Over 1 in 5 of California’s charter schools have restrictive admissions requirements or other exclusionary practices that keep out many students with the greatest academic needs, a report released Monday by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the public interest law firm Public Advocates alleges.

These practices, the report alleges, “violate the California Education Code, the California and U.S. Constitution, and state and federal civil rights laws.”

The report, titled, “Unequal Access: How Some California Charter Schools Illegally Restrict Enrollment,” says that according to the California Charter Schools Act of 1992, charter schools are required to “admit all pupils who wish to attend,” except for space limitations.

See California Education Code Section 47605(d)2)(A)

“Charter schools may not enact admissions requirements or other barriers to enrollment and must admit all students who apply, just as traditional schools cannot turn away students,” the 28-page report charges.

Of the  1,228 charter schools in California, the report said that it has identified 253 that have practices that are “plainly exclusionary,” based on information posted on the schools’ websites.

These practices include:

  • Denying enrollment to students who have weak grades or test scores;
  • Expelling students who do not have strong grades or test scores;
  • Denying enrollment to students who do not “meet a minimum level of English proficiency;”
  • Requiring students to meet “onerous” requirements for admission, including students or parent having to write essays or be interviewed;
  • Discouraging students from immigrant background from applying by requiring parents or students to provide social security numbers or other citizenship information;
  • Make enrollment conditional on parents volunteering or donating funds to the school.

In a lengthy statement, Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, said, “We agree with the ACLU and Public Advocates that charter schools must be open to any student interested in attending.”  No one, he said, should be “excluded or discriminated against as a result of enrollment and admissions policies at any public school, including charter public schools.”

He said he was encouraged that the report identified only a small number of charter schools with what he felt were “clearly exclusionary practices” based on academic performance.  “We believe there is an urgency to work with these schools to make changes immediately to ensure that students are not unlawfully excluded from applying or being admitted,” he said.

The ACLU/Public Advocates report said that the schools with the offending practices that it listed are just the “tip of the iceberg” because many schools don’t post their admissions requirements and procedures online.

The report called on the California Department of Education “to issue guidance making it clear that these practices are illegal,” and to order charter schools with these exclusionary practices “to change their policies immediately.”

They also called on charter school administrators to make sure that their policies comply with state and federal laws, and “to maintain simple and straightforward admissions policies.”

Wallace said the charter association did not agree that all essays, interviews and requests for student documentation for enrollment are “per se discriminatory or exclusionary.”

But he said that the association will encourage schools “to revise the language of their policies concerning essays and interviews, and to better describe the options available to families for enrollment documentation to ensure that there is not even a perception of bias or discrimination in admissions and enrollment processes.”

Eric Premack, director of the Charter Schools Development Center, who helped draft the 1992 charter law, said that “some ambiguities are built into the law to allow for local circumstances.” That’s evident, he said,  in the section of the law that lists 16 elements in the charter approval process that says those applying to open a charter school should list “admissions requirements, if applicable.”

He also pointed to another section of the law that said “other preferences may be permitted by the chartering authority on an individual school basis and only if consistent with the law.”

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  1. Kim jacobs 1 year ago1 year ago

    What is the legality of not offering SDC level special Ed courses if a current student attending is failing to make passing grades? I was recently transferred to a charter and feel some things may be illegal. My district is unsupportive and I fear retribution at every turn.

  2. CarolineSF 1 year ago1 year ago

    A little commentary on this report mostly from a San Francisco perspective (reposting from my Facebook page): San Francisco charters on this list: City Arts & Tech, Gateway Middle and High schools, the Thomas Edison Charter Academy (evolution of the former controversial Edison Schools experiment). We know from ample evidence that the KIPP schools use aggressive winnowing techniques, but they aren't explicit on their websites. I applied for my daughter to KIPP San Francisco … Read More

