Friday, November 13, 2015

More Charter Pushback for HRC

Man-- so much fuss from a couple of Hillary Clinton sentences.

After Robert Pondiscio stood up for charters, yesterday's USA Today included another pushback from charter cheerleader Richard Whitmire (Emerson Collective).

Whitmire has several charer-friendly notions that he would like to put forth.

First, he allows that charters have not turned out to be the great laboratories of innovation first envisioned-- but he blames that on public schools. Whitmire would have us believe that charters are chock full of innovative secrets to educational success, although he does not name a single lesson that public schools can learn from charters. In fact, I have never seen a charter advocate lay out lessons for public schools from charters, and I would propose that it's because there are no lessons to learn.

Spend more time on instruction. Have smaller classes. Be selective about which students are allowed to sit in your classroom, and when they can be admitted. Spend lots of money on resources and support, but don't take on any students who need a disproportionate amount of resources.

These are the "lessons" that modern charters have to teach, and they are not news to anybody. But they are also contrary to either A) the mission of public education or B) policymakers' desire not to give pubic schools anything above the most bare bones financial resources.

Whitmire cites his own book of glowing praise for Rocketship Academy, the charter system that launched the innovation of plunking students down in front of a computer screen. The Rocketship sputtered after a few years, but you can still find plenty of counter-narrative on line.

Whitmire says that public school districts ask only one question about charters-- "How can we deny them?" He might do well to ask why that is. While charteristas like to peddle that districts oppose charters because they are slaves to their teacher unions, I'd suggest that it's far more likely that under current funding systems, charters and districts are forced to compete in a zero-sum funding game and that every student who moves to a charter creates additional financial strains on the public school.

This leads us directly to Witmire's second point: "that rapidly expanding charters offer many poor and minority children their best chance of emerging from K-12 schools ready for a job or further education." This sentence needs some editing, and should read "charters offer a few poor and minority children an okay chance..." But because charters are now part of a zero-sum system, for every child that a charter accepts, many other children are left in a public school that is now trying to meet their needs with even fewer resources.

Finally, Whitmire suggests that the Democrat divide over charter schools is actually a proxy war, and that the real problem is poverty "and how schools can help children who arrive on their doorsteps from families facing difficult lives at home and families where the parents speak no English." Whitmire says that five million school children are now English Language Learners. What he doesn't say is how many of those five million charters are willing to help, and what can or should be done for all the rest. He talks about the "potential of powerful schools," but what he is proposing is a well-funded education for some, while all the rest must make do with a public system even more cash-strapped and resource-drained because of charters.

But what's really worth noting about Whitmire's rebuttal is that it does not actually address the substance of Clinton's criticism-- that charters do not accept or keep the most challenging students. It's a difficult issue for charter fans to address, because it's the truth.

And that is the real challenge for the Corporate Democrats who favor charters-- how to sell a system founded on the notion of a good education for only a few. Why would the any political party not want to stand up for a public education system dedicated to serving every single child in America?


  1. Great post. One sentence I would modify:

    "This sentence needs some editing, and should read 'charters offer a few poor and minority children an okay chance of bubbling in a few more questions correctly on a standardized exam if they are able to withstand the no excuses discipline'."

    Also, concerning whether charters will take their share of English Language Learners, the answer appears to be absolutely not:

    Also, you really should read this amazing 3 part series in the Baltimore Sun about undocumented/newcomer students:

    No way the high performing charters take these kids

  2. During a presidential election, candidates have many, many "closed door" meetings with groups which then support them. Who will benefit once the candidate is elected? The leaders who rounded up the votes. Lily and Randi will be richly rewarded with appointments, advisory committee positions and $$$$$$$$$. What about teachers and public education? Look whose campaign money is being poured out to support Hillary. Eli Broad is merely the tip of the corporate education reform iceberg.

  3. You forgot about the "innovation" that allows charters to hire and fire whenever they want, pay them what they want, and adopt merit pay schemes. And, of course the "innovation" of not being burdened with unions.

  4. I read Whitmire's love letter to John Danner (his Rocketship book). My favorite line from the book: "In theory, Sgambelluri's class is discussing slavery but every minute or so the lesson briefly veers into short-duration brain teasers that keep every student in rapture." Yeah, because talking about slavery by itself is just so passe. Especially for black kids. Yawn.

    If you're interested, here's my review of the book:

    1. Bravo! I especially liked when you wondered what Danner would do if one of his "rocketeers" took apart a school computer, the way Danner did his Apple II.

  5. Karen Garcia, at Sardonicky, has an excellent run-down of some of the folks in TeachStrong

    Wednesday, November 11, 2015 "Plutocrats in Plunderland"