Friday, April 21, 2017

The Attack on Charter Schools

Nashville Charter School parents complain that they are under attack and disrespected. Charter advocates have long panel discussions about how to fight back against the attacks on charters and choice. Every 9-12 months, a new website is launched because reformy fans of charter and choice believe that they are under attack and need to get their story Out There.

Even the newly-minted teacher of the year, who works at a charter school, is concerned that public and charter schools are seen as "in conflict."

So why do charter schools feel so attacked and put upon?

Part of it may be an illusion of privilege. When you are an rich old white guy who has always gotten his way, it can be shocking and destabilizing when people say "No" to you. If you are a money-soaked hedge-funder surrounded by compliant underlings, it may be upsetting when people who should know their place start getting uppity. When you live soaked in privilege, any denial of your God-given right to get your own way might well feel like an attack. But that doesn't describe everyone who has thrown their support behind charters and choice.

Some of it is certainly karma, history coming around. Many charter choice fans seem to have forgotten that they spent years pitching charters and choice by chicken littling about Failing Public Schools and how much the public schools suck and how trained educators were awful, better replaced by lightly trained best-and-brightests from some ivy-covered hall.They are like the bully who, having finally pushed the kid with the glasses too far so that he takes boxing lessons and starts to punch back at their bullying but, says, "What are you doing! You're supposed to be too nice to fight back!" But that doesn't cover all the possibilities, either.

No, the necessity of a public vs. charter cage match is baked right into the charter laws of most states, courtesy of one of the central lies of the modern charter movement.

The Big Lie of modern charters is that we can have multiple parallel school systems for the same money we spent on one. Sure. When you're having trouble with your family budget and maintaining one home, the solution is to move half your family into a hotel. If it's hard to pay the bills for one car, buy a second or third or fourth one.

Charter choice fans sell us charters as free private school. It won't cost a penny more. And this lie guarantees conflict.

Because pubic schools and charters are trapped by that lie in a zero sum game. Every taxpayer dollar that goes to a charter school doesn't go to a pubic school. Every taxpayer dollar that a public school hangs onto is a dollar that charters don't get. For one to survive, the other must get beaten up. Even a well-meaning mild-mannered friendly charter school cannot avoid attacking public schools. Under current charter laws, it is impossible for charter and public schools NOT to be in a state of constant conflict.

It doesn't have to be this way. Charter choice supporters in the legislatures could say, "We think the idea of free access to private school for some students is a good idea, and so we are going to raise taxes and allocate the money it will take to do this right. We will fully fund public schools and we will fully fund charter schools and they will be able to work together for the benefit of the larger community because they will no longer be battling to the death for an inadequately small pool of funding."

Of course, charter choice supporters do not want to talk about charter choice systems as a new entitlement to free private school, and they do not want to talk about raising taxes. And so where charter choice is the Way To Go, we have multiple parallel school systems, mostly underfunded except for those that are able to draw extra funding from well-to-do parents or friendly philanthropists.

And, of course, we have those choice supporters for whom a fight to the death is the point. Their hope is that charter schools will finish off public systems, leaving only privatized schools that function "properly," aka "through market forces." Meanwhile, the "government schools" that run on the tax dollars stolen from hard-working rich folks and used to educate Those People can be properly starved to death.

And so charter schools and their fans, even the well-meaning decently parental ones, must live with the feeling of being under attack, because the system is currently constructed so that charter schools must be a threat to the health and continued existence of public schools, and public school supporters can either fight back or lie down and die.

It doesn't have to be this way. It would probably be better for everyone if it wasn't. But until we address the Big Lie at the heart of current charter choice policy, this is how it will stay.


  1. Then why doesn't the teacher's union come out wearing boxing gloves? Why don't Superintendents and Administrators say "Hell NO"? Why don't teachers revolt or refuse? And not just about Charters or Choice...but about Common Core and standardized testing and all the other "reforms" that are bad for children? I LOVE teachers and think they are great human beings, but they have no backbone, no grit, no willingness to fight against the reform regime. Parents will continue to listen to the lies until the people that are directly entrusted with their children start to stand up for themselves. Until all communities are like Long Island NY, this will continue.

  2. As a teacher, the problem is that if money is tied to whatever demand is being made - an it usually is - we have nothing to offer in return for not taking the money. If the local school board is swayed only by what its administration says (as in my case) and that administration sees $$ signs attached to a new state or federal directive, they don't discuss it with teaching faculty - they just go for the money. The administrators are usually years removed from the classroom, especially in larger districts. Ask any teacher who has taught for more than 5 years - there are significant changes in attitudes and behaviors of students every 5-7 years, and if you've been out of the classroom for 10 years, you probably have no clue what actually happens in classes. Many foreign countries avoid this by rotating a initiative leadership through the ranks of their educators, with the educators serving as principal or head instructor for 2-3 years nbefore rotating out again. It sounds like a nightmare, but it's really pretty effective. Of course, teachers in these countries are held in high esteem by the public, paid well, and respected for their abilities to facilitate learning for children. To be fair, the teachers often have more rigorous training to become a teacher than in the US.

    Not sure how I got off on this tangent, so I'll stop now!