Put the brakes on runaway charter plan

Austin ISD board president Mark Williams admitted last night what has been obvious to just about everyone else in Austin for several weeks now. The school district has “rushed” a controversial proposal to hand over two schools in East Austin to a charter school operator and has conducted a “poor” process for seeking public input.

Both the rush job and the poor public information process have been driven by Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, whose apparent fascination with the charter operator, IDEA Public Schools, is outdone only by her disdain for Austin ISD parents and taxpayers who don’t share her view. Carstarphen wants to give IDEA, which is based in South Texas, a contract to take over Eastside High School and Allan Elementary, despite strong community opposition – from parents, students and Education Austin, the TSTA affiliate that represents many teachers and other AISD employees.

The board slowed down Carstarphen’s runaway freight train by postponing a vote on the IDEA proposal until next Monday, at which time it needs to apply the brakes even more firmly. The proposed IDEA contract needs further study. The Austin AmericanStatesman, which also has been urging more review, has gone so far as to label the superintendent’s proposals “halfbaked.”

IDEA has received some acclaim for its charter operations in South Texas, but there has been research indicating that IDEA engages in some “cherry picking,” choosing mostly the best and the brightest students for its schools, instead of trying to educate every child who comes along, as traditional public schools do.

According to former University of Texas researcher Ed Fuller (who now is at Penn State), IDEA starts with a student body that has fewer lowperforming and economically disadvantaged students than traditional public schools. Yet, traditional public schools will continue to educate the vast majority of children in Texas and in Austin, even if the AISD board were to adopt Carstarphen’s proposal to divert tax dollars to the private charter operator.

Carstarphen has challenged the thoroughness and objectivity of Fuller’s research. But she needs to do more than that. She needs to have the district conduct its own objective research into IDEA’s methods and record and share those findings with the public. Then, if she still thinks IDEA is a good idea for AISD, she needs to methodically make her case with the public and the board, not create artificial deadlines for the board to rubberstamp her proposal.

http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/sharedgen/blogs/austin/education/entries/2011/12/12/updates_from_tonights_aisd_boa.html

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