Saturday, December 17, 2016

The New Charter Packaging

The election of Donald Trump presented nominally-Democratic reformsters with a problem.

How could they put some distance between themselves and Trump and his Ed Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos. Neither one would pass for a progressive in even the darkest alley, and yet their preferred policies are the preferred policies of Trump-DeVos. Charters? Check. Smoosh the teachers unions? Check. Even Common Core, which Trump promised to eradicate, is much beloved by DeVos.

What, exactly, is the policy difference between the so-called progressive reform education agenda and the Trump-DeVos inclination to dismantle public education and sell off the pieces?

The dance of the faux progressives has been interesting to watch.

Some have just said, "Screw it. We love the folks who have the power." Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform took just six months to go from being alarmed that Trump was playing her song to thinking that, well, maybe he was swell after all.

Others, like Whitney Tilson and DFER, hedged their bets by suggesting that nobody should take a job with Trump, but maybe DeVos deserved a chance to prove herself.

But the preferred distinction is slowly being crafted and fine-tuned. Shavar Jeffries and Peter Cunningham tried it out at the end of November, and it is turning up in places like this tweet from the left-leaning thinky tank (and previous holding tank for former future Clinton administration functionaries)--

And then today's Washington Post features an op-ed by Rahm Emanuel, who wants us to know that "It's Time To Stop With the False Choices on School Choice." See, Betsy DeVos is the Wanton Floozy of choice, allowing any sleazy sloppy operator to run a school without accountability and therefor put the education of young folks at risk. Meanwhile, Rahm and Jeffries and Cunningham and other allegedly progressive folks want responsible, carefully monitored charter schools. Not only that, but Cunningham injected this into a twitter conversation today:

Sigh. Yes, for the gazillionth time, some refornmsters have discovered that they need some help from the defenders of public education.

Mind you, I have met Cunningham, and he did not appear to have horns or a forked tail. But this whole new stance requires, once again, a collective rewrite of history. In fact, plenty of right-tilted reformsters like Robert Pondiscio and Rick Hess and even Mike Petrilli who have periodically observed that somebody ought to reel in the charter operators who are really stinking up the joint, even as left-tilted reformsters have blamed all criticism of charters on those evil unions who put adult interests ahead of student needs or thrown around charges of racism every time a public ed advocate pointed out that charter schooling has a real problem.

Look, I get that politics shifts the landscape and folks who make their living playing political ping pong have to adjust to new realities and make new alliances and try new PR to achieve their goals. But just once I would like to go through one of these shifts that starts with folks acknowledging what they've said and done in the past.

If you're a teacher, you know how tiring it is-- something gets thrown across the room and you saws the kid who did it and he knows you saw him and yet he still looks at you and smile and shrugs "What? Who? Me??" The thrown object is not nearly as annoying as the kid insisting on treating you like a dope and refusing to own his actions.

But this, I guess, is how we're going to play it now. We're supposed to act like the demands for accountability represent some huge gulf between progressive charter reformsterism and the Trump-DeVosy variety as if supposed progressives haven't been pursuing conservative policies all along, and, as John King tried to suggest, all of us over here on the not-Trump side just want the same thing and are really pretty much on the same side, even though Trump and DeVos are intent on implementing the same policies that reformsters of both tiltage have been pushing toward for fifteen years. The Trumpies just don't want to pretend that they are doing non-wealthy non-white families a favor by pushing it.

This is why politics makes me tired. If we could just talk about policy and education and how best to serve America's students and communities, but no-- that conversation apparently has to be held within the restrictions and boundaries of keeping track of which side you're on and who you want to be allied with and who you want to oppose for the good of Our Team and the need to have the conversation within those restrictions results in people just saying stupid, ridiculous, if-you-hadn't-spent-so-much-time-in-politics-you'd-understand-how-silly-you-sound things. I don't care what you call yourself; the difference between "neo-liberal" and "conservative" is that one is one letter longer. I don't want to spend time sorting out people. I want to talk about preserving, protecting and uplifting public education, one of the last great foundational democratic institutions in this country, not why you think your way of attacking it is so much better and different than someone else's way of attacking it. Grrr. Yes, you can imagine me breathing heavily at my keyboard.

So, okay. These are the new rules. Righties want charters with no accountability. Progressives want tons of accountability. Gee. I guess dividing the conversation along those lines means we don't get to talk about whether or not we should have charters at all, huh?


  1. "dividing the conversation along those lines means we don't get to talk about whether or not we should have charters at all, huh?"

    Bingo. It's a win-win.

    1. Exactly.
      Should we serve dog poop on club sandwiches or in our stew?

  2. I've had numerous conversations with bright, well-meaning Progressives that we need to "stay open" to the possibility of working with Cunningham and his cronies--as we all have a "common enemy" in Trump and DeVos.

    Sorry--for the reasons you outline here, I have zero interest in helping Mr. Cunningham, who has attacked teachers and schools for the better part of a decade, with a smile on his face, just because he thinks he's a Democrat, and we are pretending that Trump's a Republican. The difference here isn't political parties--it's who believes in public schools.

    And Cunningham is not on my team.

