Let me state up front that I personally do not have a good overall impression or feeling about charter schools which may spring in main because of some basic cynicism I hold towards the motivations underlying the entire movement in general.
I hope to spark conversation in this thread that will enlighten me and perhaps others. I make no claim to being well-versed in this particular area and will leave it to the educators among us to educate me at the very least.
If this is an area that interests you, please join me below
Why my cynicism?
It springs mainly from my own gut feeling that charter schools are simply a prong in the effort to privatize most of the functions of government and to usurp public education, both in terms of dollars and control, and put it in the hands of individuals who will most likely be connected in a crony fashion to TPTB and who plan to make good old fashioned profit from pocketing taxpayer dollars through their efforts. We're talking major bucks here - 7.3% of our gross national product according to this :US Education spending tops global list That's enough money to get anyone interested.
The very first ping of awareness I had about the money to be made through public education came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when Barbara Bush made her thoughtful directed dollars charitable contribution for purchasing her son Neil's "Ignite" learning software for to the Houston school system absorbing Katrina victims.
Gee, the Bushes are just all about education, aren't they? No Child Left behind and all that. They devote a great deal of time and energy to answering the debate about "Is our children learning?"
How to answer that question? Well, obviously, the only way is through testing. They're all about the testing. When I use the term "they're" I am not referring to simply the Bushes anymore. I am now referring to all the people who are turning their eyes to this big delectable plum (public education) that needs to be plucked off the taxpayer tree.
In my opinion, they're all about the testing because the testing will show that the American public education system is a failure and thus will now prompt the follow-up Socratic question and answer session:
Q -Oh wise PTB , Who do we blame?
A- The teachers
Q- Oh, wise PTB, How do we fix it?
A- Charter schools
Are we now enlightened? If the children is not learning, it obviously must be all those bad, unaccountable, over-paid, lazy, unionized teachers. Bad teachers! Bad union! We must get rid of them. We must make them accountable! They and they alone will be held responsible for the test scores of the children in their classrooms. We will weed out the bad teachers and reward the good ones all predicated on the scores! We will replace the bad teachers and bad schools with charters!
Nothing could go wrong with that, could it?
Cheating Scandals and Parent Rebellion
Here’s a litany of recent setbacks: In the latest Los Angeles school board election, a candidate who dared to question the overreliance on test results in evaluating teachers and the unseemly rush to approve charter schools won despite $4 million amassed to defeat him, including $1 million from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $250,000 from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Former Atlanta superintendent Beverly Hall, feted for boosting her students’ test scores at all costs, has been indicted in a massive cheating scandal. Michelle Rhee, the former Washington D.C. school chief who is the darling of the accountability crowd, faces accusations, based on a memo released by veteran PBS correspondent John Merrow, that she knew about, and did nothing to stop, widespread cheating. In a Washington Post op-ed, Bill Gates, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting high-stakes, test-driven teacher evaluation, did an about-face and urged a kinder, gentler approach that teachers could embrace. And parents in New York State staged a rebellion, telling their kids not to take a new and untested achievement exam.The article goes on to cite a study by the Economic Policy Institute that enumerates the negative results in the test driven cities of Washington DC, New York City and Chicago, after implementation of the "reforms". Please read the entire article, it's very illuminating and states that the overly rosy claims of success made by Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan regarding those cities do not survive scrutiny and are comparable to Bernie Madoff's bogus inflated returns on investment that eclipsed the market - too good to be true. Ouch!
So once again, a cynic like me has to wonder why all TPTB from BOTH parties are jumping so enthusiastically on the charter school bandwagon. Is it really a. (sob!) the children? Or is it b.(gasp!) the money?
Simply because we have had an unlevel playing field for generations regarding the education of poor vs. wealthy children and no one in power has particularly stirred themselves to correct the situation, I am going to have to reluctantly conclude that the answer is B. There is a LOT of money to be made in privatizing public education.
