War of Words
The Cleveland Teachers Union has launched a $70,000 "truth" campaign extolling the benefits of the city's public schools while pointing out the pitfalls of "bad" charter schools.
Brochures titled "A Wise Shopper Knows the Facts" were mailed last month to the homes of the city's roughly 8,000 charter school students. The mailing shows that 4th graders attending city schools are outperforming their classmates in the public but largely independent schools on state reading and math tests.
The charter schools selected for the comparison are Hope Academies, run by White Hat Ventures LLC, a for-profit company based in Akron, Ohio.
"We don't have any problem with parents' having choices," said Richard DeColibus, the president of the 6,000-member CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. "We're against bad charters."
Mr. DeColibus contends that poor Cleveland parents have been susceptible to slick marketing by charter school providers because they haven't heard all the facts. The union wants charter school parents to think twice about their choices next year, he said, while discouraging current Cleveland students from leaving the district.
The union's marketing push is a sign of desperation, responded Mark F. Thimmig, the chief executive officer of White Hat. This year, the company's charter schools enroll roughly 12,600 students in Ohio, including 3,900 in Cleveland.
"They did not succeed in the legislature. They did not succeed in the courts. Now they're attempting to take the battle to the streets," he said.
While Mr. Thimmig didn't dispute the test scores, he pointed out that the company's schools enroll children who perform well below grade level. The company fired back by sending letters home to all charter school students' parents to "set the record straight."
The union plans to bolster its marketing campaign with television, radio, and billboard advertisements.
Mr. DeColibus said the union had to act: If enrollment estimates hold steady, the 73,000-student district could face up to a $12 million budget cut to cope with increasing charter school enrollment this year.
District officials are comparing charter school enrollments with their student rosters to determine where Cleveland's children are attending classes.
Vol. 23, Issue 8, Page 11Published in Print: October 22, 2003, as Charter Schools