Bill Gates is singularly responsible for introducing charter schools into Washington State. He proposed the idea four times, and three times the voters said no. In 2012, he swamped the election with millions of dollars and glorious promises, and the measure passed. How are things working out for Bill and his friends? Not so well. Station KUOW in Seattle launched an investigation of the state’s largest charter chain and what the writer Ann Dornfeld found was broken promises.

In this post, she describes the charter chain’s cruel method of holding kids back in order to raise the chain’s test scores. Made the school look better at the expense of the students who were held back.

Dornfeld writes:

Art Wheeler’s daughter and son were thriving in the fall of their second year at Impact Puget Sound Elementary, a charter school in Tukwila, Washington. Their grades were high, Wheeler said, and they got glowing reports from their teachers.

“Your kids are standouts,” he recalled teachers saying. “They’re a pleasure to have in class.”

But two months into the school year, in November 2019, Wheeler said letters arrived from Impact saying his children were failing, and may have to repeat the year — the year that had just begun. Wheeler was confused. “They messed up,” he thought. “This is for somebody else’s kids.”

The holdback letters were, in fact, for Wheeler’s children. Others in their first- and second-grade classes had gotten them, too, teachers told him the next day, based on a single test, rather than students’ overall abilities. The teachers looked stricken, he said. One cried.

Three teachers told KUOW that they’ve had up to one-third of their students on the “promotion in doubt” list.

Impact said that its grade-retention practice is meant to ensure students master the material. Parents make the ultimate decision about whether to hold a child back, they said, and ultimately, only nine returning students — fewer than 3% — “chose to repeat a grade” in 2021.

But Baionne Coleman, a former Impact administrator, said its policy of sending grade-holdback letters was connected to funding.

Coleman said that Jen Davis Wickens, the co-founder and CEO of Impact, had been adamant that low-scoring students repeat the year.

“This is going to affect our third-grade scores,” Wickens said, according to Coleman.

Third grade is when students first take the state standardized reading and math tests. The state — and funders — use those test scores to determine whether a charter school has met its performance goals.

The tests are high-stakes: In 2021, Impact received a $10.1 million property loan from Equitable Facilities Fund, an organization focused on lending to charter schools. Loan documents include a covenant that students at Impact’s Tukwila school must outperform students in the surrounding school districts on the state math and reading tests.

Wickens declined multiple interview requests for this story and agreed to answer questions only via email through a spokesperson.

Hey, Bill Gates, this is a form of cheating. Are you proud of what you created?