After 25 years, why are there still misgivings about charter schools?

Students rally for fairer funding of charter schools during National School Choice Week in Texas. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The architect of the first charter school law in America spent three years persuading colleagues in the Minnesota legislature that independent schools started by teachers and parents could enhance public education.

Twenty-five years and 42 state laws later, doubts still persist about charter schools and the trade-offs that free them from regulations in exchange for higher performance. That skepticism can be seen in Georgia where polls show voters are leery of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, which is on the ballot Tuesday as Amendment One. A “yes” vote empowers the state to take control of local schools and possibly hire charter management organizations to run them.

Opponents contend the OSD favors corporate interests over local control. “The enabling legislation pays only lip service to our desire, as concerned parents, teachers and community leaders, to play an active role in our children’s education,” said the Rev. Timothy McDonald, senior pastor of Atlanta’s First Iconium Baptist Church.

Proponents maintain the OSD preserves local input. “If schools are converted to charters schools, they will be governed by a nonprofit governing board made up of community members, pushing control of those schools to the most local level possible,” said State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville.

Both sides have mounted scorched earth campaigns to sway Georgia voters and will likely spend between $3 and 4 million by the time ballots are counted. Stakes and expenses are even higher in Massachusetts where advocates and opponents are investing $33 million to influence a ballot question next week on whether the state’s cap on charter schools should be lifted.

The millions of dollars flowing to these state referendums illustrate how much charter schools have changed from the original concept of kitchen table incubations by teachers and parents. The charter school movement has gone from living rooms to board rooms with the rise of charter management organizations and the entry of the philanthropic and political interests.

In a recent panel on charter schools at the quarter-century mark, education author Richard Whitmire reflected on what he called the “charter bargain that’s gone awry” — the failure of charter school sponsors to shutter under-performing schools.

Author of “The Founders,” a new book about top charter schools, Whitmire said, “The whole charter philosophy was good ones would stay open and bad ones would close, because a lack of interest by parents would shut them down.”

But it turned out that neither the groups authorizing charter schools nor the parents choosing them wanted the poor performers to close. “Nobody called this one, and it is a huge problem,” said Whitmire at a Thomas B. Fordham Institute panel.

“I am here to tell you as an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio that it’s damn hard to close bad charter schools for more or less the same reasons that it’s hard to close bad district schools. You’ve got invested parents, you’ve got neighborhoods, you’ve got community politics,” said Chester Finn Jr., distinguished Fordham senior fellow and co-author of “Charter Schools at the Crossroads.” The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has sponsored charter schools in Ohio since 2005.

The initial assumption that parents would select charter schools on the basis of academic performance proved wrong. “We didn’t realize the extent to which parents have a hierarchy of human needs and had other things that come first for them, safety, convenience, things like that,” said Finn.

While early pioneers imagined charter schools as alternatives to traditional classrooms and laboratories for innovation, voucher and school choice proponents embraced charters as bludgeons to attack teacher unions and “government schools.” In their cynicism, they promoted charter schools as a way to provide more choices but made little effort to ensure they were better choices.

Reader Comments 0

72 comments
JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Same old stupidity! Is there more than two real poster's in this circus? You have to have a licence to fix a toilet. It should apply for having children.    

MikeN62
MikeN62

Because all the local school systems are being run so efficiently and ethically.  Like APS and Beverly Hall scandal, like Dekalb County and the Pat Reid scandal, like Clayton County schools losing accreditation, etc, etc.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

I remember many years ago reading an Annenberg study that found where literacy among very young “poorest kids” surpassed literacy among very young high SES kids, school devalued the poorest kids’ literacy.Of course, such a finding would elicit fear in the ancient mind to be expressed as either instinctual denial (“Those children can’t be like ‘our’ children!That just isn’t natural!”) or instinctual competitive response (“What will we do if ‘they’ take control? We must stop them, now!”).

I’ve lost track of that study but would like to find it, again.