    A little commentary on this report mostly from a San Francisco perspective (reposting from my Facebook page): San Francisco charters on this list: City Arts & Tech, Gateway Middle and High schools, the Thomas Edison Charter Academy (evolution of the former controversial Edison Schools experiment).
    We know from ample evidence that the KIPP schools use aggressive winnowing techniques, but they aren’t explicit on their websites. I applied for my daughter to KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy back when she was in 7th grade, after a parent there let slip that his daughter had “tested into” the school. Our application was an experiment to see if they would require a test. They did indeed contact us to schedule her test. (We didn’t follow through.)
    Also on the list: A slew of the widely hailed High Tech Highs. The once-hailed, now-an-embarrassment American Indian Public Charter Schools. A slew of the Leadership chain (but they split off from the first one, the San Francisco Leadership, in some unpleasantness years ago, and the S.F. Leadership isn’t on the list). Jerry Brown’s Oakland Military Institute — also his Oakland School for the Arts, but that’s openly an arts audition school, so not in the same category as those that aren’t allowed to use selective criteria. The audition admissions are part of the design.
    California’s several Gulenist schools aren’t on this list. I think they all have identical websites, and like KIPP’s, they’re created with savvy and apparently don’t disclose the details of the application/admission/screening process. The Gulenist schools are publicly funded charters run by followers of Fethullah Gulen, currently in the news for being widely linked to the coup in Turkey — the largest chain of charters in the U.S., all publicly funded, though they deny being connected to each other. (Due to the Teflon heavily applied to the charter sector by political leadership and the press, the now-extensive reporting on the Gulenist schools hasn’t given them a bit of trouble.)
    Also not on the list: Santa Cruz’ Pacific Collegiate and the S.F. Peninsula’s Bullis Charter, both notorious for demanding large financial donations from parents, shaming or simply cutting out families who can’t/won’t make those donations. Apparently they don’t openly post those demands on their websites. Similarly, the many charter schools that require parents to donate volunteer hours.
    However, it’s unclear on the concept for the ACLU to urge parents to file a complaint about charter schools their kids are attending. To people in the charter community, the selectivity is a feature, not a bug.
    Disclaimer that my own children attended Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco, a public non-charter audition-admission high school. There’s debate about whether any public schools should use admission criteria such as arts auditions (or, in the case of San Francisco’s Lowell High School, academic criteria). My view is that open, honest, transparent criteria in designated specialty schools are acceptable, but sneaky, publicly denied selectivity is a different matter.

    Replies

    • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

      The charter school law doesn’t provide for selective admissions criteria whether it is open, honest, and transparent or not. Why allow TPSs to use selective criteria and not charters? Double standard?

      • CarolineSF 1 year ago1 year ago

        I'm not sure that's true, Don. It's my understanding that the admissions criteria for Oakland School for the Arts -- an openly conducted audition process -- are not in violation of charter laws. I don't know if a charter school with an openly conducted selective-admission process based on academic qualifications, a la Lowell, would be legal or not. John Fensterwald, can you please clarify? The bigger point here, of course, is that charter schools claim not … Read More

        I’m not sure that’s true, Don. It’s my understanding that the admissions criteria for Oakland School for the Arts — an openly conducted audition process — are not in violation of charter laws. I don’t know if a charter school with an openly conducted selective-admission process based on academic qualifications, a la Lowell, would be legal or not. John Fensterwald, can you please clarify?

        The bigger point here, of course, is that charter schools claim not to use selective admissions but actually do, often — if not always — quite aggressively. By the way, a young family friend is a teacher at a high-profile, much-admired (in some quarters, anyway) charter chain in LAUSD that did NOT land on the ACLU list. My teacher friend says that chain definitely uses a selective admissions process.

        • John Fensterwald 1 year ago1 year ago

          Caroline: We plan to follow up on the issue of essays/auditions.The ACLU and Public Advocates recommends that they not be used to rank applicants but perhaps as an indicator of the seriousness of a student's interest in a school. If the application requirements become onerous to the point of excluding groups of students, then there could be a legal problem. My understanding is that there has not been a court ruling in this area. It … Read More

          Caroline: We plan to follow up on the issue of essays/auditions.The ACLU and Public Advocates recommends that they not be used to rank applicants but perhaps as an indicator of the seriousness of a student’s interest in a school. If the application requirements become onerous to the point of excluding groups of students, then there could be a legal problem. My understanding is that there has not been a court ruling in this area.

