The Charter School Fallacy Exposed!

Here is a great piece exposing the nonsense about charter schools. Read it, and support your local teacher!
Charter Schools in Minnesota: Do they measure up?

Here's the standard rap from advocates of educational reform:

The public system needs to have some competition in order to perform better. Post-secondary institutions exist in a competitive environment, and they represent America's highest achievement in terms of educational excellence. We need to do the same thing in secondary and primary schools in order to jolt the public
sector back to life.

So begins the argument for Charter schools, if not, depending on the agenda of the advocate, of public sponsored school vouchers for parents that would allow their children to attend private schools with public dollars.

And, in truth, it is a persuasive sounding argument. Markets have worked almost universally across the board in other areas of our society--well, until very recently, at least. And, given the magnitude of the crash that seems to be engulfing private capital markets, maybe the argument for Charter schools is about to undergo a seismic shift.

But, let's examine the Charter as public competition model argument.

The very yardstick by which public schools are being bashed, standardized test scores, is also now being applied to charter schools. And, as I might have guessed, being a strong opponent of standardized exams as a measure of anything of real value in education, charter schools are not doing that well. In fact, they are underperforming the public system here in Minnesota.

Here's the money graf for those too lazy to click the link:

But a study released today by the University of Minnesota's Institute on Race and Poverty finds that most charter schools have fallen short of that promise and perform worse than comparable district schools on state tests. In the process, it said, charters also intensify racial and economic segregation and compound the problem by encouraging districts to compete by creating ethnic niche programs.

"So many people are seeing charter schools as a solution to poor, segregated neighborhoods," said Myron Orfield, the institute's executive director. "The sad part is, they're getting these kids to switch schools and then they're doing worse" than district schools.

Readers should understand that Minnesota pioneered charter schools back in the early 1990s, and since then has been a leader in devising new and innovative ways to bring charter schools into the public arena. The fact that, in this state, charter schools are notscoring well on standardized exams is a cause for great concern, among editors, among legislators and among educators and parents.

What's more, given that it has been shown that charter schools increase racial and ethnic segregation--rather dramatically--there are now serious and important questions being raised about where we are going with the charter experiment.

To wit: if charters don't improve test scores, and if they serve to exacerbate segregation and class separation in all our public schools, just what benefit are we getting out of the competitive model?

Sure, some parents are very happy with charter schools and there is no doubt in my mind that some charters are excellent places to send children--innovative, personal, life-changing. But, remember, charters are being held out as "game changers" for the entire system, not just for the lucky few who have a quality charter in their area. We have to worry about the impacts on the whole system.

Thus, it is more than past time to do one of two things:

a. admit that the idea that charter schools necessarily increase excellence in traditional academics should not be assumed to be true--and indeed, that they increase competition for academic excellence is therefore also not true.

b. have a "come to Jesus" moment about the importance of test scores in measuring academic success and personal development.
We have to acknowledge, twenty years later that something is not right in the current debate about education reform. Either we are wrong about competition, or, we are wrong about measuring success in such a narrow way. Or, as I firmly believe, we are wrong on both counts: education is not a competition and you cannot improve it by pitting one group, one school, one community against another. And, relying on test scores as a measure of your overall level of excellence is akin totrusting "the system" more than the human beings who are, after all,the very foundation and reason for creating a system in the first place.

It's time to go back to the drawing board America, and remember why it is that we have schools in the first place. That is: to give children every opportunity to contribute something valuable to their families, their communities and their nation. Until we remember that, we will be treading water, if not getting sucked down the mighty vortex of systemic corruption that is currently suffocating our economy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Remember, charter schools are (for the most part) union free! Yipee! The schools can hire, and fire at will! No bad teachers! Woo-hoo! Goooo charter schools!
I live in Philadelphia, PA. Here in Philly, we have roughly 75 charter schools. About 40 of them are elementary. My daughter is in pre-k and thus will be in Kindergarten next fall. Of those 40 or so schools only 3 (three!) of them are good enough for my daughter. Due to distances of those schools, we are applying to only one of those three. So much for offering "choice". Charter schools are almost like fast-food restaurants. While it is great that instead of only McDonalds, you can now choose from Burger King, Taco Bell, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, you are still getting crappy food. Charter schools, are one expensive experiment that needs to be retired.

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