Letters for August 19, 2010

Pros, cons on charter schools

Re “The new segregation” (Cover story, by Leslie Layton, Aug. 12):

This is a disappointingly one-sided look at Chico’s charter schools. Layton’s article, and the UCLA Civil Rights Project report referenced in it, are based on assumptions and incomplete data, and solely focus their findings on demographics and “exposure” to diversity, rather than the academic performance of charter-school students. This approach is overly simplistic and reflects the same thinking that has proven to be especially unsuccessful for the majority of children of color for decades.

California charter schools are very diverse, have open enrollment, and offer innovative programs that focus on providing high-quality education for all students—regardless of race, color, ethnicity, language, or ability. Our approach is paying off, as African-American and Latino student achievement is better than in traditional public schools on any comparison, be it by state, by district, and particularly by neighborhood.

Charter-school growth over the past decade has been propelled by educators and parents who are themselves opening their own charters in both urban and rural areas because they believe charters will provide their children with better educational outcomes. The charter movement shares the goals of diverse schools and communities as a social good, and we are working to ensure that our schools have greater diversity. But our first concern is on educational excellence wherever children in need may reside.

Laura Kerr
Regional director, Northeastern California
California Charter Schools Association

As a parent of a child with mild “special needs,” I am encouraged by the attention drawn to this issue of Chico’s charter schools failing the special-needs population. Help the severely disabled? Some of Chico’s charter schools don’t even attempt to help the mildly disabled.

I have shared many a story with traumatized parents whose children diagnosed with ADHD, mild autism, speech disorders, etc., were intimidated into leaving their charter school. The spiel usually goes like this: “We aren’t ‘set up’ to help your child. Perhaps this is not the best setting for you.” I wish it weren’t true, but I myself have overheard directly conversations between teachers where they have stated exactly that if they could just tell the parents they are unprepared to deal with a child, they wouldn’t have to “work” with them.

It’s high time for these “bubble” schools to be held accountable and serve all of our students. No more clique schools funded with our tax dollars.

Stephanie Barthelow

Leslie Layton’s critical examination of Chico charter schools deserves commendation and continued discussion. The hope of charter schools in injecting innovative teaching and learning practices into the public-school arena is often lost when one considers the cost of this so-called “choice” in intensifying racial, linguistic and socioeconomic segregation in our nation’s public schools and, according to Layton, in Chico.

Layton is wise to consider multiple sides of the issue, notably parents and kids who want to see more innovation in their schools and teachers who want more autonomy in deciding what to teach. However, if charter schools do not bear the same responsibility as the public schools in serving all students, particularly those who are traditionally underserved and those whose education bears a greater financial cost to the public schools in the form of needed compensatory programs such as English-language development or special education, then they are reproducing the same inequalities many hope to tackle.

Let me be clear here. Some public schools may have a lot further to go in terms of meeting the needs of all learners, particularly culturally and linguistically diverse learners, but the public schools’ de jure mandate and public mission to serve all students is more explicit and clear.

Charter schools need greater oversight from local public school districts and a charge to commit themselves to reflecting the demographic realities of the communities they draw from. Additionally, requirements for parental volunteerism or other potential barriers to access must be lifted or amended, as they act as barriers for working-class or working-poor parents who have little available time to donate.

Maris Thompson
Department of Education
CSU Chico

Leslie Layton’s biased hit piece on charter schools was short on balance and filled with misrepresentations and innuendo. Comparing CCDS to Chapman Elementary on diversity and then comparing CCDS to Shasta on test scores is simply sensationalist reporting in order to make CCDS and charter schools in general look bad. I’m proud of the positive impact of charter schools in our community, even if Layton and the CUSD refuse to acknowledge their benefits.

I wish Layton were willing to visit CCDS with an open mind to see many of the good things that are happening at the school. Classrooms at CCDS are breeding grounds for innovative approaches and techniques. The thematic approach is just one of the many effective tools being used by CCDS teachers. Friday afternoons CCDS teachers meet to develop innovative approaches and plan connections between grades or share experiences about teaching tools used. It is sad that Layton and the CUSD administrators see innovative teaching approaches as elitist rather than explore them as effective tools that could be applied across the district.

I just returned home from the first “all school clean” at CCDS where nearly 50 parents and kids were working for a few hours on a Saturday morning to clean the school. Can all parents do this? No. Is it great that some can and choose to? Absolutely!

Layton surely knows that when parents are involved in a child’s education, the school, kids and the community all win. Unfortunately she chooses to demonize a school that encourages parental involvement rather than discuss ideas to get more parents involved at all Chico schools.

