Charter wait lists grow

Some 610,000 students were on charter school wait lists this school year, according to a survey by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. That’s up from 420,000 two years ago. Adding enough charter school seats to meet the demand would grow the sector by 30 percent.

About Joanne


  1. Come on, Joanne. You know that you can’t report these claims as fact. How can you? Charter school “long waiting list” claims are chronically false.

    Here in San Francisco, here are some points.

    Back in the days when San Francisco’s Edison Charter Academy was the hot national education story, the reports constantly claimed that ECA had “long waiting lists.” But here in SF, we parents knew that ECA was scrounging for students, marketing itself desperately. It would have been simple for the press to check these claims — just call and ask “Do you have room for my kindergartner?” — but the falsehoods were always printed unquestioned and unchecked.

    The two Envision schools in SFUSD, City Arts & Tech and Metro Arts & Tech, used to announce their “long waiting lists” to parents and students taking tours. But at that time, the minutes of Envision board meetings were posted online, and they described lots of anxious discussion about Envision’s struggle to fill the two schools. The minutes were no longer posted online last I checked, and I don’t know if Envision still makes that false claim.

    KIPP schools are widely reported as always having “long waiting lists.” Nationally regarded writer Paul Tough stated flatly in the New York Times Magazine a few years ago, “All KIPP schools have long waiting lists.” Not the ones in San Francisco — they are always underenrolled. If a grade at a KIPP school were momentarily full, all an applicant would need to do would wait till the characteristic sky-high KIPP attrition began.

    I trust the reports at San Francisco’s most successful charter school, Gateway, that they really do have waiting lists (because I know a lot of people in the Gateway school community). But it’s so common for these charter claims to be false that they need great big asterisks and lots of questions.

    • Oh, this is wonderful.

      You imply that charter school waiting lists are non-existent and back up that broad implication with…..unsupported anecdotes. Sweet.

      Perhaps you’d like to back up your claims with something a trifle more credible then what you heard and what you know? Just for form’s sake. You can feverishly fling scats at charter schools without even modestly impressing the parents of kids in rotten district schools.

      Is this going to be a replay of your claim that charters are selective wherein the challenge to prove the claim results in multiple retreats on your part?

      Yeah, probably. That’s the usual result of trying to defend the indefensible.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        I’m stunned. Are charters cherry-picking the best students and kicking out the poor performers, or are they desperate to fill their seats? Which is it, Caroline?

  2. There is no way to confirm the number of students on any alleged charter school waitlist. That’s why the press should never use these claims.

    I’m allowed to point out that I know that claims of “long waiting lists” are false, based on personal familiarity with the situation. You’re allowed to retort. But what’s indefensible is the press quoting self-aggrandizing claims that are entirely unverifiable as if they were gospel.

    • Well as long as the subject of verifiability’s been brought up, care to provide some verification for your little anecdotes?

      See, I’m not nearly as trusting as you’d like me to be so I’m quite willing to entertain the possibility that your certainty consists more of wishful thinking then it does of actual knowledge. The more so in light of your repeated, and unsupported, claims that charters are selective.

      Joanne’s provided the source of the figures. If you have some bone to pick with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools then go right ahead and provide some evidence that refutes their figures concerning wait lists. But all you’ve done so far is make claims. No support. No means of verification.

      You’re practicing exactly what you’re castigating Joanne and the press for doing not that your hypocrisy surprises me in the least.

    • Given that the one local charter elementary in my area receives 3 times as many applications as it has slots available, and that nearly all of the families we know who applied wound up on the waitlist (including my two school-aged children), I’m personally inclined to discount your anecdotes as being the exception rather than the rule.

  3. Both, Stacy. That was a failed “gotcha!” attempt if I ever saw one.

  4. The fact remains. Charter-sector claims that charter schools have “long waiting lists” are self-aggrandizing and entirely unverifiable. I don’t need data to back that up. Anyone who claims otherwise needs to show me how they are verifiable, not try to create a distraction by bullying me.

    It’s a journalistic failure to report those claims as if they were valid (though the press does so frequently). That violates supposed journalistic standards. Admittedly, Joanne sets her own standards, so she’s free to report unverifiable, self-aggrandizing propaganda as if it were valid if she chooses to set her standards at that level.

