Accommodating a Few Special Schools is Not the Same as Allowing Charter Schools

October 12, 2012

On Wednesday, Seattle Times education reporter Linda Shaw wrote an informative piece about the Technology Access Foundation Academy (TAF), a special school in Federal Way that produces good results in preparing minority students for careers in math, science and technology. The article suggests that special schools like TAF work like charter schools and therefore, the implication goes, there’s no need to pass Initiative 1240, the ballot measure to allow charter schools in Washington.

Charter school opponents often point to schools like TAF to argue that the public education in our state already allows innovative schools and thus we don’t need the 40 charter schools proposed by Initiative 1240.

The problem is TAF is not typical of the public school system. Far more common in our system of 2,345 schools are hide-bound teacher work rules, central control and a focus on stifling bureaucratic compliance.

TAF is a special case. The leader of TAF and a handful of other schools happen to command the political connections and private money needed to gain some autonomy from central control. TAF, Delta High (in Richland) and Aviation High (in Highline) are schools that would not exist without the backing of powerful private interests and their money. The limited freedom they enjoy is fragile and conditional, so local educators must be careful not step on any bureaucratic toes by challenging the central authority. All three schools depend upon the continuing support of District officials, support that could be withdrawn at any time.

Initiative 1240 is different. It would give community groups the ability to start their own charter school, without soliciting private-sector money. Students at charter schools would enjoy the security of knowing their schools couldn’t be closed at the central District’s whim. Local education leaders could design their own educational program, control their budget, and assemble a quality teaching team.

TAF is led by Trish Dziko, an outstanding individual who raises money, oversees the board and the operations of the school. Yet, despite the $500,000 a year the TAF Foundation provides, the Federal Way School District does not allow TAF to pick its school principal or hire teachers. Imagine what Trish could accomplish for students if she could make these decisions without interference from central district officials and powerful unions.

Linda Shaw’s article points out, to her credit, that if Washington had a charter school law, TAF would have become a charter school, because “charter status would give it even more freedom than it has.”

Yes, indeed. At least Initiative 1240 would give kids in failing schools that option.


TAF is a school that is doing

TAF is a school that is doing well with the leadership of the district. Just because a school is a charter does not make it automatically successful, and in reverse, a school under the authority of a school district doesn't make it a failure either.

What is most frightening about your blog is your continued twisting of the research that in no way shows charters as even remotely superior to public schools. Just like with TAF and other innovative public schools, the most successful charters also rely on large philanthropic support to fund the innovative practices. If we truly want what is best for ALL children, we would be better served fully funding our schools, and removing the unfunded mandates and restrictions that prevent teachers, principals and administrators from doing their jobs.

It is too bad that there is this perception that "central office" and school boards are the enemy to good public schools. Many of the most innovative programs and schools are a result of the vision, advocacy, and passion of these dedicated people.

TAF and charters

I would also like to ask how you feel that you know so much more than someone who is actually running a school? So much more as to “correct” her comments to fit your arguments.

This post was really beyond the pale. I’d very much like to hear how you would defend it.

TAF and charters

Ms. Finne. Did you read the same article I did? You grossly misrepresent Dziko’s comments to the point of making her seem to say the opposite of what she actually said. I’ve never agreed with your views on public education, but I don’t recall you resorting to what can only be called dirty tactics. I’m shocked, actually. How can you expect readers to trust you? For the edification of the eaders you’ve lied to (you must have known what you were doing), I’ve copied Dziko’s full statements from the article below.

"Yet now [Dziko’s] glad the TAF Academy is not a charter, even though charter status would give it even more freedom than it has…..

She think I-1240 lacks clarity in some important areas, including how people would be nominated to serve on the state charter commission and how existing schools might convert to charters.

The only way she'd start a charter now, she said, would be in partnership with a school district. She values the cooperative relationship she has with Federal Way, which she thinks raises the chances that good ideas will be shared among many schools.

She's come to believe that, for TAF, the disadvantages of operating a charter school would outweigh the advantages.

The biggest challenges for the TAF Academy, she said, have little to do with teacher contracts or other district policies that the school could ignore if it became a charter.

The hardest work is the day-to-day struggle of figuring out how to help all students learn. The word "charter" in a school's name, she said, doesn't mean it automatically will be great.”