Monday, August 10, 2009

What's wrong with charter schools?

This recent comment at Gotham Schools by Ceolaf is worth repeating in a main line post. And yes, Ceolaf, we want more, especially on the tracking issue raised. I've been thinking along those lines too. We used to track kids by reading scores and that policy changed - I hear. Though the talented and gifted programs seem to get around some of that. We used to have 600 schools to segregate kids who were troubled. Ceolaf makes the great point that charters can pick off the top performing and least troubled kids – I heard stories in LA, especially from Candi in DC, about how charters make sure NOT to have a special ed teacher on board so they can steer parents away. Thus we are heading towards a dual school system where the public schools, often in the same building as a charter, ultimately end up with the tougher kids to work with. If that is what our leaders intend then say it instead of playing the stealth game.

There is a new comment on the post "What is it about Eva Moskowitz that attracts so many enemies?"

Author: ceolaf

What's wrong with charter schools?

Well, I would say that the first problem is that there are a whole bunch of people who believe that charters are actually answer to systemic improvement of our schools, and that clearly is not the case. Charterness, in and of itself, does not have an impact on pedagogy, instruction or the kinds of interactions and issue that make up a child's education. Charterness is a governance issue, not an instructional or staffing issue. Therefore, this charter issue, and those who perpetuate it, such so much reform attention and energy that we are not investigating or furthering the kinds of reforms that have even a theory of action for how they will improve children's educational experiences.

The second problem is really a set of problems. There have a been a lot of theories for why/how charter schools will improve the larger educational landscape (e.g. little lab schools with knowledge transfer, competition, etc.) Over and over again, research shows that these theories do not hold true on the ground, and yet charter proponents continue to clamor for more charter schools-- even though the original charter laws in most states had caps until they proved their efficacy. They haven't, and there are not even any theories of action left that have not been been disproved. (Or, if there are, I have not seen them.) Combine this with the first issue, and we lose potential gains.

More directly, we know the importance of home and peer effects on students. That is, supportive home environments (e.g. a quiet time and place where kids can do homework, parents who model bringing work home, parents who value education, etc.) help to create better student outcomes. We know that peer pressure impacts academic attitudes and work ethics. So, if charter schools attract a disproportionate share of kids with really support home environments, other kids will be hurt by the absence of those kids from their schools and classrooms. Of course, this is an old issue that applies to the tracking debates and even the elite exam schools. We've agreed in education that tracking is bad, even if not a tiny number of elite exam schools. But charter schools certainly make that a much bigger/more common issue.

Fourth, and specifically to NYC, Bloomberg and Klein appear to favor charter schools in ways that others have already documented quite well. They have turned much of it into a zero-sum game. For example, expansion of charter schools coming at the expense of space in non-charter public schools. But I'll leave that to others to explore.

More systemically, I really believe that GOP/conservative support for charter schools is very much about undermining teacher union membership. (Let me know if you need to be convinced that this is true.) This is bad for the wider educational system because teacher unions are by far the most effective political players in support of maintaining or increasing funding for education
-- locally, state-wide and nationally. They have more knowledge and experience with education, how schools and classrooms work and what children need than others who try to shape our educational legislation. Most others argue, in effect, for lower educational spending, a weakening of supports and reductions in professionalism.

Then there are some more diffuse issues. There are a lot of fools out there who think that because they have some memories of what schooling is -- and from a student's perspective, of course -- that they are qualified to made demands about educational policy. They insist on foolish ideas that clearly demonstrate that they don't know jack about schools, classrooms or those who work in them. Their success with getting charter schools and charter schools misleading faux superiority to non-charter public schools (again, let me know if you want me to
explain what I am talking about), they are encouraged to make further dumb demands of the rest of the educational establishment. (e.g. abolish requirements for substantive training for aspiring teachers, base teacher compensation of tests that have never been shown to reflect the quality of instruction).