In any case, where school devalues any children’s literacy, as does APS, for example, I hazard to suggest the ancient mind dominates the school’s culture, so inhibits the school from learning to continually improve its own organizational learning that necessarily encapsulates children’s academic and social learning.  In other words, the challenge for school is to evolve beyond the ancient mind so school can become ever more capable to advance children’s learning from where the children happen to be and, in the process, school should become ever more capable to absorb the always varying dynamics kids show up at school with every day.

class80olddog
class80olddog

APS devalues kids' literacy? I knew they devalued TEACHERS' literacy, but not kids'. Of course, any school that practices social promotion (all of them) devalues literacy.

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog What sort of literacy are you talking about? "Street smarts?" It isn't reading ability. 

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@class80olddog To be more specific, the APS leadership devalues Black children's literacy more so than does APS itself.  Just listen to the Atlanta superintendent speak about the "30 million word gap" and the literacy Black children do not have.  Such deficit model speech hence thinking affords the superintendent the opportunity to escape lacking the competence to lead the district onto a never ending journal of continual improvement of both organizational learning that necessarily encapsulates student learning.  It is quite easy for the ancient mind to blame others rather than itself.  And here easy means turning APS into a Charter System and turning public schools into charter schools. 


By the way, being highly educated and holding advanced degrees do not void the ancient mind.  On the contrary, being highly education and possessing advanced degrees only amplifies the ancient mind.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Starik

It shouldn't matter.  The key is for school to be or become ever more capable to advance children’s learning from where the children happen to be and, in the process, school should become ever more capable to absorb the always varying dynamics kids show up at school with every day.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

I expect Supt. Carstarphen to start shopping her resume' around just after January 1.

Astropig
Astropig

@BurroughstonBroch 

" I expect Supt. Carstarphen to start shopping her resume' around just after January 1."

IMHO,she has been openly shopping for a job in a Clinton Department Of Education for some time now. Her public pronouncements over the last few months have been aimed at a much wider audience than Atlanta. They're still pretty stupid,but they reach more people.


If Clinton wins,I would bet a few matchsticks that she checks off enough boxes to be named some kind of futzy "Undersecretary Of Diversity Sustainability" or some other made up title.

Starik
Starik

@JBBrown1968 @Starik @class80olddog So... you guys suggest that kids from the 'hood and the holler should go to schools that prepare them to live in the situation they were born into?  Some of these kids are intelligent, and will fit into mainstream American society given half a chance? 

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Starik

Here is it, again.  But first take a moment to get the ancient mind out of the way in order to think about it before rejecting it...

The key is for school to be or become ever more capable to advance children’s learning from where the children's learning happens to be and, in the process, school should become ever more capable to absorb the always varying dynamics kids show up at school with every day.

Charter schools offer no instant pudding in this regard.  In fact, for them to be successful, charter schools also would have to be capable to advance children’s learning from where the children's learning happens to be as well as be capable to absorb the always varying dynamics kids show up at school with every day, regardless from where they come -- 'hood, holler, exclusive rich neighborhood.  It doesn't matter.  But in general charters schools have proved they haven’t such capabilities thus the ancient mind thinking that charter schools offer instantaneous relief to “kids from the 'hood and the holler” is but a pipe dream.

Starik
Starik

@EdJohnson @Starik I'd settle for gradual relief, starting from pre-k. Immerse these kids in the real world while they're in school. a place where they have books, computers, and adults who speak, read and write the standard English they need as adults.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Starik

Yes, gradual relief… aka, becoming ever more capable, but the whole of school, not just pre-K.  All the factors you mention can contribute to school becoming ever more capable but none of the factors you mention can by itself do so.  Teachers in exclusive rich neighborhood schools speaking perfect King’s English matters not if the school is inculcating the linear thinking, blaming ancient mind, which the nefarious nature of school reform suggests is quite the case.

As for the “real world,” that’s relative, not absolute.  We make the real world we want to have, and it is always changing, just like the ever varying dynamics kids show up at school with every day.  I have been around long enough to have witness the ancient mind first blame kids in high school, then kids in K-8 elementary school, then kids in middle school, then back to kids in K-5 elementary school, and now kids in kindergarten and even pre-K, for God’s sake.  What might the liner thinking ancient mind blame next?  The sex act itself having not been conducted surrounded by books and computers and adults speaking, reading, and writing perfect English?

