Monday, February 18, 2013

A Bad Idea, Badly Executed

Every time I write about my opposition to charter schools, vouchers, and other methods of privatizing public education as I did most recently last Fall, there are those who write to set me straight, tell me of the wonderful charter school their child attends, or the one across town they are hoping to get their child into, or about their opinions of the horrible public school they hope avoid and what choice to they have other than a charter?  And certainly there are some non-profit charters that are actually approaching children as human beings, using pedagogically sound approaches, employing research and evidence and best practices to shape their curriculum, but the evidence is that most are not.

The whole charter school movement is based upon a Big Lie, one propagated by the public relations teams of large for-profit education companies and their henchmen in government. The truth is that our public schools are succeeding. And parents know it. Fifty-one percent of us give our local public school, the one we know the best, an A or a B. If you throw in the C's, a full 88% of us give our schools a passing grade (leaving 12 percent of our schools in the unsatisfactory category, a number that pretty much parallels our nation's poverty rate.) Room for improvement, but hardly a disaster. When asked to grade our public educational system as a whole, however, only 17 percent award an A or B, clear evidence that the Big Lie is being successfully propagated. Why the lie? Because these corporations want to get their hands on the billions of dollars that we've set aside to educate our children and they need to create a crisis in order to do it. And, of course, also because public school teachers have strong unions and Wall Street types love nothing better than a little union busting.

But that's not why I'm writing this morning, although I encourage you to click through to those previous posts if you doubt my assertions. No, today I want to share some links I've come across recently on the topic of charters. The first is a deep, detailed and damning look at the history of "school choice" in America, one that reveals the charter movement as a contemporary manifestation of our nation's racist past. The second two posts are horror stories of how charter school corporations, as do all corporations, game the system, screwing over kids and their families, while protecting their profits.

From Robert Levin writing for The Cucking Stool:

School Choice, the bedrock of modern education reform, was born as an educational strategy in 1954, after the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate but equal black and white public schools were unconstitutional. The order to desegregate public education motivated Southern racist authoritarians to search for new ways to maintain their dominance and racial apartheid. After first trying pupil-assignment schemes to maintain segregation they eventually implemented educational "freedom of choice" and public support for private whites-only schools as a way to get around the court's order, a notion immediately endorsed by free-market evangelist Milton Friedman.

The link I've provided here is actually to the third in an amazing nine part discussion of charter schools and how it has been driven by first racism, then racism blended with the kind of discredited neoliberal orthodoxy promoted by Friedman and his modern day devotees like charter school promotor Bill Gates. It goes a long way toward explaining why the charter school movement is so incredibly disconnected from the reality of research and data. It's a long, well-documented piece. I defy anyone who values reason to read it and still come out as a supporter of privatizing our public schools.

I also wanted to share this special report from Reuters about how charter schools, which are supposed to be public schools, are skirting laws and regulations in order to cherry pick students, excluding large segments of the student population who they fear will reduce their profits:

Charters are public schools, funded by taxpayers and widely promoted as open to all. But Reuters has found the across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law . . . from New Hampshire to California, charter schools large and small, honored and obscure, have developed complex application processes that can make it tough for students who struggle with disability, limited English skills, academic deficits or chaotic family lives to even get into the lottery.

Frankly, this report confirms most of my worst nightmares about how charters operate, looking out for their own bottom line over educating all-comers which is the mandate of public education.

And finally, there is this damning piece about one particularly unscrupulous education corporation from EduShyster, a site dedicated to "keeping an eye on the corporate education agenda." Apparently, the family of a student enrolled in a charter high school being run by one of the largest charter networks and the country, one apparently much beloved by former Obama chief of staff and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, received this letter about their child:

To Whom it may Concern, NAME REDACTED is a student who was required to repeat the eleventh grade at Rauner College Prep because he failed to satisfy all of our promotion requirements. Because he is a reclassified student, the credits he earned during his first attempt in eleventh grade have been deleted. If the student were to transfer to another school, those credits would be repopulated as earned credits.

In other words, instead of taking responsibility for educating the child, this corporation is just washing their hands of him. Obviously, this is part of the way this slimy business maintains it's high academic ratings. It's particular noxious that if he leaves the school he gets to keep the credits he earned. This is the same corporation that "made headlines with the news that the charter chain charges low-income parents for their children's disciplinary infractions -- like untied shoes, unbuttoned polo shirts and failure to keep their eyes on the teacher." It's actually surprising to me that the for-profit prison industry isn't trying to get into this game.

Listen, I know there are some charters that aren't total bad guys, but it's become increasingly obvious to this reporter that this corporate financed "movement" has nothing to do with "fixing" broken public schools and educating children, and everything to do with turning a quick buck off frightened politicians, worried parents, and innocent kids. It's a bad idea, badly executed.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is an excellent book on the perception of schooling, by David Tyack and Larry Cuban, called Tinkering with Utopia. Their theory of why people have developed an idea that schools are failing makes a lot of sense to me.

I subbed at one charter school and taught at another in NYC back in the even wilder west days of charters here, and it was crazy. Some of these schools never met even half of their charters. Some of them employed unqualified teachers and gave them students that they could not handle. And the charter schools had their own district, with a superintendent whose approach was to give everyone an infinite number of "chances" before they were in danger of losing their charter. I believe now, at least, charter schools belong to their geographical districts, but some of the worst offenders still remain.