  3. For me, the distilling point about the charter movement is this single issue: There is not a single thing that charter schools accomplish that could not be done in our existing public schools, except not actually be public. Once you violate the public part, you violate the mission of our
    public school system. We are either in this together or we aren't. We are either a public school system, or we aren't. Pretending that education is like a business system that benefits from competition, is like thinking that children can improve families by competing for the family in which they want to live. Competition works in the business world and in sports, where people choose to compete. Public schools don't need competition, they need strengthening through collaboration, support, and the opportunity to innovate together. Competition works by having winners and losers. We have plenty of those already.

    1. I gotta copy that was awesome

    2. I think this depends on what you think existing public schools could accomplish.

      I think the main virtue of choice schools (I include magnet and charter schools in this group) is that by allowing the students to pick the schools you will allow the school faculty to have a greater voice in picking the curriculum. As long as students are forced to attend school A or school B based on arbitrarily determined catchment lines, there will be great pressure for uniformity across schools so the catchment lines do not matter.

      Public school districts compete with each other all the time for both teachers and students. Post secondary educational institutions like the one I teach in are very competitive with each other and at the same time, very cooperative with each other. Perhaps that is one reason why the idea that students might be given the choice not to come to my institution or be in my class. That is the world I am used to living in.

    3. I would say that there is not one single idea, solution, policy, practice, or methodology being implemented in charter schools that any self-respecting public school teacher would want to adopt.

    4. TE, your post makes no sense. To begin with, post-secondary is already a choice, so apples and oranges. Next, catchment lines don't matter? I thought your point was always that they do. And teachers in charter schools have much less voice in picking curriculum than in public schools.

    5. NY Teacher,

      Boston Public Schools are busy extending the class day as a way to narrow the achievement gap. Are you against that change because it has been adopted by many charter schools?


      The comment was that "Pretending that EDUCATION is like a business system that benefits from competition, is like thinking that children can improve families by competing for the family in which they want to live" (emphasis was mine). I think post secondary education counts as education and think that my university benefits from having to compete with others for faculty and students.

      I also think your mistaken about the relationship between faculty and curriculum at charter schools. A teacher who wants to teach at a Montessori school or a Waldorf school, a great books school, a rural life school or, well, anything out of the main stream must teach at a choice school, be it private, charter, or magnet school.

  4. Got my first Tweet response to my anti-charter rant from Gamil Sharif (who lives in PA, for Pete's sake) (see what I did there?) saying charter/anti-charter was a false choice. That sounded familiar. Yup. Rahm Emmanuel. Sharif was part of Arne Duncan's Ambassadors--the hand-picked "teachers at the table" who "informed" the US Dept of Ed.

    This is the new campaign, evidently. Stay the course. Hand over the department and hope we can all "work together."

    This is not and never has been partisan, although it's highly political. Michigan (via DeVos, and similar Democratic "reformers") is a reformer test case. So are PA, OH, FL, NOLA, Chicago and a handful of others.

    They start with the low-hanging fruit--urban schools in hollow cities, stripped of resources. Or maybe, like DeVos, they start with highly functioning public schools like Dick's hometown-- Holland, MI--where Hispanic families who used to pick fruit as migrants are settling into old, white, working-class neighborhoods. We need reform! Schools (once the heart of these communities) are failing!

    "Reform" is always about the same two things: It's my (tax) money and you can't have it--plus I don't want MY child to go to school with them--whomever your personal "them" is. There may be more guilt involved with Democratic reformers (and a private school elitist streak that I find disconcerting in folks like Pondiscio) and nicer civil-righty language, but it's the same old patronizing values.

  5. This analysis is spot on. I like to call charters what they really are, publicly subsidized private schools. You would think that calling attention to the idea that a "for-profit publicly subsidized private school" has no source for profit besides the money taken out of your paycheck would resonate; however, my experience is that if it is a tradeoff for getting your kid in with the star-bellies or, as DeVos would like, a parochial school, logic flies out the window. I am fairly sure that many people want to separate their beloved children from "those kids" or "those teachers". The act of paying for the education makes them feel like better parents. It is a vicious cycle that people accept and have no idea that they are not getting much of anything different or even something less. I ask when people put down a school, "How do you know its bad?" Usually no raw data. It's all about starting and spreading rumors to make the school you have chosen seem like a better pick and you the parent are the best parent for saving your child from that awful other school. Refomers on both side of the fence and in between loooooove this false narrative and these systems they report as new and improved education work beautifully on parents. People really have no idea what they are going to get but they do cherish the opportunity to become the better than other parents parent by "choosing" a school. As for picking a curriculum, schools can and do pick and market whatever special whiz-bang panacea curriculum they want but as long as evaluations are tied to test scores, schools will mandate their teachers all chase the same test (SAT or ACT being the current flavor.) My son's school in California was chopped in 1/2 with an invisible line no one ever crossed. Same building, two administrations. One public and one charter. Even he knew, in kindergarten, that they were not allowed to interact with the "Magnolia" kids. Even my most reasonable and smart friends can not see through the smokescreen and will casually throw the other "choice" under the bus and run it over a few times in a desperate attempt to keep up with their elite peers who send their kids to private school. What to do, what to do?