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Patty Fischer's Column on Charter Schools

Original post made by Dad of 4, Midtown, on Sep 24, 2007

Sent the following to Patty and MN as a letter to the editor

Thank you for your column on Charter Schools. I have been and continue to be a strong advocate of this concept, based on the opportunity it has provided for families to escape "The System" in school districts where schools are failing to educate the children; and I firmly believe that this purpose of charter schools best serves "The Children".

On the other hand, I was appalled to witness the slow motion disaster last year in Palo Alto, a top-flight, well-funded school district. One where a small entitled set of well-to-do parents with a self-serving agenda, allied with legacy-craving administrators, leveraged the "charter school legislation" against an utterly feckless school board. The unfortunate result of this selfish alliance was the extortion of a new entitlement for the privileged few at the expense of every other child in our district.

This travesty has been one of the key drivers that has energized our family from PTA volunteerism and significant school involvement to active participation in the local school board campaign. It is essential that Palo Alto now elect a school board that is able to not only declare priorities based on value to all the children in the district, but also to defend them in the face of determined special interest attacks. Given the abysmal performance of the incumbent board, and especially its President; we are compelled to tell our children, "For your educational future, ABC stands for "Anyone But Camille"

Comments (27)

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Posted by Agree
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 7:28 am

Yes, it has completely opened my eyes to the unintended negative consequences of something I thought could only be used for good.

I hope that everyone here has opened eyes now, and will write to Mr. Simitian and all the legislature to ask them to fix the loopholes in Charter law that have allowed the morphing of the original intent of Charter laws in this State.

Few people understand the extent it can go to, and so any attempt to modify is going to be called "anti-school choice"...we have to make sure we make it clear that we are for school choice for ALL, not just a few. Giving some a choice which removes the choice of others is wrong.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 7:42 am

and how do you propose giving choice to all?

nice sound bite, but not sound.

choice means an alternative available for parents and children. it's not mandatory. that means not everyone will want it. that means it will only be provided to a limited number.

everyone will be allowed to request it, and thus a lottery if there's more people who want it than available spots.

around all the rhetoric, please use some logic and plain sense of supply and demand.

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Posted by aw, c'mon
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 12:33 pm

I always find it interesting when someone disagrees with a idea they call it "rhetoric" and denigrate it.

It is, in fact, entirely possible to give EVERYONE their choice, AND establish fundamental ground rules for what a public education should provide. It is completely false to assume there is no ability to do this, so that the only solution is to keep creating win-lose situations.

But, if there is no commitment to this vision, there will be no solution.

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Posted by Pro Choice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 12:49 pm

"AND establish fundamental ground rules for what a public education should provide."

I'm sure there are many who would agree with this. Yet, in some sense, that is exactly what districts already do: create a limited menu of educational offerings.

The fact is that these menus do not meet the educational needs of all families, and that is one reason we have a charter law. It is a way of forcing districts to listen to parents.

In the case of MI, the law worked as it should. The net result is increased choice for PAUSD parents.

Like this comment
Posted by here we go again
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 12:51 pm

Need, not desire.

Nobody NEEDS MI.

Like this comment
Posted by Also Pro-Choice in Education
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 12:52 pm

To Pro-Choice: so am i..the choice of each of us to go to our neighborhood school if we wish, or go to another "choice" school if we wish. No lotteries determining which kind of education your child gets..parent choice.

Sign me ...

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:10 pm

No, the law did not work as intended. Charters, not the threat of charters, are supposed to give choice. We now have a choice program that will cause hardship at the school where it's slated and is unwanted by the families already there.

MI is an okay idea but wrong place, wrong time. It will take up valuable resources while serving a very small number of children.

Mandarin is widely and inexpensively available already.

I think there was an attempt to pass a law that allowed boards to take in financial hardhsip as a reason for nixing charters. It passed the legislature, but was vetoed by Schwarzenegger.

I think a charter is the real MI solution. HOWEVER, we need the financing laws to be fixed so that basic-aid districts aren't financially hit.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:48 pm

By the way, the charter laws allow for parents to have all the choice they want, without any need to decimate, or to threaten to decimate existing excellent school districts.

