The challenge is not easily met, and in many places, in many ways, public schools have not fully succeeded. From entrenched racism, to the effects of poverty, to denial of necessary resources, to "failures" that are manufactured or imposed on schools, to widespread and hard-to-budge inequity, public schools are sometimes hampered by larger issues, and sometimes are part of the problem.
Public schools are not perfect. They're pretty damn good, and in many cases, their problems have been exaggerated or created out of whole cloth (Oh nos! Low PARRC scores!!!). But public schools are definitely not perfect.
I don't know any public school advocates who won't acknowledge that, despite being labeled as intractable flat-earth defenders of the status quo. But charter advocates often fall back on a style of argument roughly outlined as "There are HUGE problems here, therefor we must use our solution." This is the rhetorical equivalent of a person who shouts, "You're on fire, so you have to let me punch you in the face" and when you try to ask why, exactly, a punch in the face is a solution, they just keep hollering "But you are on FIRE!"
The presence of a problem does not automatically prove that a proposed solution is actually a solution. Which is why I keep coming back to this question:
What problem do charter schools solve?
|Are charters just a road to nowhere?|
Public school critics say that wealthy folks can choose the school they want by choosing which upscale neighborhood they want to stay in. Do charter schools solve this problem of privilege? Entry to some charter systems require an educated adult who can navigate an application system(and has time off during the day to do it). Some charter schools require contributions of either time or money or both. Privilege does help with access to a charter system-- just like the public system. How that plays out varies from location to location-- just like the public system.
Public school critics say that they want to extend the same kind of choice that rich folks get. But charters don't solve that problem. Poor families can't choose to live in a rich neighborhood so that their child can attend a rich neighborhood school. But a charter system does not give them a free selection, either. Ultimately the charters will choose who attends them by finding ways to reject or discourage or push out students who "don't fit." Charters will choose to bar students with language issues certain special needs by refusing to offer the supports those students need. Charters also choose WHEN students can enter-- if you miss the window at a relatively young age, you're SOL because they don't accept students in the middle of the year or entering higher grades.
And our current Secretary of Education has made it quite clear-- she cannot imagine situation in which the federal government will say to a charter or other private school, "You may not have federal tax dollars if you are going to discriminate against those students." The ability of charters to pick and choose their students without penalty is being dramatically expanded.
Public school critics say that public education is hidebound and trapped in other centuries, in need of a stiff shot of Vitamin Innovate. But we've had modern charters for over a decade-- exactly what educational innovations have they discovered that can be used to improve the nation's schools? If you have good facilities, plenty of resources, and a carefully chosen batch of students, you can run a good school? That's not an innovation-- everybody already knew it. Other attempts at innovation, from strapping a child to a computer to enforcing a prison camp atmosphere, have proven to be not particularly useful and often depend on the power to get rid of students who "don't fit" to keep from totally collapsing.
I don't bring these up simply to play neener-neener so's-your-old-man. In fact, if these were the only problems that charters failed to solve, I'd say go ahead and let a thousand charters bloom. But that is not the case.
Public school critics say that public schools cost a lot of money and don't give enough returns. But running a parallel system of schools, duplicating administration and buildings-- it's a very expensive way to do education. And again, I would say, even as a taxpayer, to bring it on. But most states have set up a system of trying to run several systems with the same money that used to run one system, and that means that every child taken out of the public system weakens that system for the students left behind, the students whose parents can neither move them to a ritzy neighborhood OR get them into a charter school.
Public school critics say that the public system is an unresponsive monolith, and that can certainly be the truth. But how is it an improvement to have a charter school whose operators are unelected, do not have to meet in public, and are not accountable to the public. My small town is served by a public school system and some cyber charters. This month, the proposed budget for the public system is available to anyone who wants to look at it. Taxpayers can come to the next board meeting to comment on that budget, or they can just call their elected board member and spout off. Meanwhile, nobody knows who even runs the cyber charters or what they intend to do with the tax dollars they collect. How is that better?
Public schools screw up, and it's not just public school critics that notice. But there are laws and rules and regulations in place that govern public school and public school staff, providing an avenue for reporting, punishing, and correcting those issues. Charters are mostly operating with far fewer rules and regulations. How does that make them more accountable or reliable?
Public schools often reflect and exacerbate equity issues. But charters have also been instrumental in increased segregation, as well as programs that seem aimed at creating compliant worker drones and not future leaders.
Again, my point is not "Hey, these charters are no better than public schools." That would suggest that the effect of charters is simply neutral. But it's not-- modern charter policy is economically damaging, the dispersal of students to charters damages the community, and charters attempt to rescue a handful of students at considerable expense to all the students who are left in public schools.
This is like taking a special tonic that costs a thousand dollars a bottle and makes you feel worse. It's bad policy.
Furthermore, equity would mean that choice wouldn't be necessary because all the choices would reflect a quality education for all.— Jose Vilson (@TheJLV) May 23, 2017
Charters do solve the problems of some individual families-- I don't want to send my child to public school (for any number of reasons, some more admirable than others) and now I don't have to. I'm sympathetic to that choice (well, unless your beef is that you don't want your white kid to go to school with those black kids-- then you're just a racist jerk) and I understand why you want to make it. But as a nation, our approach to education can't be, "We'll make sure that some kids can get a good education, and the rest-- oh, well. They're not our problem."
The challenge of public education is, again, to provide a good education for every child in the United States for a politically sustainable cost. It is a challenge that comes with lots of obstacles and problems, and after so many years, it is still not clear to me how modern charter schools help meet that challenge. Instead, I think modern charters have been set up to be one more obstacle. But by all means, if you want to explain to me exactly what problems charter provide a solution for (and not more explanation of how public schools are bad), my comments section is open for business.