Public charters and public non-charters need to communicate better to create better student outcomes in all public schools in the county, according to a San Mateo County Grand Jury report released Monday.
The 2013-14 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report entitled “Educational Frenemies: Can Charter Schools Inspire Better Student Outcomes in Public Schools in San Mateo?” investigated the of sharing of best teaching practices between public charter and public non-charter schools in the county and how such sharing is currently hindered.
The grand jury’s report showed, through research and interviews, that charter schools in the county are generally not sharing information — such as teaching methodologies designed to promote better student outcomes — with traditional public schools. No formal avenue exists to foster sharing and the failure of charter schools to fulfill the legislative intent of the laws authorizing their existence may be moot, because in this county the organizational freedoms allowed by charter status do not seem to be a significant determinative factor in creating more successful students, the report said.
Contention between administrators and teachers at charter and traditional public schools, as well as between school administrators and teachers’ unions, stand in the way of constructive collaboration beneficial to students in this county. Studies across the country have cited underlying tensions between charter and non-charter schools, according to the report.
“These adversarial feelings were regularly confirmed by leaders of both charter and non-charter schools in this county, as well as by others familiar with the relationships,” the report stated. “The grand jury found that leaders of charter and non-charter schools expressed both their own eagerness to open communication with the other ‘side,’ while at the same time acknowledging a co-existing feeling that some emotional component — often blamed on the other party — prevented that communication from occurring. Some tensions between the two sectors appear to be based on a fear by traditional public schools that charter schools are ‘stealing’ students.”
One district leader quoted in the report stated, it “takes a lot of work. … and it’s all on top of what is already a full-time job” to work on communications between charters and non-charters.
County Superintendent Anne Campbell said she agrees with the assessment that there could be improvements in sharing information and that the county Office of Education is “the logical entity” to facilitate that sharing.
“Although the county Office of Education promotes its professional development offerings to educators countywide both charter and non-charter, we can always do more to explicitly connect our local school leaders with their peers, Campbell said in a statement. “We want to support sharing of best practices at every level of our educational system.”
The Sequoia Union High School District has two charter schools and there is excellent communication about practices with its charter schools, said Trustee Carrie Du Bois.
“Our entire board is committed to the success of all of our charters,” she wrote in an email. “I also believe that innovation and best practices can be found at both charter and traditional schools throughout San Mateo County. As a participant in the San Mateo County Kent Awards for the past nine years, I have seen amazing programs and outstanding teaching at traditional public schools.”
She noted the Kent Awards are the most powerful way to share best practices.
“I have also observed both high-quality and low-performing charter schools,” she wrote. “One of my favorite quotes is from the educational journalist John Merrow, ‘Never forget that the name charter on a schoolhouse door reveals no more about a school’s quality than the word restaurant tells you about the food. There is no substitute for transparency, high standards and direct observation.’”
The study also found that longer teaching cycles — whether in the form of longer school days or longer school years — are likely to benefit students. Longer teaching cycles have been repeatedly cited as contributing to better student outcomes in research studies, by local education officials, and even by union representatives, according to the report.
“In conclusion, the grand jury found many hurdles to the efficient flow of information between charter and non-charter schools in the county,” the report states.
The grand jury has four recommendations to county school districts due by Dec. 31. The first is that each district needs to develop a plan to determine the viability of extending the school day. Each must develop a plan to determine the viability of extending the school year. Each must also develop, at a district level, detailed mission statements, which include quantifiable goals designed to produce better student outcomes. Mission statements will be posted on a publicly accessible website.
The full report is available at sanmateocourt.org/grandjury.
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