Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Strike Against Charter Schools

This argument is one that I've made several times and I'm glad that it's resonating in some places, though I certainly couldn't claim any credit.
"The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional, reported the Seattle Times. Conservatives push charter schools as part of their mission to dismantle public education.
It's not just conservatives, but it does seem to be dominated by that point of view.More specifically, it seems to be dominated by a desire to filter out "the bad students", a desire that at first seems like it might be reasonable but that falls apart when examined logically.  It also, strangely, seems to come flavored with class and socio-economic discrimination.
Late on Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that charter schools are unconstitutional because they aren’t “common schools” in that their boards are appointed, rather than elected, said Washington Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. Charter schools are publicly-funded but privately-owned.
This fact is key, in my mind ... how can it be justifiable to allow a private school to be paid out of public funds when the public is paying for a local school already? 
The ruling stems from a 2013 lawsuit in which a pro-public education coalition claimed that charter schools “improperly divert public school funds to private organizations that are not subject to local voter control.” Kim Mead of the Washington Education Association praised the court’s ruling. “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer money,” said Mead.
Right. I can run for the local school board (and have served on it), I can ask to see their budgets and accounts (and have), I can know about and criticize their hiring practices and salaries and policies. I can't do any of that for the local Catholic school, or any of the local private schools. If taxpayer money is being REQUIRED of me for tuition payment, then I have the right to have a say in how it's spent. Charter schools do not have to tell me any of that.
The ruling is a great victory in the fight against conservative privatization and the attack against public education. Private companies should not be allowed to use taxpayer money to run private, issued based, schools in a pursuit of profit.
The only thing a charter school can offer that public schools don't is the removal of all weak students from nearby classrooms.

The only voucher system I have ever supported is one in which students are allowed to choose a different PUBLIC SCHOOL than the one in their neighborhood. Public money should stay in the public schools.

Just as important, charter schools don't actually offer anything that the local public school doesn't.  The pro-charter reformers always tout low test scores as a reason to allow the best students to go somewhere else, but that's a straw-man argument.

Those top students aren't being forced to take remedial classes, or being ignored and forced into doing poorly because other kids in that same school are doing poorly. Those top kids are taking challenging classes in the public school. They're taking AP courses, college level courses (and receiving college credits from the University of Vermont system), and online courses through UVM and VHS. They're doing well on the SAT, ACT, and others. They're going to Dartmouth and the Ivies, state colleges and Universities. They're not being held back by their peers.

The only thing a charter school can offer that we can't is the removal of all weak students from other classrooms. That's not appropriate for a public school system.
  • Charters don't offer anything better than we do. 
  • Charters don't improve students; they improve averages. 
  • Charters don't improve school offerings; they remove the very students that allow us to offer AP calculus.
  • Charters don't help students; they offer the exact same courses to the same kids that I would.
  • Charters don't have better teachers, either. They have younger teachers, or those who weren't good enough to get a job in the public school, or those who weren't certified to teach in public school (and that's a pretty low hurdle), or those who want to work many more hours for less pay.


  1. You say: "The only thing a charter school can offer that we can't is the removal of all weak students from other classrooms."

    This is false. I can't speak for states other than my own, NJ. But in my state students are admitted into charters via a lottery. Charter spots are coveted because many local BOEs are not good, not because of the students, but because of the bureaucracy.

    I have spent time working in both an urban tradition public and an urban charter. The student body of the charter is not so different than the student body of the traditional public. However, the working conditions are far superior in the charter. Despite popular belief, we cannot just kick students out. We actually have a higher percentage of students with IEPs than the public schools nearby.

    I don't see how this: "Charters don't help students; they offer the exact same courses to the same kids that I would." this can possibly be true. If it were, charters wouldn't exist. Or at least they wouldn't be the far more popular option in many of the communities they serve.

    "those who weren't good enough to get a job in the public school" - wrong. just wrong. Charters may have younger teachers. I'll agree with that. But that is because the charter movement started only 15-20 or so years ago. It is far harder to get a job at my school than the publics nearby.

    "weren't certified to teach in public school " this is just flat wrong. At least in my state. Charter teachers have to be certified in EXACTLY the same way as other public school teachers.

    " those who want to work many more hours for less pay" ... well, this is kinda true. My school is not unionized and we do get paid less. However, we have a dedicated teaching staff. Why might that be? We certainly don't "want" less money. However, we want better working conditions. The local public system is broken. That's why the charters exist.

  2. More...
    Charters are not competing with traditional public schools in most portions of the country. Charters exist en masse in areas where the traditional publics are doing a bad job. In communities where the traditional schools are good, charters either don't exist or serve a niche population. Charters mostly exists in urban, poor areas where entrenched bureaucracy prevents the changes needed for true reform.