My Thoughts On The WEAC Report: Charter Love & Not Enough For Special Needs Students

Having read the entire Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s Final Report, I’m left with more questions than answers.  Going into this, I did not expect the report to solve all the education problems in Delaware, let alone Wilmington.  The report has lots of data and many letters from the usual groups involved in education in Delaware.

My first impression: This report fails to recognize the damaging effect charter schools have on traditional school districts.  Funding has been stripped from school districts while charters have mostly been allowed to flourish not only with state and local funds, but also numerous donations by companies such as The Longwood Foundation and Innovative Schools.

One thing I was happy to see was this:

“Converting all Wilmington schools to charter schools authorized by a newly created Wilmington Charter District is neither desirable on educational grounds nor practical on political grounds.  Charter schools are playing a central and growing role in Wilmington public education.  However, Wilmington children require the full array of educational options that is possible only with a continued reliance on district, charter, and vo-tech schools.”

Amen!  I know Tony Allen and many members of WEAC have a deep and abiding love of all things charter, but to have them take over would be tantamount to a disaster of epic proportions.  But there is quite a bit in the report showing why charters will continue to grow in Wilmington with no anecdotal proof of how they came about these figures other than growing trends.  If the charter school moratorium for new charter applications becomes law, how are they basing the 2017 numbers and beyond?

Another example of a misleading report comes from the section showcasing a report by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.  This group attended the last Enrollment Preference Task Force meeting and advised the committee that charter schools should not have specific interest as an enrollment preference unless it serves students who need it the most: Title I, low-income, minority, students with disabilities, ELL, and others in those groups.  The WEAC report did not mention this very specific item which helped widen many of the gaps between schools in Wilmington and parts of Sussex County.  It did touch on certain “enrollment preferences” and recommends this be adapted to best national practices.

What this report fails to do is to bolster traditional school districts.  It seems geared towards getting more kids into charters but at the same time calling for more collaboration between the traditional school districts, charters and vo-techs.  This is dangerous territory to plant your flag in.

There is very little about students with disabilities in the report as well.  There are a few mentions, but absolutely nothing about what will be a growing trend and how to account for this.  I imagine groups and committees will spin out of this report, but it is a large enough issue that I feel it should have been addressed in this report because it is a priority in our state.

The report calls for a Charter Consortium, with more power than the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  This consortium would include all Wilmington charters to share best practices and have one organization perform financial and management duties.  While this would not be a KIPP-like takeover as I have predicted in the past, it could grant charters in the state even more power than they have now, which is very extensive and carries a lot of political muscle among our legislators.

I do have reservations concerning Red Clay being the sole district with Wilmington local schools.  I have not seen any indication that Brandywine would take any of these schools, so I have to assume Red Clay would bear the brunt of the consolidation.  Christina and Colonial would be out, and Red Clay would be the sole traditional school district.  My thought is this: they don’t do a good job with the three charters in their district so how can they add on a large number of  schools and be able to effectively run all these schools?

The devil is in the details, as they say, and I expected more in the details in this report.  What comes of this will be the key, and I anxiously await what happens next.  But the mystery behind all of this is the national issue of ESEA authorization.  If something changes on a Federal level in regards to curriculum and standardized testing, it could change many aspects of this report and what comes next.  I would urge the legislators in Delaware to show restraint until what happens on a national level is determined first.