Matt Meuter

I am aware of the difference between the charter and public school system. My children have been in both. You have mentioned some pros and cons. One of the cons my 10-year-old daughter was up against was that the school that she was assigned to by the district concentrated on students whose English was a second language. My daughter has scored very high in English in STAR testing. Why should I put her in a classroom of children whose focus is English when she has high reading scores?

Math is her weakest subject. Her needs were not being met because she was the “minority.” It goes both ways. That is why we are in a charter, because my daughter can focus on “her” weakest subject instead of everyone else’s.

Melissa Brown

Shame on you for diminishing my daughter’s spirit of unlimited achievement by reducing her expression of possibility to a mere cliché. It is, in my humble opinion, the refusal to accept anything short of that spirit that has created the stagnation that presently plagues our schools. Segregationists we are … not! Regan, you make me very proud!

Kevin Murray

This is not about segregation—it’s about the unions. Get rid of the unions, and you can have your music, art, etc. They (unions) are just trying to create a distraction as usual, crying “segregation.” It comes down to parent involvement. Parents should volunteer at all schools; it betters the school by putting the cost into education instead of the unions.

Why would you rely on the government to teach your children everything? Teach them yourself. Children should be learning diversity, morals and language from home. We as parents need to accept personal responsibility and quit expecting kids to get their entire education from somewhere other than the home front.

Billie Beckett
Elk Grove

I welcome Leslie Layton’s story on the charter-school movement. I’d like to point out three areas where I believe that she missed the true promise of charter schools:

1. Diversity over divisiveness. Pick any two schools in Chico, traditional or charter, and you will find differences in teaching focus, in socioeconomics, in language and culture. Like biodiversity, educational diversity is healthy. Ranting that Chapman is not the same as Chico Country Day fosters a divisiveness that devalues the extraordinary work of professionals at both schools. Teachers and staff at all schools (public/private, charter/district) are doing what is arguably the most important work there is—and they should be acknowledged for this every day.

2. Cooperation over competition. In these tough economic times, the changing landscape of education can be particularly scary. But we must not forget that as educators, parents, and community members, we are on the same side: We want the best education for all of the children of Chico. The fiscal challenge that charters pose to the district is one of short- and long-term planning—and for this challenge, cooperation is a far superior model than competition.

3. Education over bureaucracy. The Ed Code is a monster. While well-intentioned district administrators envy the freedom from regulations that charters experience, they know that these same regulations are the lifeblood of district bureaucracy. What a paradox! Charter schools are able to operate with leaner administrations largely because there are fewer rules to administer. And less regulation means greater opportunities for innovation. And that, more often than not, translates to better education for kids and better quality of work life for teachers and staff.

So please, let us set aside divisiveness, finger-pointing, and the need for fear-driven competition. We must work together to make Chico schools great for every student and every employee.

Kent Sandoe Chairman,
Chico Green School

As the mother of an African-American student at CCDS, all I can tell you is that my son has never felt “segregated” in any way, shape or form. I wonder why the author used “Regan” as the student to speak about. … My guess is that it evokes images of a president that many in this area disapprove of. I am very disappointed that more time was not spent with children of color who attend CCDS. Maybe the author of this article would have learned something about acceptance!

Simonie Webster

Thank you for your article. I have to agree that it seems as though Chico Country Day is headed down the separate-but-equal road. As I was reading I was thinking about something my 13-year-old said regarding my interest in enrolling my 6-year-old in CCDS: One friend had gone to that school for two years and hated it because of the obvious differences regarding socioeconomic status, including a major difference in tolerance of one’s beliefs.

If you listen to the kids you will learn what is really going on. They know they don’t feel accepted or welcomed, and their differences are what labels them at school. It is hard to decide on a school that provides excellent academics but lacks acceptance. One is not more important than the other, and at some point it becomes personal responsibility as a parent to make sure your child gets what he or she needs. Is it wrong for me to want my tax dollars to provide a quality education in which my child learns about working together with all people as a norm instead of a courtesy?

CCDS is located in a diverse area. I suggest they invite the neighborhood children to enroll, immediately. They would do good by welcoming the neighborhood they are located in. A bilingual outreach person has no control or pull over their enormous lottery.

How great would CCDS be if it welcomed diversity and became a school that helped low-income families to change the cycle of poverty with prepared and educated youth? That would be a school worthy of a front-page cover story!

Pravinda L. Lal

What more can CCDS do to bring others to the school? They’ve done community outreach, have contacted the surrounding neighborhoods, and have allotted a certain number of spaces for a larger percentage of neighborhood children. It sounds to me like they are trying to be as fair as possible.