    I’m adding my own personal knowledge that charter schools in my community that have claimed to have “long waiting lists” in fact were desperately struggling to fill their classes.

    • What fact? You’ve introduced nothing but your own, unsupported observations which, may I add don’t exactly rise to the standard of scientific objectivity, then demand you be proven wrong.

      What are you, twelve years old? You make the assertion, you prove it.

      If you think there’s something fishy about the NAPCS numbers then call their bluff. Call a couple of charters and conduct your own survey. If you’re unwilling to do that then why should your off-the-cuff and biased observations be given even passing credibility let alone as a basis for challenging the NAPCS study?

      You want some credibility call five charters and ask for the size of their waiting list. It certainly wouldn’t be definitive but it would be a good deal more substantial then “cuz I sez so” which is about what your posts consist of.

      • Actually, the thing to do is call the charter and ask, “Do you have room for my kindergartner (sixth-grader/ninth-grader?” — which I HAVE done with several, the very same day their “long waiting list” claims appeared in the press. And — surprise — they said, “Yes; come on down.”

        But the fact is, again, that the claim is unverifiable and no credible source should report it as fact. That has nothing to do with “cuz I said so.”

        • Oh gosh, you called several? Perhaps you could list them and the dates you called. See, I’d like to verify your story since I don’t consider you a credible source.

          Your “cuz I says so” approach just doesn’t work for me.

    • Okay, here’s some data. My older child was #11 on the waitlist and my younger child was #43. I have the letters to prove it. #11 doesn’t sound so bad until you learn that the school doesn’t even START tapping the waitlist for the older grades unless more than 10 currently enrolled children leave. So my child wouldn’t get a spot unless 21 kids left.

      • And the school has copies that my oldest child has consistently scored well into the “advanced” category for both math and English on the state standardized tests since 2nd grade. If they wanted to “cherry pick” students to raise average test scores, then she’d be able to help them do that. But the school doesn’t have room to meet the demand so she languishes on the wait list year after year.

  5. Stuart Buck says:

    My son scores in the 95-99th percentile on standardized tests. He didn’t make the lottery in two different charter schools, both of which Caroline would otherwise (albeit without any evidence) accuse of rigging the lotteries and cream-skimming.

  6. Cranberry says:

    I’d expect there to be a certain amount of duplication on the waitlists, particularly in urban areas. I’d also expect the fully enrolled charter schools don’t waste time calling families on the waitlist, to ascertain if they’re still interested in spots. Sure, on average 239 students were on the waitlist when the classes were first filled, but there’s no guarantee they’re still interested in August. They may have moved out of town or found a school they prefer.

    Families who’ve elected to enroll children in private or parochial schools will have committed to paying tuition by mid-summer, at the latest. The charter school would be free, but leaving the private or parochial school would represent the loss of tuition.

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some ed school professor did the calling, or had one of her research assistants do the calling. So we could get some actual data from a (one hopes) neutral source?

    The fact that we don’t have decent data here is atrocious.

  8. I agree with Roger! Though if that research were announced beforehand, the false claims in the press releases would probably come to a screeching halt.

    But in any case, the press needs to demand that data, or do the legwork itself, rather than parroting the charter sector’s unverifiable PR.

    Crimson Wife and Stuart, I specifically said that some charters genuinely have wait lists, and mentioned one that I specifically know (or believe based on my familiarity) genuinely does.

    I also know that multiple charter schools in my area falsely claim to have wait lists. The fact that some genuinely have wait lists has no bearing on that.

    I’m sure, Crimson Wife and Stuart, that your kids would be highly desirable to a charter. The obvious cherry-picking, for those charters that DO truly have more applications than openings, would involve excluding the bottom tier, the undesirables. Any teacher will tell you that’s what would make the classroom far less challenging.

    • Care to provide evidence that any charters, anywhere are selective?

      This – “The obvious cherry-picking, for those charters that DO truly have more applications than openings, would involve excluding the bottom tier, the undesirables.” – really does require some verification and a credible source you being all concerned about that sort of thing.

      By the way, in Michigan the emergency financial manager of the Muskegon Heights school district wants to “charterize” the entire district. I wonder what’ll happen when he cashiers the entire central office staff and makes the schools stand on their own, two feet?

