Oakland Teachers Share Frustrations Over Charter Schools

Lake View Elementary closed down in 2012, after 99 years. Its former building has since been occupied by an American Indian Charter School. Photo by Zack Haber.

Lake View Elementary closed down in 2012, after 99 years. Its former building has since been occupied by an American Indian Charter School. Photo by Zack Haber.

Though Oakland Unified School District superintendent Kyla Johnson Trammell and the school board have both recently proposed that the district collaborate more with charter schools, some Oakland teachers decry the regimented curriculum, long work days, and the dumping of struggling students who might lower the schools’ test scores that they’ve experienced working for charter schools.
When Jesse Shapiro left his job at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory, a charter school, to teach at Oakland High School in 2008, he took a $4,000-a-year pay cut. He doesn’t regret his choice because Oakland High, a public school, allowed him to join a teacher’s union and have freedom to choose what he teaches.
Those opportunities weren’t available at Aspire Lionel Wilson.
Shapiro taught at the charter at the same time as Hillary Clinton was running against Barack Obama in the 2008 California presidential primary. School administrators discouraged him from teaching about the event as it occurred and encouraged him to follow the school’s regimented teaching timeline, which insisted he teach “The Federalist Papers.”
Algebra teacher Angelique Alexander, who recently left her job after one year at KIPP King Collegiate High School, a charter in San Lorenzo, to teach at Dewey Academy, a public school in Oakland, also said she felt frustrated with the school’s regimented teaching expectations. Her lesson plans had to be meticulously scripted, and administrators allowed little flexibility to reteach lessons if students did not understand what was taught the first time.
Alexander also felt her work schedule was excessive and unsustainable. Her on-site work¬day started at 7:30 a.m. and lasted until 5:30 p.m. Those hours did not include time for lesson planning. Her workday at Dewey Academy is shorter, running from 8 a.m. until 2:30 or 3 p.m. Though she took a $10,000-a-year pay cut to work at Dewey, she loves her new school and does not regret leaving KIPP King.
“The extra pay isn’t worth it,” she said.
Both Shapiro and Alexander felt pressured by their charter school’s administration to mark students’ grades higher than they felt many of their students deserved, and they both suspect they were pressured to inflate grades to improve their school’s reputation. They didn’t experience these practices in public schools.
KIPP King allowed many students into advanced math courses before Alexander felt they were ready. She thinks students were placed into advanced courses only to make KIPP King look more successful.
Although Aspire Lionel Wilson boasts higher test scores than most public schools in the district, Shapiro noticed that many of his students who were struggling to perform well academically left for other schools before they had the opportunity to take the standardized tests that schools use to measure their performance.
He thinks the school encouraged these transitions.
“I was teaching a class of about 60 kids at the beginning of the year, and by the end of the year in it was in the low forties,” he said. “So, you’re talking about a third of my students getting shipped away, and it was all the struggling students.”
Since funding for charter and public schools in California is based on total enrollment per student at the beginning of the school year, charter schools do not lose funding when they send students to another school mid-year. But public schools are required by law to accept the transfer and must absorb the cost of educating the student without receiving any of the student’s allocated funding.
Shapiro noted that since public and charter schools draw money from the state that would otherwise go to the public schools, the presence of charter schools harm nearby public schools.
“If anything is going to undo public schools right now, it’s going to be charter schools,” he said


  1. This is the essence of what it wrong with charters schools in their present configuration.
    Strong public schools need support from the district and not dismissal because the test scores are not high
    The tests are ridiculously inappropriate and designed to show failure (like before the material was taught – or developmentally inappropriate.
    We need to fund the schools our children go to in their home communities so they can get the supports they need to succeed. This means more money for the school sites and Less for the downtown administration.
    Feed/Teach the children- Starve the administration!

  2. Deirdre –
    I would rather put my money in the charter system as a whole, rather than in public schools which have become overburdened by regulations and choked by unions. Teachers love unions, but public sector unions are not as helpful as industrial worker unions. They just aren’t.

