Thursday, November 17, 2016

MA: Charter Lessons

By now, you've heard that the folks who threw a giant pile of money at Question 2, the initiative to free charter-preneurs from their chains so that they could romp freely in fields of money-- those guys lost, and lost hard.

There have been plenty of pieces that dissected the victory for public education from the public education advocate side of things. But I found some interesting points to note in the Boston Globe, just one of the media outlets that was shoveling coal for the charteristas. How did this loss look to the losers? What lessons can be gleaned? Here they are, in no particular order:

Who wants charters?

Charteristas tried hard to sell the narrative that selfish wealthy white suburbanites were denying non-wealthy non-white city dwellers the chance to get great schools. This turned out to be hugely wrong and exactly backward-- the only areas that voted in favor of 2 were the wealthy white suburbs. Even the neighborhoods of the lowest achievers voted against charter expansion. The Globe has half a clue here:

But civil rights advocates say families of color yearn for something deeper: A robust commitment and plan to improve the quality of education in the city’s school system so they don’t need alternatives. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again. People don't want choice. They want what they want. People mostly don't want a selection of schools; they want their school, the school they already have, that already serves their community, to be a good school.

And they want to work in partnership with policymakers rather than having outsiders coming in and proposing a solution.

Folks are starting to catch on to the heart of the charter deal-- "we will give you our idea of a good school, but you must give up having any say in how the school runs." In the age of charter businesses, citizens are expected to trade their democratic rights in exchange for someone else's idea of what the citizens need.

Who has a stake?

Here's a really curious quote from a charter booster attempting to explain the loss:

“The vote is overwhelmingly made up people who are not involved in the public schools,” said Bill Walczak, cofounder of Codman Academy Charter School in Dorchester. 

Who, exactly, is not involved in public schools? Most voters pay taxes. All members of the community must live next door to, employ, work with, and share space with people who come out of the public schools. Explain to me, please, who doesn't have a stake in pubic schools?

This has always been part of the charter playbook-- to frame public education not as a public good, shared by all citizens, but as a sort of service provided to parents alone. Whether this is deliberate spin or feckless ignorance, this shows a profound misunderstanding of what American Public Education is for.

Reality beats spin, sometimes.

Eileen O’Connor, spokeswoman for Great Schools Massachusetts, the organization behind the ballot question, has this to say. “The opposition’s success at falsely blaming charters for funding and performance challenges in Boston’s districts schools was very effective.”

Perhaps it was effective for the same reason that people tend to get wet when they stand in the rain. There is no more effective way to spread the word than for every local school district to be experiencing its own version of a tight budget because of money lost to charter operators. When the elected directors of school districts who sit and work with the budget and know where the money comes from-- when those folks step up to say that they know exactly how much money charters are costing them, it makes a difference that all the shiny professional PR in the world can't make up for.

There is no "falsely" in this situation. Charter fans and reformsters most commonly lose in areas where they have drunk their own kool-aid, and stop understanding what the reality is on the ground, where the actual voters live.

Speaking of which...

The myth of the evil monolithic teacher union 

Man, at some point reformsters have got to grok that all of their woes are not caused by the nefarious, sneaky, evil teachers union, with its vast resources and its mindlessly obedient drones. It's just not true, and to insist that it is is insulting and dismissive of teachers, parents, and other stakeholders in the communities. Why not just take out a full page ad that says, "We think you're all stupid tools!"

Charter backers in Massachusetts didn't know the territory, didn't know the people, and didn't acknowledge the reality of the situation. They just kept hammering away with expensive PR that was mostly impossible to believe. They weren't beaten by the union or the parents or the mysterious voters who were disconnected from public schools but thought they would just screw with charter businesses because reasons. No, the charter crew was beaten by a reality that couldn't be spun or massaged into some shiny dream, no matter how much money they threw at it.

1 comment:

  1. And maybe, just maybe, the Resistance led by you and others is finally really starting to make some headway, bear fruit, turn the tide. We really need us some Social Democracy.