Students in California are allowed to attend any charter school in Calfornia. A charter can exist anywhere, and any California resident can attend that charter.

In other words, Palo Alto parents can start a Mandarin Charter school in Mt. View! In East Palo Alto! in Redwood City! In Los Angeles! In San Francisco! Anywhere! Doesn't have to be Palo Alto!

There is absolutely no need for the charter laws to say we favor charters at all costs, and EVERY PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT MUST succumb to decimation in order for charter system to work. The charter law could just as easily say we favor charters AND we protect districts that can prove they are working and providing an excellent standard education to the super majority of its students. Those districts are immune from the charter requirements (if they wish to be so). And if there are still students in those district dissatisfied, they have the open option to go to charters!

Because no parents rights to attend a charter, or to start a charter are harmed in any way by allowing high performing school districts to stay in tact by opting out of charters.

It would be a simple change - a single sentence added to the charter laws that allow high performing school districts (as defined by some achievemnet level, some standardized test peformance level, some % of choice, etc.) to decline charter applications. Simple!

We need politicians starting at the grass roots level and working all the way up, that can start to change the charter laws to allow public schools and charter schools to co-exist without harming working public school districts.

And the people who are out there to exploit and abuse the charter laws, and use PAUSD as a pawn in their power grab - shame on you.

Like this comment
Posted by dadof4
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2007 at 3:54 pm

I actually thought that a charter was a reasonable stucture for MI, although I never quite understood why the existing private schools were not satisfactory. The proponents could invest their own time, effort and dollars in getting it started. If it attracted enough interest from in-district attendees, some of the costs would be covered, and it would not intrude on or distract the existing schools.

My problem with the process was that in all the actions and conversation it came off not as a sincere initiative, but as more of an extortionate ploy on the part of the MI partisans. An unfortunately, our school board at that time did not have the backbone to allow it to succeed or fail as a charter.

Now MI is an entitlement, for the priviledged few, who feel it is valuable enough to take from the other children in PA, but not valuable enough to send their children to one of the existing private programs.

Like this comment
Posted by Pro Choice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2007 at 4:45 pm

The charter laws are intended, partly, to increase choice (not merely remedy failing districts) for families whose educational needs are not being met, and that is what happened here. No room for complaint. I understand that these laws are a thorn in the side of entrenched interests, but that is their point.

So we have another choice program--so what? Many districts have choice programs.

In a few years, the district will have another full-fledged choice program, and all this will be forgotten.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2007 at 4:55 pm

Patty Fisher should have thought of this when she was contributing to the cause.

NOW she cry's foul. But heaven forbid she would have acknowledged any of the other fouls that were occuring along the way at the hands of this same group that pulled off the charter threat tactic. No, back then it was that we were all racists because we were (gasp) against specialty programs that benefit a few. Patty will be lucky if she isn't lumped in with us now that she's singing a different tune.

Like this comment
Posted by dadof4
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2007 at 5:09 pm

Pro-Choice - If by "entrenched special interests", you mean the palo alto families who send their children to the public -vs- private schools, who volunteer significant time and money to those schools, and who care deeply about the success of the children in the schools, I guess you are right. This is a thorn in our side. One we feel deeply about.

If there is some other special interest you are referring to, I would be interested to know who that would be.

In terms of the "so what" - I don't think that the cost of this decision has not really started to emerge

- I strongly suspect that participation levels in PIE will be significantly down in this and future years. I can state categorically that none of our family's money will ever go to PIE again. on one hand, it is just one family; one the other, every family lost counts.

- Willingness to volunteer - In the past, our family has invested our time in multiple district wide initiatives (In addition to what we do at "our" schools). Other than working for speficic BoE candidates, this has stopped. Our hundreds of hours per year will now be dedicated to specific schools rather than district boondoggles.

