benefits a few. If you let those few dominate the discussion (and they'll try), that door will be shut, and you'll get the school system they feel like giving you.

I'm rooting for your charter schools. Don't let the unions and politicians shut them down. In Jersey, the Teachers' Union monopoly is locked in. Every year, we hear about breakthroughs in reform. After decades of such breakthroughs, every graduate of the Hoboken School System should by now be an Einstein. Guess what...

Oppose the union stranglehold, and you'll be loudly labeled anti-teacher, anti-education. Remember that what you are is anti-monopoly.

Posted by: Mister Snitch! at 12:33 AM on 9 January 2007