    • Did you even read the article? The teachers here were NOT free to even research concepts that they judged students had not yet mastered. They were loaded over by their administrators and basically had to write a word for word script of their lessons. That being “overburdened and choked” by your charter school. As a public school teacher of 26 years, I have never been told that I must stick to a timeline to the detriment of my students, or that I couldn’t insert current events into my teaching. And look at this quote: “I was teaching a class of about 60 kids at the beginning of the year, and by the end of the year in it was in the low forties,” he said. “So, you’re talking about a third of my students getting shipped away, and it was all the struggling students.” SIXTY TO HIGH FORTIES FOR CLASS SIZE? OMG HOW COULD THAT EVER BE BETTER?! Yikes. What a disaster. You know nothing about what goes on in public schools, clearly. You are parroting what you have merely heard from conservative sources.

    • T, what evidence do you have that public sector unions are not as helpful as industrial unions? Have you ever been a member of either type?

  3. Workers “love unions” as they provide protection from arbitrary abuse of power by the boss. It may or may not be the case that public sector unions “are not as helpful as industrial worker unions.” Whether industrial or public sector union is the most “helpful” is not the driving concern of the worker; the driving concern of the worker is whether or not his or her union is powerful enough to protect the worker and the worker’s working conditions.
    The key to worker power is worker solidarity whether public sector union or industrial sector. Support your union.

  4. Death of public schools by charters replacing public schools achieves two Alt right goals: privatizes public education and destroys public sector teacher unions as most charter schools are not union. Also, closing of 24 public schools will increase opportunity for expanding Oakland charter school sector in occupying the closed public schools. The closures of 24 public schools will make Oakland public schools a minority school system and the mostly non-union charter schools in Oakland the majority. The public education system of Oakland is being overrun by the charter school sector and the public is being deprived of democratic control of its schools. The call for cap on Oakland charters and cap on charter schools across California is increasing heard. The NAACP has called for a moratorium on charter schools.
    But, there is already a cap on charter schools that is not practical and meaningless as it was set too high years ago. From the State Department of Education webpage: Q.4. Is there a “cap” on the number of charter schools?
    Yes. EC Section 47602 currently sets the limit at 1,250 for the 2008-09 fiscal year. The cap increases by 100 each July 1. 10 years 2018-19 means 10 times 1,250 or 12,500 charters. There are 1,323 charter public schools in California for the 2018-19 school year. The cap is far too high with in 2018-2019 to be meaningful with room for 11,177 charter schools. The law allowing increase of 100 every year since 2008-09 school year makes the cap on California charter schools meaningless. Charter school growth is out of control and the runaway cap must be amended by the State Legislature to be a real cap.
    But, the call for moratorium on charter growth is better than capping growth at current 1,323 because some charters are closed each year for various reasons but mostly because a charter is unable to met enrollment projections or for financial scandal. The original idea was that charter schools would be closed because they failed to perform academically. Poor performance isn’t the main reason charters are closed.
    The current 1,323 would cap is not as good as a State imposed moratorium on charter schools because a moratorium would not leave room for replacement of failed charter schools. Moratorium is the better reform than capping charter school growth for throwing taxpayers’ money at growing new charters has not delivered a better public education system over 25 years of the charter school privatization experiment.

  5. I posted that the current cap on charter schools is “1,323. 1,323 is the current count of charter schools in the 2018-19 school year. The current cap is 12,500 charter schools for this school year. 11,177 is how much room there was this current school year to grow new charter schools. Number of new charters didn’t reach 100 this year.

  6. Jim, I am not sure how you are getting the number 12, 500 for the charter cap. Increasing the cap by 100 isn’t the same as multiplying it by 10. Wouldn’t the cap be 2250 in the 2018 -19 school year?

  7. Thanks CW. You are correct 10 years of 100 becomes a cap increase of 1,000 from the starting point of 2008-9 of 1,250. 1,250 + 1,000 is 2,250 as you correctly stated. 2,250 – 1,323 current number of California charter schools leaves room for 927 additional charters before hitting the California charter school cap ceiling. I don’t think the State cap for additional charter schools will be reached with 100 additional charters added each year.
    While my bad math way overstated gap between current charters and the existing State cap on adding additional charters, room this year for 927 charters is not an effective cap on new charters for this year and next year and each year after number of charter schools continues to grow without a new law placing a moratorium on additional new charter schools.


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