Your remark about public schools is quite off target. ESL students tend to look for the ESL program through Rosedale, so how many other public schools have a similar mix of ESL students as CCDS? Also, why didn’t you comment on the mix of students at Shasta? They represent the Keefer Road area and have quite a limited mix of students. As far as the 50 volunteer hours is concerned, CCDS has after-hours events to help with, such as bake sales, the annual auction, plays, school clean-up, and helping with arts and crafts preparation from home at any time.

It sounds to me like this is yet another attack from the media to make charter schools into the “bad guy.” When will we see some positive support from the media and school district if charter schools are turning out excellent students as excellent community members? Are we all not looking for the same goal? Do we not want the best for our children? If a few people can’t find/won’t look for the best opportunity for their children, should hundreds of other children not have the opportunity?

Again, California is ranked 47th out of all states on what they spend on our children’s education; ALEC ranks California as 40th in the U.S. for SAT scores. So would I choose a charter school again over public education (since my wife and I have both worked in the public school system for over 12 years)? You bet! Quit beating up on people wanting the best for their kids; if they want to look for the best opportunity for their kids, they have every right.

Brian Teal

Kudos! A fabulous, detailed, very informative article. I cannot praise this work enough for illuminating this issue both at a state and national level, and within our local community.

From my own perspective with a young special-needs son soon to enter the school system, it is nice to have as much information as possible on these choices before I am faced with the daunting decision. I am especially interested to see how the local charter schools will reach out toward parents of special-needs children, and how those children will be incorporated within the charter-school programs.

I heartily approve those measures taken by the schools of advertising in non-English-language settings to help close the diversity gap and help give charter-school students a diverse peer-group experience. I agree that the diversity gap may well be affected if the schools offered transportation, or provided the service of organizing parent carpool sign-ups to help with that.

Please keep these articles coming! Keep us informed as the schools move forward and help us be aware of all our options for our children. Good work!

Christina Tavares

The dark side of pot

It is time that the other side of marijuana use be given some attention. All we seem to hear about is how people need their “medicine.”

I have worked as a therapist for 25 years and specialize in chemical dependency treatment. While pot may have its place for some people in some medical cases, I see people all the time now getting prescriptions for pot because of “migraines” or “chronic pain,” neither of which exists for them but it makes their addiction to pot legal.

The side of it I see is usually from the loved one expressing deep distress because their son just doesn’t move on with his life, or the wife expressing frustration in having to carry the family finances and responsibilities because her mate is stoned most of the time and just doesn’t make it out to look for a job. The addicted person usually thinks there isn’t a problem. I hear, “You don’t want to know me without it. It just mellows me out.”

It is time we wake up and recognize that legalizing pot (which is basically what the medical marijuana law seems to have done) is robbing our community big time. Just in my small piece of the world I see great losses in individual productivity, family closeness, spiritual growth, and community involvement.

It just seems like alcohol and other drugs have done enough damage. Why tout pot as being so innocent and helpful when in fact for many, many people it is not?

Connie Neal
Butte Valley

Frightening the voters

Re “Who caused the deficit?” (Editorial, Aug. 5):

Many economists, Alan Greenspan among them, have publicly stated all the tax cuts should expire, and not just for the wealthy. Your article stated very concisely the issue. I doubt the Democrats can get it together to explain it so simply. I have no doubt the Republicans will, as you say, “… frighten voters to win elections rather than do what is right for the country.”

Bob Brandt

Off to the slaughterhouse

Re “Watch your tongue” (From This Corner, by Robert Speer, July 29):

There are a lot of cowards out there who hide behind anonymity. I’ve been on some of the news blogs and seen some of the most hateful and spiteful comments that, frankly, could only come from people who are so angry and frustrated with their lives that the only happiness they get is spewing venom toward any target that pleases them. Usually, the target is either religion or liberals.

As a kid, I was always told, “If you don’t know all the facts, don’t make a judgment.” On these blogs people take half-truths and statistics without context and blast away at those who do not agree with them as though they are experts on every subject from global warming to obesity to God’s purpose for the human race. They act as though they have all of the answers and everyone else is an idiot.

The trouble is, when cowards get together against a common enemy, they generally turn into a mob easily led like sheep to a truck on its way to a slaughterhouse.

Robert C. Jordan

More Edgar Slough history

Re “A little Edgar Slough history” (Guest comment, by Emily Alma, Aug. 12):

Nice article, except for the reference to Sheriff Robert Anderson. How many readers know that he is the same man who was responsible for massacring hundreds, if not thousands, of the Yana and Yahi Indians who were here before he arrived here in his early 20s?

Anderson was one of a handful of men who made it their mission to alienate every living Native American in Butte County, which included Tehama County at the time. Then to add salt to the wound, he bragged about it in his book! As far as I’m concerned, his name is not worth the ink it takes to write it. And yes, the bastard became Butte County sheriff.

Nile Ferns