Friday, December 12, 2014

Charters Break the American Promise

I'm not going to take Mike Petrilli to the woodshed for his horrifyingly honest piece in the New York Times because Sarah Blaine has already effectively voiced the appropriate outrage. You should go read her piece (and her blog should be on your personal blogroll). I'm just going to note that Petrilli reminds us of what we already knew.

Petrilli has always been pretty up front about this; Anthony Cody called him out on it a year ago. The whole point of school choice is so that select parents can get their children away from Those People.

You know Those People. Those Children are unruly, poorly behaved, badly dressed, generally uncouth. They make for a poor school atmosphere. They won't pull up their pants, or get off our lawn. They set a Very Poor  Example for the other children. If we could just get our own exemplary children away from Those People, life would be so much better. Well, at least it would be so much better for us.

Schools are always blown along by the prevailing winds of the larger culture, and one of the prevailing winds these days is "I've got mine, Jack." Public education was established as a reflection of the US melting pot mentality, but we've put the melting pot away.

It's not that we want to go back to Separate But Equal. Our goal is Separate But Better.

As many folks have pointed out, school choice is not about families choosing schools as much as it's about schools choosing The Right Kind of Student. This dovetails perfectly with Free Market Forces, because the Free Market always demand that the least profitable, the least attractive, the least desirable customers be dumped.

I'm not going to pretend that all of us who work in public education love every single student who crosses our threshold. Every teacher has had at least one student in one class whose name on the absence list made our day a little bit more pleasant and less stressful. But that never changed our understanding of the public school teacher gig-- to educate every single student that was put in front of us to the very best of our ability. That's the promise of US public education-- that we will do the best we can for every single student that shows up on our doorstep. Public school, like home, is the place that, when you go there, they have to take you in.

Creaming hurts the fabric of society in other ways. Are there students who are brighter, faster, more dedicated than some of their peers? Of course there are-- and public school is a place where they learn to be leaders as they become part of the current that draws their less gifted peers forward. In the charter model, public schools loose their leadership even as they learn that they have no responsibility to anyone but themselves. I've got mine, Jack.

The fundamental promise of US public education is that we will educate every single child for as long as there are children in this country. The fundamental promise of modern charters, as deftly delineated by Petrilli, is we will educate the students we feel like educating for as long as it suits us to do it. That is probably the smallest promise that any culture has made to its children in the history of ever; even elite medieval schools promised to stick around till the job was done. Charters have tried to claim success by redefining success, and their new definition is tiny and unambitious.

This is also emblematic of another forgotten American promise. Modern charters are predicated on the idea that we will no longer try to fix things. They are predicated on the idea of "escaping" bad neighborhoods, bad conditions, bad poverty-- which of course means we have no intention of addressing those issues. We are standing in front of a burning building with no intention of putting the fire out. We're just going to rescue a few kids. The right kids.

Charter fans like to bill them as engines of innovation, cutting edge schools that will lead us on a new path. That's baloney. If you want a big, expansive, ambitious, audacious, bold promise, nothing beats "We will be here to educate every single child in America just as long as their are children in America." There is nothing bold, ambitious, or cutting edge about promising, "We will be here to educate a few select children as long as it's convenient and profitable for us." There is nothing forward-thinking about saying, "If a child is hard to teach, we'll get rid of him."

Petrilli doesn't just reveal that the modern charter movement is ethically empty-- he shows that its stunted, small, unambitious, and a betrayal of the American promise.


  1. That’s the schools as business model. You seek the most return on investment.

  2. You have to give Petrilli points for honesty... if not much else.

    I wonder if the charter liars are going to come out and distance themselves from Petrilli.

    You know, those folks who say...

    "Charters have the same exact admissions and expulsion
    policy as the regular public schools."

    "Charters are open to all."

    "Charters don't kick out kids. That's just a myth created
    by the status quo."

    and on and on...

    As Petrilli's message of "charters-DO-dump-kids-but's-that's-a-good-thing" gets out---and the evidence supporting it gets easier and easier to see, and harder and harder to deny---are the national and local charter groups going to still stick to the above script?

    At the point, if they do change their script, they'd have to admit,

    "Yeah, yeah... we were lying all the time about that charters are 'open to all'... as that lying and trickery was merely a necessary tactic to allow us to expand and wipe out public schools... but let's not dwell on all that negativity, and just move on.

    "Face it. Public schools are now mostly all gone---or on the way out---so let's just work within that new reality (like in the 100% privatized, charter-ized New Orleans) and not talk about how it was our years of lying and trickery to the American public that got us here. Dwelling on that is just living in the past. It's a bunch of negativity and not productive."

  3. At least NCLB had a good goal in mind. Obviously present charter schools go against this idea of serving all children.

    Good point that focusing on trying to "escape" poverty and bad neighborhoods means not having to address the issue or trying to fix things.

    Sarah Blaine said "Because you know, there are kids who matter, and kids who don’t. And if socio-economic factors happen to determine who belongs in which category for the vast majority of those kids, who cares? Because why care about a kid who doesn’t care, regardless of why that kid appears to “not care”?"

    We know that socio-economic factors determine how well kids do in school. So the kids that the charters throw out are probably the ones in poverty, poverty that isn't being addressed because the only way out of poverty, according to reformsters, is education, but these kids in poverty who have the most need of education to be able to "escape" poverty are the ones that don't "deserve" an education because "they don't seem to care."

    Disruptive students are certainly the biggest problem to my mind in teaching, and there needs to be a better way to address the issue in any school environment. In-school suspensions are better than out. But why don't we have a system to better address "why that kid" appears to "not care"? Maybe instead of having 4 principals, 2 deans, and 4 counselors as in a traditional school, we should have 1 principal, 1 social worker, and 8 counselors. If a kid is so disruptive s/he has to be sent out of class because his/her behavior is infringing on others' right to learn, maybe instead of being sent to the dean to get demerits or detention and a scolding, they could be sent to the counselor to try to figure out what the problem is and ameliorate the situation.

    I also liked what Sarah Blaine said: "Are we weeding out the rebels? The creative thinkers? Those who question authority? Are we rewarding malleability, conformity, and keeping your head down?" So the ones the charters throw out are probably either the ones that need education the most or are the ones that could be innovators. This also goes along with the idea that we should not think we are supposed to produce worker-drone widgets, and one-size fits-all education is not effective.

    We need laws for charters schools that require them to demonstrate they're either doing something innovative or addressing some segment of the student population that is underserved in a traditional school, and other laws that demand that they show clear and transparent accountability that public funding is actually used to benefit students.

    Obviously politicians aren't going to make these laws. I've decided that the political system is so corrupt that politicians are totally useless as far as doing anything for the public good. The only way I see to make changes is to bypass politicians whenever possible and do ballot initiatives wherever they're allowed. The teachers' unions could be leading the way on this if they wanted to do something practical.

  4. I think the charter supporters (such as Arne at the DOE) have been playing the long game all along. Attack teachers' unions (though they love themselves some teachers!). Defund the public schools in big cities. Seed Broad supernintendos everywhere. Run the RacettT scam. Rank and stack. Get celebrities to weigh in as Very Serious People on education (not just Shakira, but also M. Night Shyamalan and Oprah). Then the big reveal - oh no, charters aren't for everyone. As soon as something becomes scarce, demand increases. VoilĂ , we need more charters. Meantime, let's do those real estate deals.