Finding the right school for your children is one of the most difficult tasks parents face.

The days of simply sending kids to the neighborhood school down the street are long gone. There are now choices – lots of them.

Charter schools offer students an alternative form of public education, but they can be quite controversial.

In this week’s podcast, hosts Scott Lewis and Laura Kohn talk to Miles Durfee, a regional director of the California Charter School Association, about some of the hottest topics of the ongoing charter school debate.

One pervasive myth about charters schools, Durfee said, is that they’re an attempt to privatize public education. People see big foundations, business owners and philanthropists donating money to charter schools and they assume that means the charters are influenced or even run by those interests, and that some schools are even out to make money.

“That’s a myth, but it sounds good and so people continue to use it,” Durfee said.


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He said the truth is that charters are mostly nonprofit public institutions authorized by the school district and overseen by charter boards.

Also on the podcast, Lewis and Kohn break down Betsy DeVos’ potential role as secretary of education.

DeVos is a controversial pick, in part, because she’s been an outspoken advocate of expanding school choice. Lewis and Kohn get into some of DeVos’ other contentions stances, and when she dodged some big questions during her underwhelming confirmation hearing.

Number of the Week

30 percent: That’s the percentage of the 122 charter schools in San Diego County that offer online courses only.

What’s Working

The Design39Campus in Poway was designed by teachers as a student-centered school offering project-based learning.

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    This article relates to: Charter Schools, Education, Good Schools For All, Must Reads

    Written by Adriana Heldiz

    12 comments
    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    Corporate intrusion in our education system has been accepted for more than seven decades. Presumably state education departments signal to publishers what they want and publishers dutifully create new textbooks.  The problem is that what ever is in the textbooks doesn't match the expectations of the individual school districts, schools.  Teachers are not only asked to teach to a "test", but teach to a textbook. And, again the outcomes are based on what has been prescribed making teachers unwitting collaborators in a failed attempt at producing good grades, good test scores, good graduation rates, and good outcomes. This is called the box mentality. Do you want wine? Great. Go to CVS and pick up a box labeled wine. And, if you eat something acceptable, you can overcome whatever downside there may be to it . Is it a quality wine? Does it favorable match your taste? Does it match  the food you consume? Or is your objective to merely get a "buzz"?

    Teachers can really teach and inspire given the opportunity. That's what they really want to do. Reading First and the Blue Print are the most recent examples of the extreme version of a "box" mentality. Teachers were required to essentially walk in lock step to a learning script for children. And, "knowledgeable" people would walk around to inspect classrooms.  The irony was that classrooms were dolled up with "focus walls" to make the "visitors" feel something was going well in the classroom. The irony was that activity was for the "visits" and really had no real impact on children learning in the classroom. 

        Here's the real question. Does Mrs. DeVos have ANY idea what goes on in kinder, third grade, sixth grade, eighth grade, tenth grade, community college? I fear, it would take her a near lifetime to google and close the deficit info gap she carries.

    M Pal
    M Pal subscriber

    Next time you jump on a plane for a cross country flight insist on a pilot who has never flown a plane before.  See how that works our for you!    Betsy Devos, the Amway Multi level marketing pyramid scheme family/ lady for Education Secretary?!  Yikes!!! What a colossally bad choice. De Voss has zero applicable educational experience:  No Teaching, No Administration, No attendance/personal experience for DeVoss or her family in public schools. Trump's Cabinet is, perhaps, the least qualified group of appointees ever assembled for a Presidential Cabinet:  Out of touch millionaires, billionaires, racists and assorted oddballs who have never managed any government organization of that size, scope, caliber in their lives...  It surely isn't a "Team of Rivals" like Lincoln put together.   Our country is now going backwards with this completely fluke election of 2016.  This Cabinet, like their President, is only in it to enrich themselves and their cronies and to hell with the millions of families' lives that are adversely affected by their actions...

    Janice Schattman
    Janice Schattman

    Let's divert public funds into unregulated Christian madrassas.  That will improve science scores. 

    Jerry Hall
    Jerry Hall subscribermember

    Right, we're just a bunch of simpletons that don't understand the complexities of education. In fact, public schools taught us many things, including critical thinking. One of those things is that corporations need sales, to get sales they need eyeballs and where great groups of eyeballs sit in captive audience - say, public schools - they could exercise enormous influence on everything from sales and marketing to corporate and public ethics. 

    Yet, Mr. Durfee dismisses the seemingly plausible suggestion that private entities may attempt to influence our schools and overall education systems if they were to become the financial backers or sponsors of our local schools as "“That’s a myth, but it sounds good and so people continue to use it,”.

