Thursday, January 02, 2014

Why Charter Schools Are Foolish Investments

From AlterNet:

Advocates tend to argue that charter schools provide competition for floundering public schools and high-performing options for parents. However, national studies repeatedly have shown that charter schools produce about the same measurable outcomes as public schools while also demonstrating some disturbing consequences:

  • Charter schools tend to segregate students by race and class. 
  • Charter schools under-serve special-needs students, English-language learners and the highest poverty students — all populations that require significant proportions of public school budgets.
  • Charter schools contribute to student and teacher churn by creating revolving doors for students and teachers between charter schools and traditional public schools, which are under added pressure of always accepting students leaving those charter schools. 
More here.

People don't really understand what charter schools are.  If you listen to the cacophony of dogs chasing their own tails known as "the education debate," you probably imagine that they're some sort of administrative solution to our "failing" public schools, one that presumably "gets the government off the people's backs," harnessing the power of "competition" or some other nonsense, making it sound like the magic of capitalism comes into play somehow, and we do love our capitalism in the US, don't we.  But, of course, that's completely ridiculous.

Charter schools are a grand series of educational experiments.  The idea is to free schools up from traditional administrative rules, in hopes that some charter, somewhere, will be able to come up with ideas that we can then use in the public schools.  That's all.  Not a solution, just a bunch of experiments, pure field research in education.  And really, by itself, the charter concept isn't such a bad idea.  Just as long as we understand exactly what they are, and use them accordingly, instead of waving them around as demagogic rhetoric aimed at dismantling the public school system we already have.

Unfortunately, charter schools are FAR more successful as demagoguery in "the education debate" than they are as, you know, experiments in schooling.  Because the reality is that charter schools generally perform as well or worse than their public counterparts.  Actually, charters perform worse when you consider that they have the luxury of choosing their own students, unlike the public schools, which have to educate everybody who comes in the door.  Any idiot can appear to be successful running a school if they get to pick and choose who they're going to be educating, and that's essentially what's going on with charter schools, for the most part.  So, by and large, the charter movement, which has been around for at least a decade now, is a total failure.

The idea is to improve the public schools.  But the best they can do is equal the public schools, and, at that, with advantages the public schools don't enjoy.  Nonetheless, education "reformers" continue to offer them as a solution.  And people believe them.  I am now convinced, more than ever before, that, in spite of all the lip-service offered about how important learning is, nobody in this country really gives a shit about it.  So we continue to blow millions and millions of dollars on a failed experiment, which is irrationally deemed "successful," all while condemning public schools as "failing," even though they do just as well with both hands tied behind their backs. 

All of this, of course, coupled with total unwillingness to deal with education's REAL problem, the pathologies of poverty, will ultimately lead to a worse America.  Actually, that's happening right now.  But that's what we get for having our heads up our asses.  We get the country we deserve.