      Think anyone will notice that a school district, and all it’s attendant cost and waste, isn’t necessary to run a public school?

      • Entire districts have been charterized before without success, Allen. It happened in Chester-Upland, PA, and before that, Inkster, MI, which was entirely turned over to Edison Schools Inc. (And there may be more; I can’t keep up on everything.)

        No, it’s legitimate for me to make observations and sum up extensive discussions about charter schools. It’s not legitimate to publish an unverifiable and self-aggrandizing claim as if it were verified fact. That doesn’t meet basic journalistic standards, though the press does violate this standard regularly by repeating these charter school claims. Joanne Jacobs can set her own blog’s standards, of course.

        • I don’t know about Chester-Upland but I do know about Inkster and, as usual, you’re wrong.

          The district still exists and it’s still doing a lousy job of educating kids. Being a rotten district Inkster attracted the attention of charter operators and they whittled that misbegotten mess of a district down quite a bit before it was taken over by an emergency financial manager but that was due to fiscal incompetence that predated the encroachment of charters.

          You see, parents, when given a choice will opt for better schools over lousier schools but of course parents mustn’t be allowed that sort of power for reasons which aren’t all that obvious to me but then I’m not so marvelously progressive that I see the vital importance of forcing kids to go to schools that a responsible farmer wouldn’t put in charge of his livestock.

          And it certainly is legitimate for you to make unsupported and undoubtedly false observations about charter schools. Not that doing so will have any effect other then to allow you to enjoy a brief surge of self-righteous indignation but then that’s your motivating force so go for it.

          By the way, along with the possibility of the first district dissolution in favor of charters Michigan’s legislature has taken up discussions about parental trigger law.

          I understand tomorrow’s going to be a beautiful day. It certainly feels like a new day’s dawning.

  9. Roger Sweeny says:

    I think there are two different senses in which a charter can be “selective.” Both would “make the classroom far less challenging.” CarolineSF June 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    1. The school admits all comers or admits randomly from a waiting list. However, students are held to high standards and expected to perform. Many of the admitted students drop out because they can’t or won’t “get with the program.” This “attrition” means that each succeeding grade is smaller and, on average, has better students. As I understand it, this is true of KIPP and similar schools.

    2. The second sense of “selective” is that schools select the students they admit, say by “excluding the bottom tier” (Caroline again). As I understand it, this is illegal for most charters. My gut feeling (and it is really no more than that) is that charters rarely do this.

    The first is legal and in many ways admirable. Of course, it means that the students who drop out of the charter are now somebody else’s problem.

    • Stuart Buck says:

      Given the 50 or higher percent dropout rate in some big urban areas, you could already make a case that the entire public school system there is only educating the top half.

      • The funny thing is that public schools with a high dropout rate are scorned as “dropout factories,” blamed and threatened. Charter schools with a high dropout rate are exalted, held up as models that public schools should emulate, showered with money, and praised in the press for supposedly sending some high percentage of the few students left standing to college.

        • What’s funny about district schools being scorned, blamed and threatened when they’re revealed to be lousy schools? What would you have done? High fives? Pats on the back? Raises all around?

          It’s a lousy school. It ought to be shut down, the professionals cashiered and better alternatives offered instead continuing along forever being a “dropout factory”.

    • I basically think Roger’s take is accurate, in his No. 2, though regarding No. 1, of course charters can get away with whatever they want in their enrollment process. There is no mechanism for oversight and there are no resources for oversight. Anecdotally I will give my well-informed opinion that “pushout” is a better term than “dropout,” but never mind that — the overall impact is the same.

      • Since you haven’t documented either you can call it whatever you want. Feel free to provide some evidence that charters engage in any such practice unless your “well-informed opinion” puts you above the mundane requirement you insist on in others.

    • KIPP schools are among the few charter school networks that take the attrition problem seriously. When a critic pointed out serious problems with KIPP school attrition in the bay area, KIPP acknowledged the legitimacy of the problem and took action to reduce attrition. They are committed to transparency and post information about attrition rates as well as numbers of SPED students for each of their schools. Even Diane Ravitch has positive things to say about KIPP, though she does point out that their results are not typical of most charter schools.