Where is this money? It exists in all the PUBLIC dollars that will be put into the pockets of those who:
*Own and administer charter schools
Not the teachers, sorry. They will all be replaced with Teach For America interns who will be disposable contract labor with no benefits and a paltry salary they will be grateful for in our continued "jobless recovery. There could even be money made by building teacher dorms that resemble monasteries with little garret like rooms that provide just enough space for quiet contemplation about how lucky they are to have a job.
Note: being a "non-profit" does not negate lots of money being available for executive salaries especially when the teachers are paid in cabbages and eggs.
*Own facilities who can rent to charters at above market crony rates paid by taxpayers
*Own service companies to the charters. Unless Newt can get his wish for fourth grade janitors, someone will still need to sweep the floors and clean the toilets, especially if we eliminate the public sector school district jobs.(Do charters have to put this type of work out to bid, or can they simply hire their son-in-law or their crony's new janitorial company? Don't know, just asking the question.)
*Providers of software, textbooks, supplies, assuming Neil Bush hasn't already staked out an "exclusive" deal. Someone is going to have to write and sell all those new readers with Jesus riding a dinosaur and history books talking about all the unhappy overpaid union workers before they were freed by NAFTA and the TPP. (Note: check to see if Bushes are bottling water from the Uruguayan aquifers to stock the schools yet.)
* Consultants - I am sure that Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee and other "pioneers" of the charter movement can ride this gravy train for a long time. Not to mention all the inspirational books they can write about how they saved American children from the maws of the twisted, liberal, socialist public school system
*Venture capitalists- yes there are already venture capitalists out there who have recognized the opportunity that charter schools provide.
Now, I could be wrong, but I think that our Democrats are just as enthusiastic about charter schools as the Republicans. President Obama did select Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education, after all. I don't think I've seen a lot of support for the teacher's union either, have I?
What does the most recent Democratic platform have to say about our stance on education? Good news - We're going to Out-Educate the world! Democratic National Platform:
President Obama and the Democrats are committed to working with states and communities so they have the flexibility and resources they need to improve elementary and secondary education in a way that works best for students. To that end, the President challenged and encouraged states to raise their standards so students graduate ready for college or career and can succeed in a dynamic global economy. Forty-six states responded, leading groundbreaking reforms that will deliver better education to millions of American students. Too many students, particularly students of color and disadvantaged students, drop out of our schools, and Democrats know we must address the dropout crisis with the urgency it deserves. The Democratic Party understands the importance of turning around struggling public schools. We will continue to strengthen all our schools and work to expand public school options for low-income youth, including magnet schools, charter schools, teacher-led schools, and career academies.I'm gonna interpret that as, yes, the Democrats are pretty onboard with the whole charter school movement. Are you?
Does anyone else share my feeling that this is simply an effort to privatize and profiteer public education?
I do not discount the entire idea, but if we do move to charter schools funded with public dollars, I want some REAL transparency. I want to know where every single one of those public dollars is going. I want to know if they are overpaying friends, relatives and cronies for supplies, rents and services. I want those contracts to be open bidding and transparent and subject to review.
I would close this essay with my solution to the What's the answer question as briefly as I possibly can.
Public education in our country is a disaster with poorer populations at an extreme disadvantage, primarily because for the most part we fund public education through property taxes. Rich towns have more revenue from property taxes than small towns and therefore have better school systems. It becomes a self-perpetuating loop because better schools make the richer towns more desireable which props up property values which props up taxes, etc. etc. etc. This is why within a couple of miles we can have two school systems in which one school can have an Olympic size swimming pool and an observatory and the other school can have buckets in the halls for roofdrips. This system is stupid and inequitable on its face.
My personal solution would be for school funding to be divorced from property taxes and that one statewide tax would be implemented that would cover all residents of the state and that would be distributed on a per student capita basis to every child in the state. I would also implement a gigantic infrastructure and rebuild program for all the neglected and below standard schools in the poorer areas. I would also consolidate school districts and save dollars on duplicative administrative structures. It is asinine for every little town to have a separate superintendent when the districts could be regionalized and one superintendent could supervise a number of towns. The dollars saved could go to for the students and not the bureaucracy.
If you read this diary, I thank you and look forward to your input.