That's made extraordinarily clear in his piece for Atlantic, in which he "examines the issues at the heart of the charter-school debate." It would appear that the issue at the heart of the debate is that charter schools are freaking awesome.
|He can finally grow that mustache he always wanted|
Duncan opens by gushing effusively about Richard Whitmire's book-length PR release for charters., saying that it helps take a stand against "the pernicious notion that high-performing schools for disadvantaged students are isolated flukes, dependent on a charismatic educator or the cherry-picking of bright students."
Duncan himself has visited lots of "gap-closing" charters in Chicagoland, and he applauds the bravery and dedication and sheer educational awesomeness that charters embody.
I have never heard a charter-school leader describe his or her school as a “miracle school” or claim to have found the silver bullet for ending educational inequity. The truth is that great charter schools are restless institutions, committed to continuous improvement. They are demanding yet caring institutions. And they are filled with a sense of urgency about the challenges that remain in boosting achievement and preparing students to succeed in life.
I feel certain that these qualities can be found in plenty of public schools, too, but Duncan's eye is on the charter prize alone. He recaps the history of charters in a couple of paragraphs, and then touts their greatest achievement:
Nevertheless, what stands out for me is that high-performing charter schools have convincingly demonstrated that low-income children can and do achieve at high levels—and can do so at scale.
Scaleability has always been important to Duncan because reasons. His holy grail remains the One Size that will Fit All. If we can just make everyone in school Expect hard enough, all students will get high scores on standardized tests, and then those students will graduate and high-paying jobs will appear for them to fill. And in his heart, Duncan seems to know that only charter schools can perform this magic.
As with his devotion to Common Core, his love of charters admits no reasonable, thoughtful, evidence-based, educationally-committed opposition. No reasonable people could possibly oppose him. Where Core opponents were silly flakes who didn't want to face reality, charter opponents are ideologues and (you knew it was coming) union devotees who are not concerned about children at all, but only care about their personal political hobbyhorse:
Sadly, much of the current debate in Washington, in education schools, and in the blogosphere about high-performing charter schools is driven by ideology, not by facts on the ground. Far too often, the chief beneficiaries of high-performing charter schools—low-income families and children—are forgotten amid controversies over funding and the hiring of nonunion teachers in charter schools. Too often, the parents and children who are desperately seeking better schools are an afterthought.
People can argue about the difference between charters and public schools, but Duncan is sure that children don't care about the distinction, and neither does he. I am not sure I agree about the distinction. I think children care when their school suddenly closes and leaves them adrift, and only charters do that. I think children care when their public school cuts programs because it has lost too much money to charter schools. I think children care when their school mistreats them or won't hear them and they have nowhere to turn because a charter school board doesn't have to answer to them.
Our common enemy is academic failure. Our common goal is academic success.
For Duncan, this claim has never been true. His goal has been high scores on a single narrow standardized test. And while there are charter folks who are in it for the right reason, it would take an exceptional level of willful blindness at this point not to notice that many charter operators are simply in it to make a buck and educating children is a minor consideration at best.
Of course, Duncan does admit that some charters fail to produce academic results, and here's what he thinks about that:
...it is absolutely incumbent on the charter sector to be vigilant about policing itself and closing down low performers.
Notice that he doesn't even go as far as admitting there are come bad actors and fraudsters in the charter sector, nor does he see a role for government in protecting students, families, and taxpayers from fraudsters. Nope-- just let the charter sector police itself.
There was never any doubt that Duncan was a charter fan, but this piece puts him in line with some of the most pie-eyed charter lovers. All pretense is gone, and in a way, it's impressive that Duncan could pretend to be even semi-supportive of public education for as long as he did. But now he can stop pretending, and be the charter-loving, public school dismissing PR flack he always wanted to be.
[Update: Gary Rubinstein caught that this is a slightly modified version of Duncan's gushing introduction for Whitmire's book, and points out that what he removed for this Atlantic piece is itself telling. Also, be sure to visit the comments area for more illuminating linkage.]