          It seems clear that authorizers should review admissions criteria as part of the charter process and then monitor to see if there has been compliance. The ALCU did its report based on a web search – something the state Department of Education and authorizing districts could have done.

          • CarolineSF 1 year ago1 year ago

            I know that the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education is well aware of (to use one glaring example) Gateway High School's years-long record of undisguised selectivity. Gateway is a popular and admired school and SFUSD, as anyone who has followed local education issues knows, has suffered a series of damaging and resource-straining beatings over the years for attempting to oversee charters, even badly troubled ones. Also, Gateway's admissions process is pretty … Read More

            I know that the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education is well aware of (to use one glaring example) Gateway High School’s years-long record of undisguised selectivity. Gateway is a popular and admired school and SFUSD, as anyone who has followed local education issues knows, has suffered a series of damaging and resource-straining beatings over the years for attempting to oversee charters, even badly troubled ones. Also, Gateway’s admissions process is pretty much par for the course in the charter world, and nobody generally seems to care. Is the board’s sense that it would be futile to rein in Gateway’s process so surprising?

        • Joanna Holden Greenshields 1 year ago1 year ago

          Surely, you are not suggesting that all charter schools use tactics to exclude and cherry pick students? Because IF you are, I take umbriage with that accusation.

      • Carl Petersen 1 year ago1 year ago

        An audition or academic requirement for a program is different than one for an entire district. If a student is not successful in auditioning for the arts program, he or she will still have a spot at another school in the district. If a student is not accepted into a charter (which by law is considered its own school district), then they must find another district. How can the performance of charters be compared to public … Read More

        An audition or academic requirement for a program is different than one for an entire district. If a student is not successful in auditioning for the arts program, he or she will still have a spot at another school in the district. If a student is not accepted into a charter (which by law is considered its own school district), then they must find another district.

        How can the performance of charters be compared to public schools if only charters have the ability to cherry pick the best performing students?

        • Joanna Holden Greenshields 1 year ago1 year ago

          Please be very carfeful when making generalized statements. While I freely admit that many charter schools do use methods that are illegal and immoral in accepting students not all charter schools do! I wouldn't suggest that ALL public schools in California are failing their poor students but many are. Lest we forget, parents look to charter schools for a myriad of reasons. Some parents have lost faith in public education. The upper echelon already have … Read More

          Please be very carfeful when making generalized statements. While I freely admit that many charter schools do use methods that are illegal and immoral in accepting students not all charter schools do! I wouldn’t suggest that ALL public schools in California are failing their poor students but many are. Lest we forget, parents look to charter schools for a myriad of reasons.
          Some parents have lost faith in public education. The upper echelon already have their students in private school.
          Its a complicated issue and generalizing and minimizing the reasons why charter schools are considered a viable alternative by some parents, once again takes the debate in the wrong direction.

  3. Jim Mordecai 1 year ago1 year ago

    Governor Browns' Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) is on the list of schools with exclusionary admission standards; an audition is required. I'm not clear if the law is met if there is open admission and audition is exclusionary in admission to certain programs but the school is required to provide general education for those not in a special program. What is clear that the exclusionary nature of the OSA auditions has resulted in a economic … Read More

    Governor Browns’ Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) is on the list of schools with exclusionary admission standards; an audition is required.

    I’m not clear if the law is met if there is open admission and audition is exclusionary in admission to certain programs but the school is required to provide general education for those not in a special program.

    What is clear that the exclusionary nature of the OSA auditions has resulted in a economic and racial enrollment that does not reflect the area surrounding the school located in downtown Oakland.

