How Peninsula Charter Schools Succeed

Charter School advocates and union leaders discuss their take on the contentious issue of charter schools and specifically how to evaluate teachers.

As the school year fast approaches, many parents and their children are anxiously awaiting word on whether they were accepted off the waiting list to some of the Peninsula’s top charter schools.

Schools such as and the East Palo Alto Charter School are known for low drop-out rates and boast far higher college acceptance numbers than their public school counterparts.

In the much spoken-about 2010 , non-union charter schools are portrayed as the end-all, be-all solution to the issues of underperforming schools.

Patch set out this week to talk to charter school advocates and union leaders about the pros and cons of charter schools and how best to develop them.

Todd Dickson, the former Executive Director of Summit Prep, one of the schools featured in “Waiting for Superman”, described charter schools as having greater autonomy than most schools, giving them the flexibility to try innovative approaches.

Dickson, who is currently working to develop several new charter schools in Nashville, said that one misconception about charter schools is that they do not have to teach all students. Admission is done by process of a random selection lottery.

Another benefit Dickson sees of charter schools is the fact that they have “great control over the hiring and firing of teachers.”

Though Dickson does not see himself as having ‘anti-union’ views, he expressed concern that many unionized public school teachers are judged solely on seniority when it comes to salary increases.

Salary increases, Dickson said, should come from improved performance.

“Public schools give salary increases even if there’s no evidence a teacher is improving,” said Dickson.

Teachers’ salaries at public schools in California can go up to $100,000 per year for senior teachers.

Dickson professed no objection to improving salary with experience, however, he stressed that the more experienced teachers should be required to illustrate how their experience has improved their teaching.

“As you’re a 15 or 17 year teacher making more, I would expect that you demonstrate your value and that the outcomes of your kids are so much better than those of younger teachers,” said Dickson.

Redwood City Teachers Union Head Brett Baird insisted that Teachers Unions have no objections to charter schools provided that they are staffed with unionized teachers.

“I’m all for parents doing right by their kids,” said Baird.

California Teachers Association Spokesperson Mike Myslinsky also expressed no specific objection to charter schools, but voiced skepticism about many of their practices.

In terms of teacher pay, Myslinsky said that teachers’ unions oppose performance based pay because performance is often based on students’ test scores.

“We oppose using standardized test scores when measuring ability,” said Myslinsky, who added that he believed seniority often corresponds with performance.

When it comes to the process by which teachers are held accountable for poor performance, Myslinsky stressed that while teachers unions are also concerned about poor quality teachers, they do not believe the ‘at-will’ employment contracts at non-unionized charter schools will fix that problem.

“Many teachers are dismissed at the whim of a charter school owner without just cause,” said Myslinsky.

But for some charter school principals such as East Palo Alto Charter School’s Sharon Johnson, unions are not needed because teachers’ points-of-view are listened to and often put into practice by the administration.

“Teachers have a voice directly here in decisions,” said Johnson, whose graduating classes have a 100% acceptance rate to colleges.

Johnson added that teacher pay at East Palo Alto Charter School is competitive with other schools in the region, and that the mostly young teaching staff is given ample opportunity to develop more teaching skills throughout their tenure.

For the California Teachers Association, however, teacher compensation is as much about preserving a middle class lifestyle as it is about rewarding performance.

“Teachers should be able to afford to live in the districts they teach in,” said Myslinsky.

“There are many teachers in Palo Alto or San Mateo or Burlingame who cannot afford to live there.”

Editor's Note: The original article included North Star Academy--and noted it was a magnet school--in this article. However, it was removed due to the inaccurate inclusion as a charter school.