- I think that the district will have a huge problem passing any further funding measures. The bond and\or parcel tax measures have been very close in past elections and many of the families that took a very active role in the prior success now have zero interest in helping. It is not just the lost single vote. It is the lost neighborhood canvasser and school cheerleader for investment that benefits all the children.

You can of cousrse easily dismiss this a single crackpot family. On the other hand, in my comversations with multiple families at elementary, middle, and high school levels (where I tend to listen rather than speak), this is a very common position among what have historically been active families in this district.

And, no, I don't think the district will ever have another choice program. I think while the MI partisans have "gotten theirs", they have poisioned the well for any chance of this in the future.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2007 at 5:39 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by pa mom
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2007 at 5:43 pm

Dadof4 - you can count us in as one of those historically active families on nearly every front you mentioned, for the past 9 years. I'm putting my energy, what's left of it, into my kid's schools and those things that will benefit their education, with the caveat that this could certainly change if I see more transparency and accountability at the district level, and FLES at the elementary level.

BTW, I'll be spending for the first time $800 on after school Spanish for my two kids. If FLES existed, this would be additional money I would be willing to donate to PIE.

Like this comment
Posted by dadof4
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2007 at 6:09 pm

pa mom - Thanks for the also speaking up.

I think the most positive action we, and families like ours, can take it to elect a new slate for the school board who (as best we can tell) have the vision and backbone to return our district to its place as one of the best in california for all the students.

For me, this means not voting for any of the participants in last years slow rolling fiasco.

Like this comment
Posted by Pro Choice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2007 at 10:01 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Your comments only make sense if you believe that having another choice program is a bad thing. For those of us who are pro choice, it is a good thing and not "dragging the district through the mud."

You find it easy to dismiss the educational needs of your neighbors, thus illustrating why having choice programs is important.

Like this comment
Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Sep 26, 2007 at 10:30 pm

Pro Choice, would you please answer a simple question? Do you view lottery programs as entirely 100% positive with absolutely no detrimental effects, or do they have some negative aspects which may impact others?

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2007 at 10:47 pm


Choice schools are the same as neighborhood schools. There's good and bad, they teach kids, they take up space, there's good teachers and bad teachers.

So, I believe choice programs are not 100% positive, the same as neighborhood schools are not 100% positive.

YAP, I infer that you think choice programs are more detrimental than neighborhood schools. Well, I disagree. And I don't think we will convince each other otherwise. And I think that the board and the community likewise have strong supporters of both sides.

So, recognize the reality of respectful disagreement and look towards some balance and compromise.

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:53 am


I think you say it well. Obviously, I think choice programs can work well, but there has to be some sort of balance. True "choice" means that families should be able to choose to go to their neighborhood school and actually get in. I think kids shouldn't get bumped across town and I don't think kids should get bumped from their neighborhood school because there's a choice program there--as people are claiming happened with Escondido.

Choice programs are meant to attract families to a district. It's bizarre to add a choice program when overenrollment's such a problem. To do so, means setting up a choice v. neighborhood situation.

The schools can work together and form a synergy, but not when there's no balance being struck, which is, of course, the MI situation.

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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Sep 27, 2007 at 1:00 am

Resident (are you 'Pro Choice'?), I wrote you a longer rebuttal type reply then changed my mind. Let me try a different tack. You wrote, “recognize the reality of respectful disagreement and look towards some balance and compromise.”
How do you propose someone who disagreed with the board’s vote should look towards balance and compromise? What does that mean to you? What are you looking for from the people who were opposed, and what can you offer in terms of balance and compromise?
(Incidentally, you misunderstand my position.)

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2007 at 3:16 pm

If you want a program (choice program) that you are denied - that is unjust.

But if parents across the community are denied the right to send children to schools in their own neighborhood because of a preferential treatment for 'choice' programs - that's fair. Because at least that way YOU get what YOU want. Is that how it works?

I'm not following the logic. Choice that creates choice for one group and removes choice for another, hardly sounds like choice. It sounds like forced march.