  4. Jim Mordecai 1 year ago1 year ago

    John: Ann asks about dependent and independent charters? My understanding is that distinction does not exist in law. Charters in California are corporations independently managed. If they are not a corporation with a private management board, then they are not a charter school under the meaning of the charter law of California.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 year ago1 year ago

      I believe that is why the charter schools association uses the terms autonomous and non-autonomous. According to the association, only 6 out of 1,200 charters in the state are chartered by for-profit corporations, with the rest run by non-profit corporations. (The state doesn’t collect the data.) The for-profit K12 Inc. has operated through non-profit online schools it set up — one of the aspects that led to the state attorney general’s investigation of it.

  5. Ed 1 year ago1 year ago

    This just in, magnet schools are exclusionary as part of their design. For example the application for Sac City Unified's West Campus says: "Your application will be considered based on the following criteria: (1) Cumulative GPA, (2) Mock PSAT results (taken at West Campus) (3) 2 letters of recommendation that were provided to you, (4) attendance, discipline and/or behavior reports and (5) Extracurricular activities. Is this wrong? Should we shut down this insidious activity? No! … Read More

    This just in, magnet schools are exclusionary as part of their design. For example the application for Sac City Unified’s West Campus says:

    “Your application will be considered based on the following criteria: (1) Cumulative GPA, (2) Mock PSAT results (taken at West Campus) (3) 2 letters of recommendation that were provided to you, (4) attendance, discipline and/or behavior reports and (5) Extracurricular activities.

    Is this wrong? Should we shut down this insidious activity? No! Like magnet schools, charter schools should be designed to serve a variety of students. Some will be academically exclusionary and that should be encouraged. Some will serve high needs pupils and that should be encouraged. Some will serve any student who wishes to and that is OK as well.

    Of course the unions will use this “shocking” report to try to close down charter schools; it’s really sad to see Public Advocates once again being used as a tool for the status quo.

  6. ann 1 year ago1 year ago

    Does the report distinguish dependent and independent charters?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 year ago1 year ago

      It does not but the California Association of Charter Schools did take a look and determined that 70 of the 253 schools cited in the report were non-autonomous or dependent charters, in which the authorizing district appointed the board, and fund their operations, and the charters are not run as a non-profit.

  7. Clyde Gaw 1 year ago1 year ago

    How long have exclusion practices gone on? If they have affected data used to close public schools the ramifications of this report are immense.

  8. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    Most locally chartered schools pay districts or counties about 1% to provide mandated oversight. I suspect many of these chartering authorities provide little to no oversight. I know as a matter of personal experience that this is certainly the case in San Francisco Unified. While I do not mean to deflect responsibility away from the charter for any breaches of charter school law, what can you expect when there’s no oversight?

    Replies

    • CarolineSF 1 year ago1 year ago

      It's politically impossible to oversee charter schools. Remember the rage directed at SFUSD when it moved against Edison Schools in 2001 and Urban Pioneer a couple of years later, Don? (Urban Pioneer's problems: Two students died by falling into a ravine on an unsupervised wilderness outing. It was in financial shambles, bouncing teachers' paychecks. It was committing academic fraud, "graduating" students with far fewer than the state and district requirements. Its test scores were rock-bottom.) … Read More

      It’s politically impossible to oversee charter schools. Remember the rage directed at SFUSD when it moved against Edison Schools in 2001 and Urban Pioneer a couple of years later, Don? (Urban Pioneer’s problems: Two students died by falling into a ravine on an unsupervised wilderness outing. It was in financial shambles, bouncing teachers’ paychecks. It was committing academic fraud, “graduating” students with far fewer than the state and district requirements. Its test scores were rock-bottom.)

      SFUSD was beat up by politicians far and wide and by the national press for moving against once-hailed, now-fizzled Edison Schools. Don and anyone else, Google if you don’t recall these issues.

      Yes, that was long ago, but it has since been hammered into school districts that they have essentially no power to challenge a charter school in any way. Once burned, twice shy and all that.