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Liz Ditz August 05, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Adam Swart, what gave you the impression that North Star Academy is a charter school?
Liz Ditz August 05, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that, for a k-12 teacher to be a member of the CTA, the teacher must have a teaching credential. Like many (most) private schools, administrators would prefer to hire a teacher who had a Master's or PhD in a subject (math or chemistry, for example) over a teacher who had a bachelor's degree in math or chemistry and a teaching credential. In other words, some of the opposition to unionized teachers has to do with their relative credentials.
deborah henken August 05, 2012 at 05:30 PM
My son attended a Redwood City charter school. My experience is that there are pros and cons. Teachers may have Masters or PHds, but that does not mean they know how to teach. There was considerable turnover with my son losing two Spanish teachers and one advisor in three years. They need to understand how to teach the disinterested, the B students and the excelling ones. Often, teaching was at a lowest common denominator, with the A and B students bored. Just to have expertise in a subject doesn't mean expertise in teaching.
Tim O'Leary August 05, 2012 at 06:33 PM
My daughter attended Summit and was "overjoyed" with her experience. K-8 was a "private" school and her decision was to leave and go to Summit. In the fall she will graduate from UC Davis and still talks to people at Summit about her experience!
Joan J. Strong August 05, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Every concerned citizen should read about what is happening in Los Altos. A charter school is ripping apart our community at the seams. You can read about it here: http://BullisCharterScam.org/ I am a parent in the Los Altos school district whose school is under attack by a charter school. We are facing a potential shut down of our top-ranked school. Twelve months ago I knew nothing about charter schools or education policy. The potential closure of my children's school was a wake-up call and I have since educated myself--and become an online activist. You can read my blog here: http://BullisCharterSchoolThoughts.blogspot.com/ Charters are bad policy. Don't believe everything you read in the shiny marketing brochures.
Ann Larkin August 06, 2012 at 12:34 AM
I’ve subbed at charter schools, and a teacher I knew personally, wouldn't tell me how "little" he earned. It's good to have the flexibility of charter schools, but I’ve observed the many extra hours that teachers are mandated to put in as part of the charter school culture. In poorer districts teachers in both public and charter have to deal with not enough text books, (despite lawsuits and laws) old or no technology and students with challenges that far exceed the resources of just a teacher. It is as if we are repeating the short sightedness of Easter Island, only were not cutting down the trees that support our future, were cutting off the educational funding, short changing our future. Charters sometimes arise because of lack of funding for public schools to serve the students as they wish they could. Teachers in both settings are carrying the load of society on their backs, while being expected to pay for it out of their own pockets in middle class and lower class schools. One school's computer lab puddled up during rains. I think the schooling system that failed was the one that raised the adults and leaders of today. What kind of society would treat its young so poorly? The same society that won't fund public trans. or get out of their cars to keep the air clean? We need more reporting on the facts of what’s going on, re. teacher conditions at charters, and the whole ed. situation in general. Unions need to step up also, and so do we.
JUDITH IMPERIALE August 06, 2012 at 01:59 AM
North Star is not a charter school . It is part of the Redwood City School District.
Tia Creighton Knuedler August 06, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Yeah, how did that slip through??? North Star Academy is not a charter school. It does however act like something very separate from the RCSD in that it isn't open to all students. It actively recruits students with high test scores and high grades from all the other schools in the Redwood City School District; requires an entrance exam; and takes only those students in the district who “measure up.” This practice by a public school of recruiting, testing and then enrolling only the so-called “academically advanced” is the practice of skimming and elitism. Testing and then admitting only the so-called “best” students borders on segregation and discrimination. The school is 64 percent white in a district that is 72 percent Hispanic. I question whether North Star's model is even legal under the Equal Education Opportunities Act. I certainly resent that my California tax dollars are paying for this school.
Stacie Chan (Editor) August 06, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Thanks everyone for pointing that out. The Editor's Note notes the edit that was made. North Star was identified as a magnet school, but incorrectly included in this group of charter schools.
Tia Creighton Knuedler August 06, 2012 at 11:55 PM
North Star is NOT a magnet school either, as magnet schools are dead in California. North Star is classified as a "public elementary school." Please set the record straight. Check the California Department of Education database http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/details.asp?cds=41690056115026&public=Y What it IS is an oasis for panicky parents. It is a private school in the public school system. Families who attend do so hoping to escape some of the possibly negative effects of low-performing students in schools that accommodate a more diverse population. It is one of the worst things that has ever happened to the RCSD. Hope to see it disappear or be drastically modified soon.
Judi Mahoney August 10, 2012 at 07:32 AM
Good parents should do everything they can to escape most RCSD public schools. Kennedy annually, has pregnant middle schoolers. There is nothing like being on yard duty at break and seeing some girls pat the belly of a comrade telling her she is soo lucky to be having a baby. Welfare check on the way---just like mommy.
Mary McLinden August 12, 2012 at 10:12 AM
I thought that charter schools ARE public schools?
Merrily August 13, 2012 at 05:23 AM
When did you DO yard duty at Kennedy?? We do not regularly have pregnant girls here! After 20 years here, there have been less than a handful!! Please Judi, quit bad mouthing MY school with your falsehoods!! Thank you, Merrily Robinson (former student & teacher for the past 20 years here)
Judi Mahoney August 16, 2012 at 06:48 AM
Someone needs to check the duty roster handed out in the first meeting binders. Lol!!!! Just because my truths are your "falsehoods" does NOT mean you have a right to silence others. Thought we had a forum here--protected by the first amendment.
Merrily August 17, 2012 at 04:33 AM
"Someone needs to check the duty roster handed out in the first meeting binders." Is this what you do at our school? Never the less, I wasn't EXACTLY meaning to "silence" you or others, just asking that you not exaggerate 'your truths'! Thank you, Merrily
Linda September 19, 2012 at 07:29 AM
If you don't like the Northstar concept, how would you propose to adequately teach academically advanced kids?
Mary McLinden September 19, 2012 at 08:24 AM
In much the same way as there are resource programs for other children who learn differently, couldn't there also be "resource" programs for children who move faster academically within the regular system? I remember when I was a kid, we had something like that... what ever happened to GATE?
Tia Creighton Knuedler September 21, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Um...put them in school with all the other kids in the world.
Mona March 01, 2013 at 02:43 AM
I have found the most anti-NSA parents are those whose kids don't get in the school. While I don't believe in segregation, I do believe that having a child sit in a classroom for 7 hours per day with kids who can't read and add single digits is a complete waste of time. TIG is not enough to satisfy the needs of academic-hungry kids. Maybe NSA is not the ideal solution but lumping vastly different learnings together nd teaching to the lowest common denominator isn't either.
Tia Creighton Knuedler March 02, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Well, Mona, you've just found yourself a parent who is anti-North Star whose child was invited to test and who chose *not* to test. There are such parents out there, but since you clearly live in a bubble, you wouldn't know that. We wiped our you-know-whats with that invitation and threw it in the garbage pail. Of course you believe in segregation. North Star is a school that is 64% white in a district that is 72% Hispanic. That is segregation.


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