Like this comment
Posted by Lisa Steinback
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 10, 2007 at 7:12 pm

I just wanted to point out that Ohlone and Hoover (choice programs) offer the same curriculum as the neighborhood schools, but teach the material in a different way. I don't think kids receive anything less, in terms of content, whether they attend a neighborhood school or Ohlone, for instance. The difference with SI and MI is that those students are getting content (ie. a foreign language) that the other students at neighborhood schools don't get. Our current board keeps trying to use the analogy that not everyone takes glass-blowing in high school but that the district still offers this "choice." This analogy is flawed because in elementary school there are no electives and all children should receive the same content. That's the real issue for me.

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Posted by Lisa Steinback
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 10, 2007 at 7:22 pm

The prior comments related to the school board race are very important. Comments have been made about poor decision-making that has gone on at the Board. I ditto that. Patty Fisher's column on the charter school threat to successful districts is well-founded, as we all know. During this school board race there have been numerous candidate forums. However, the questions have been presorted and cherry-picked. The moderators of these forums are taking out the tougher questions and choosing instead to ask questions like "What chores do your children do at home?"
The public has got to demand that all candidates answer the tough questions. The five on the top of my list are:

1) Given the recent events regarding charter schools within the district, do you favor charter schools for PAUSD? If yes, why? If not, why not, and what would you do to protect the district?

2) Do you believe the PAUSD strategic plan should address defining the district’s position on choice programs, neighborhood schools and charters? If so, how?

3) Do you feel we effectively track the performance of existing choice programs? If not, how would you improve program tracking?

4) Under what circumstances would you recommend eliminating existing choice programs within PAUSD?

5) What do you see as the role of private donations or government grants in relation to the strategic plan and curriculum or choice programs?

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Posted by Are you sure??
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2007 at 7:29 am

I can't believe it is is it possible that any moderator would be allowed to "cherry pick" at any of the Forums? What do you base this on?

How can we verify or refute this? PTAC?

I hope you are wrong, Lisa. If not, I will start working to pull any school sponsorship of sham Forums, because then it amounts to biased politics on school campuses...completely against any State and National PTA rules.

Like this comment
Posted by 3 new board members
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 11, 2007 at 9:58 am

To: Are you sure??
I said this on another thread where someone posted that the moderators deliberately chose "anti-MI" questions at the League of Women Voters/PTA Council forum, e.g., asking Camille what three board decisions she is most proud of. Aside from the obvious fact that this is only an anti-MI question if the moderators believed that she would rather struggle to remember three non-MI decisions than proudly declare that she was instrumental in bringing this wonderful program to the district, this is a really unfair assertion to make.

The moderators of the LWV forum, Erwin Morton and Barb Spreng, definitely did not cherry pick questions, and in fact had difficulty getting enough questions together in the earlier part of the debate. Erwin and Barb let the chore question go through, but it was the League's moderator who decided to ask it of all candidates.

Please don't malign these two highly dedicated volunteers who give many more hours to the community than most of us.

Like this comment
Posted by please clarify..anyone out there know who can sign their names?
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2007 at 1:14 pm

I have great gratitude for all the hundreds, yes hundreds, of hours that the PTAC leaders ( anyone remember their names?) have put into the Candidate forums. However, I think questions about process are ok.

I wonder how much of the concern about the questions etc is about lack of understanding of the format? Reality is simple, 2 hours is not enough time to answer every question submitted. So, how are the questions picked?

And, can anyone verify if it is true that only one candidate can be asked a question? If so, I can't understand the point of this at all. Seems odd to me.. can't figure out how that would be "fair",..though I know nothing in politics is fair! What if there is only one question for one candidate and none for the rest?

anyway, looking for understanding

Like this comment
Posted by dadof4
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2007 at 1:03 pm

I have attended two forums to date. In the first, each question was asked of all candidates. In the second, there was a combination of single candidate and all candidate answers.

At each forum, the people running actively solicited questions from the attendees. two out of three of my questions were asked at the each forum. In each case to due to running out of time at the forum rather than anything I would interpret as "cherry picking" for an agenda.

I strongly recomend attending any of these you can. They definitely helped me build an assessment of the candidates that I can use to guide my vote.

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