Public Advocates and ACLU Continue to Issue Misinformation about Charter School Admission Policies and Practices

April 27, 2017

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Instead of working with charter public schools to improve policies and to ensure student access at all public schools (traditional and charter), these two organizations have continued to mislead the public and state officials on the issue of charter school admissions policies for political purposes.

Last August, when the ACLU and Public Advocates released their initial report, CCSA advised them that they had included more than 30% non-autonomous schools (70 of the 252 schools). Those schools are governed by their school district and county board authorizers, and therefore implement the policies established by the district or county authorizers. Yet, they have been lumped in and identified generally as charter schools to inflate these numbers to make the report and headline more salacious. We recommended at the time that the groups revise their report to be more accurate but they refused to do so.

We find it discouraging that the ACLU refuses to conduct a similar review of admissions practices in traditional public schools. Many district schools, such as magnet schools and other special programs, are exclusionary in ways that charter schools are not because magnet programs often use grades, test scores, teacher evaluations, discipline records and IQ as a screen for admission.

The response we released last August indicated that we agreed with the ACLU and Public Advocates that charter schools must be open to any student interested in attending, and no student or group of students should be excluded or discriminated against as a result of enrollment and admissions policies at any public school, including charter public schools. We still agree.

However, since the release of that initial report, CCSA and autonomous charter schools across the state have taken the issues identified in the report seriously, working with legal counsel, their board of directors, and staff to review existing policies and clarify or modify them where necessary to ensure that the policies not only reflect the law but also best practices.

CCSA has been working alongside autonomous, independent charter schools, including both members and non-members, in an effort to assist them in addressing these issue and ultimately to be removed from the list of schools by hosting webinars to help them understand the law and why their schools may have been identified; tracking the schools to our best ability and reaching out periodically to monitor the status of their efforts; and intervening when the schools asked for assistance in following-up with the ACLU.

What has Public Advocates and ACLU been doing? Leveraging the report in as many ways as possible to spread misinformation about the charter movement and using this report as a basis to recycle anti-charter legislation, which was defeated last year in the legislature, in conjunction with CTA.

Schools faced a number of barriers in securing removal from the list including:

  • The listing of schools was removed from the ACLU website in late 2016. As a result, many schools could not determine if they were indeed on the list or if they had been crossed off. CCSA resorted to using its own spreadsheet to keep track of schools that remained on the list.
  • Schools reported that it could take months and often multiple emails to get the ACLU to respond and remove them from the list. Even once they were confirmed to be "removed" from the list, the school names were simply struck through on the website listing (which meant their school name was still visible).
  • Schools were not provided with specific and actual information as to why they were in the report. They were simply lumped in categories of broad policy violations. Schools had to try to determine which policies were the issues and sought guidance from CCSA to make changes in an effort to be removed. The vast majority of the issues involved old policies and information on websites that were no longer current or accurate. Simple changes were made and the schools were then compliant. The schools indicated no children were negatively affected by the language of the websites.
  • In several instances when the ACLU notified schools that they would be removed from the list, those same schools mistakenly remained on the map of schools "deemed to have illegal policies." Therefore, CCSA calls for a formal apology to or a public announcement of the schools that the ACLU and Public Advocates have irreparably damaged by mistakenly identifying them in their release.

Our response to the report when it was first released remains:

  • CCSA believes the types of policies identified in the report have different levels of urgency in terms of their impact on students. The report initially found only 22 schools (approximately 2% of California's total 1,228 charter schools) have academic policies that exclude low academic performers. We believe that academic performance policies are the most urgent to address.
  • We do not agree that all policies (e.g., essays, interviews, or requests for student documentations) are per se discriminatory or exclusionary - there may be a perception of bias or discrimination, they may have been poorly drafted, but there is not necessarily evidence that they are intentional in their exclusion. For example, we disagree that auditions for performing arts schools are not permissible but we do advise that charter schools not implement them in a way that discriminates against groups of students unfairly. It is important to keep in mind that many charters are started by teachers and parents who often write their petitions and policies, many times without aid of legal counsel.
  • Nearly 30% of the schools (70 out of 252 schools) identified in this report are non-autonomous charter schools.
  • Limiting the report to charter schools was a missed opportunity to provide the bigger context that all public schools, including district/traditional public schools, should be held to the standards that this report has applied to charter schools. Policy makers and the public should be provided with the information about how well all public schools are meeting these standards.

The report was flawed in the first place. It remains flawed. CCSA and charter schools are absolutely willing to work with the two organizations on an issue that is of paramount importance to parents, teachers, school leaders and the charter school movement as a whole. But let's work on it together. Stop politicizing these issues for political gain. If the issue is really about access for students, then work with CCSA and charter schools on solutions.

Public Advocates and ACLU must do better.