Those who have followed the work of our Small Schools Workshop over the past 19 years, know that we are not "anti-charter." Many charters emerged from the early small schools movement that we helped create. We originally saw small schools and charters as ways to push for changes and offer innovative alternatives within large, bureaucratic and undemocratic school systems. Early charters and small schools were usually created by teachers and often democratically run with an eye on personalization, teacher autonomy and power to create learning environments where students could grow and develop physically and intellectually.
But today that early charter "movement" has been derailed, captured by the worst, anti-public school politicians and profiteers. Helped by a decade of No Child Left Behind (now called Race To The Top) politics and policies, under both parties at the federal level, charter operators and their lobbying groups have dis-empowered teachers and turned charters into a self-interested, anti-public school, anti-union entrepreneurial venture.
While operating mainly on public funding, they also garner hundreds of millions in supplemental support coming from conservative business groups and powerful private philanthropists like Gates, Broad and Walton. These are dollars that have been shifted away from public school funding and used, through competitive grants, to promote unfair competition, rather than collaboration between charters and traditional schools. This distorted form of competition has led to a new class of selective-enrollment schools and a new version of the old two-tier system of education based on discrimination and racial segregation.
There's not better example than post-Katrina New Orleans, as Diane Ravitch describes in a recent Bridging Differences post, "What I Learned in New Orleans."
When a young woman (who was white) from the Cowen Institute at Tulane University defended the success of the charters in getting more students to pass AP exams, several people in the audience demanded to know why their non-charter schools were no longer allowed to offer AP courses. The young woman had no answer. Several people that night said: "They stole our public schools, and they stole our democracy while we were out of town."
Another example, can be seen here in Chicago, where mayoral (corporate) control of the schools reached its apex under the mayor's now defunct Renaissance 2010 "reform." Chicago's NPR station reports an enormous charter school attrition rate with thousands of low-scoring kids being pushed out and sent back to under-resourced neighborhood schools.
WBEZ's Linda Lutton looks into claims that charters move out students who are toughest to educate -- kids with behavioral problems, or kids who struggle academically. She could have also added, kids who are English-language learners and kids with disabilities. This story was co-reported with Sarah Karp of Catalyst Magazine. Read the Catalyst story.
Lutton hears from Univ. of Chicago prof Charles Payne who says:
"They sound to me like ways institutions have -- whether intended or not -- of pushing out the weakest students. And pushing them out in ways that may not count against the school's evaluation. Because the student appears to be making an independent decision. In fact, the student is being encouraged, pushed in that direction."
Republican and Tea Party victories in the midterm election have swept into power a host of governors and state officials who support the new two-tier schooling movement. Ravitch concludes,
"I can't say where all this is going, but it doesn't look promising for those who care about our nation's children and the quality of education that we provide them."
A version of this post appears on my SmallTalk blog.