See all comments on this post here:

NYC Educator:

Charter School Deems Kid Too Dangerous to Be Around Students or Faculty, Sends Him to Public School


  1. Thanks for getting this posting some of the air it deserves, Norm.
    I think ceolaf is right about a great number of things, and particularly appreciate his systemic, meta-view of these hot button issues.

    I want to substantiate a few of the points raised in this post:

    1. "Charterness" is not a condition for school innovation.

    Just as the reverse is not true(a a charter school is by definition innovative), public schools that are NOT charters can be innovative.
    The original small schools movement of the late 80's and early 90's (now coopted and transformed by Gates/DoE)spawned a number of pedagogically innovative schools.
    In District One, educators, administrators and community members started a handful of still popular and sucessful small schools within schools to pull back the fleeing local residents into public schools.
    Those Dewey-based, child-centered schools offered curriculae based on whole language, constructivist math, mixed age groupings, integrated curriuculum projects and portfolio evaluation

    2. Tracking on a large scale does indeed exist.
    Gifted and Talented and CTT programs are used as sorting hats that are increasing racial isolation in many schools and communities.
    I would like to be able to substantiate this trend in the latest round of admissions, but as usual, have no access to that data from DoE yet (believe me I try)!

    3. Special Ed service availability is, as ceolaf suspects, one more way to segregate and track:
    The two (soon to be 3) charter schools serving the District One community offer NO CTT or self contained classes.
    The "other public" district schools operate with plenty of both (w/ the exception of a few elite schools- a citywide K-12th G and T , a "dual language" Manadarin pre-k through 8th grade program and an elite selective HS), yet the charters offer no more than SETTS services to students.
    Despite the rhetoric of least restrictive environments and innovative methods for servicing students with special needs that you may hear from the OCS patricians, parents with kids with IEPs that require more services or more restrictive environments know that they need not apply to these schools.

    I'd be happy to share more information on or off line on nay of this.

  2. Thank you for your insights, Ceolaf and Lisa. Just one question for Lisa: I'm curious as to what you are referring to when you write "OCS patricians."

  3. I would say you've never met any of these guys, or you'd know just what I meant...
    unless of course you ARE one of these guys.
    Tell me who you are and I'll tell you just what I meant, pedigrees, anecdotes and all..

  4. No, I'm not one of them and don't think that I've ever met any of them as you say... I'm a Bank Street student, and as a new teacher I'm currently shut out of the public schools by the hiring freeze. My question comes from my curiosity as am trying to learn as much as I can about the situation.

  5. You can huff and puff, but the movement towards offering more charters certainly isn't going to stop.

    So long as the elite charters keep posting the results they do, public opinion may be very high. Truth be told, public schools will have to raise the bar to remain competitive.

    DC got slaughtered by charters. For a reason. DC schools are the lowest performing in the nation. Parents want an option that promises something more than a mediocre eduction not suitable at the university level.

  6. Assuming we accept a consumerist service delivery model of education, and agree that "parents want an option" to the " mediocre" education" they are getting in (only urban?) public schools, why is it that the model provided under more than 7 years of total unaccountable and uninfluencable mayoral control is "mediocre" and "unsuitable, " but that these "elite" (what are these?) charters have it all figured out?

    Was the point of my post not clear?
    Innovation and vision, sound pedagogy and promising results have nothing, nothing to do with charter status.

    The problem is not the status quo, the unions, or even the lazy, incopmetent teachers they protect that you hear getting all the blame from the neo liberal reformers.
    Likewiar, the solution can not be found in the utopia of free market choice.
    It seems to me we as a nation keep confusing a system of market-style delivery of goods and services with social policy.
    Simply put- markets necessarily have winners and losers, yet a society can not afford to posit the same- all old people and infants, the weak and the ill, should be left in the hills to fend for themselves or die?

    Competition can only take you so far- as any power-based analysis makes clear.
    Power never cedes anything- never has and never will. F Douglas


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  14. Charter schools are elementary or secondary schools in the United States that receive public money but have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school's charter..


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