    Where on earth would an average citizen get that idea, much less those that have worked in big business? The thought that corporation's investors and shareholders would somehow endorse their just throwing the money into the wind, trusting that educators would be responsible and obtain excellent outcomes is in fact the myth. 

    IMHO what really needs to change are two main areas. One, the Texas Board of Education having near exclusive influence on the content of today's schools text books. And two, the near strangulation of our educational system by the NEA and other educator unions. I will always be pro-union but, only if it is a truly representative one that puts our children ahead of our teachers. 

    Until then, the fantasy that Mrs. DeVos is the answer to our educational system, and will do all she can to shield our education system from the influence of big corporations and industry nears lunacy. No, it is lunacy. How did she form that opinion throughout her life? Where did she realize the frailties and strengths of our K-12 systems or, our pre- and post-secondary educational institutions? It's likely that she arrived at those conclusions through one method - in her imagination.  

    Our educational institution needs a thorough makeover yes but, it should be through existing federal, state and local educational systems, warts and all. If big government wants to influence education - then back people who we can vet and vote for. That keeps the public engaged, something corporations shudder at the idea of due to it's cost in time and money.

    Let us mere citizens decide with our votes who should run our schools. We're up to the job - without needing Pepsi and Amway to get their grip on a captive audience of tens of millions of future consumers for a couple decades. 


    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Betsy DeVos is going to be confirmed. Greater school choice and vouchers are going to become a reality.

    Everyone is going to have to deal with it.

    From my perspective this is a good development and long over due.

    Jerry Hall
    Jerry Hall subscribermember

    @Mark Giffin Especially the minorities and poor... they're going to fare well... said no one.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Jerry Hall @Mark Giffin 

    It will empower the poor and minorities if they choose to exercise it.

    Parents will have power to choose the educational choices they feel are relevant to their child and among them will be the public schools which will have to finally compete. They will no longer hold education hostage.

    Eduardo Stephano
    Eduardo Stephano subscriber

    @Mark Giffin Yes, DeVos will likely be confirmed, but you're living in a fantasy if you think vouchers will become the new nationwide norm. The majority of taxpayers, and parents with children in public schools, don't support vouchers, especially if it means less funding for public schools. Furthermore, most states/districts all ready have plenty of "choice" as more and more charters pop up. I can see DeVos targeting a few vulnerable cities, but the federal nationwide defunding of public schools in favor of private options is a pipe dream. 



    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Eduardo Stephano @Mark Giffin 

    Perhaps Eduardo. 

    Change won't happen overnight and the teachers unions will fight it tooth and nail no doubt.

    Given the choice, if parents are in fact given a choice to use vouchers, many will and the seeds will be planted. 

    If the vouchers do lead to positive results more people will opt to use them and that is how the change will occur

    Michael Livingston
    Michael Livingston

    Under your scenario, as more kids leave the public school system and their families pay for their own education elsewhere, we should be reducing the amount of money in the state budget for K-12 education proportionally. 


    Charter schools offer parents a choice in the face of public schools failing to adapt to the changes in society for the last 20 years. Moving a portion of the funding stream along with the children assures the process of improving public schools continues. Other forces in society have equal or greater effects on the Public school system, such as low wages, high housing costs and population pressure.

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    Let's get the issues straight, please. Mrs. Betsy DeVos is about stealing tax dollars that are meant for individual school districts and giving them to exclusive private schools and religious parochial schools. People have always had a choice about leaving their children in a local public school or spending their own money for a school of their ideological choice. By diverting public money to vouchers for families with other preferences allows for the segregation of people like what happened in places like Alabama to avoid integrating their children with African-American children or the rather lame excuse of preferring school prayer in school.

    Mrs. DeVos has no intention of making sure minority children of any race or children with disabilities or children with behavioral challenges be given any special place in her "choice" schools.

      No. The real issue is the State budget and the periodic underfunding of public schools. 

       Inspite of extreme efforts to defund public schools, public schools are responsible for loading up our best universities with the best and the brightest students.

         Public schools k-12 are the best deal in America and supporting them is the most patriotic thing families can do today.  Public schools are the primary gateway to a middle class or middle income start in life.

         Public schools are not perfect. But, what human endeavor is perfect? Schools and teachers that are greatly challenged should be supported more, not less.

         Mrs. Betsy DeVos comes from a family philosophy that believes that the word "public" in public schools is anathema to them.