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

If in general charter schools were anything like Mission Hill, that would be one thing.  But the sad truth of the matter in general is that charter schools are like Success Academy Charter Schools.

Clearly, charter schools in general exist predicated on the ancient Darwinian “survival of the fittest” notion brought forward to modern times, to today.  Eons ago, an instinctual kind of fear inherent in the ancient human mind was essential for human survival and evolution (“If people were not afraid of change, humans as a species would have disappeared long ago.” –Deborah Meier).  However, in spite of evolution, or perhaps because of evolution, some human minds today remain ancient, the result of having learned to believe it is necessary to impose fear, even when fear need not be imposed, and to compete, even when cooperation would move everybody ahead.

@RoyalDawg expresses his ancient mind when he says: “[I]f you think failing charter schools will not be closed, watch and see.”  Others here have similarly expressed their ancient mind.

But more importantly, this point in Maureen’s post sheds light on the ancient mind today operating broadly among Americans as regards charter schools: “Twenty-five years and 42 state laws later, doubts still persist about charter schools and the trade-offs that free them from regulations in exchange for higher performance.”  The fear-driven ancient mind this expresses is unmistakable, except perhaps to the ancient mind (“A system cannot know itself.” –W. Edwards Deming).

We should hope the majority of Americans will do as Winston Churchill allegedly said:

Americans will always do the right thing – after exhausting all the alternatives.

May the charter schools alternative be quickly exhausted, so that Americans can get on to doing the right thing – which is the hard work of learning to continually improve the nation’s public schools as public institutions in service to the common good based in democratic ideals and practice.  Otherwise, the ancient mind will keep the nation on a path toward demise, on a path toward death.


class80olddog
class80olddog

Too bad forty years of "reform" have not improved the schools. Just need a little more, right, Ed?

grumpster
grumpster


I'll say it again.  I don't know what will fix failing schools.  But what we are doing isn't working.  Maybe something else will.


class80olddog
class80olddog

Nah, just let them alone and let them keep doing what they are doing. And send more money. Those kids don't need no education' any how's!

grumpster
grumpster

Maybe pouring money into early pre-k in poor neighborhoods will work.  It seems to me that our poorest kids are behind in literacy by the time they reach first grade.  I read to my daughter every night from the time she came home from the hospital.  She could read when she was four.  I doubt this happens much in our poorest areas.  The parents are too busy trying to make ends meet.


class80olddog
class80olddog

I think you made a mistake with the plural of parents - I think you meant Parent.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

The teachers want the income, regardless of whether they have a job. NYC schools have 600 sitting in rubber rooms now.

class80olddog
class80olddog

HOPE money does that, you know. But parents have to take advantage of the opportunity. Why not just refuse to progress students to the first grade if they are not ready for it?

class80olddog
class80olddog

So if the OSD fails at the ballot box next week, what will the failing schools do differently? Or will they just assume they are safe and go about business as usual?

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog 

That's kinda the rub here isn't it? The status quo plan for the day after the election is to keep doing the only thing that we know from decades of experience doesn't work-namely,nothing.

The problems that exist this week will still be there next week,next year and so on.Nothing will change inside the bad schools.The usuals will demand more tax money,and when that  disappears,they'll blame the neighborhoods around the schools,Tea Party Republicans, the Freemasons,global warming...They'll point those educrat fingers in every direction but at themselves.

ByteMe
ByteMe

 While early pioneers imagined charter schools as alternatives to traditional classrooms and laboratories for innovation, voucher and school choice proponents embraced charters as bludgeons to attack teacher unions and “government schools.” In their cynicism, they promoted charter schools as a way to provide more choices but made little effort to ensure they were better choices.

I am in Fulton, where every school is a charter school and love the flexibility our school has to address the issues specific to our students.  The problem isn't "charter", that is -- as you say -- a bludgeon to attack other things along ideological lines.


What I don't like is that politicians are pushing "corporate schools" as a viable alternative, taking control away from local taxpayers, while funding their own statewide re-election campaigns with donations from these corporations.

It's the same thing with corporate-run prisons.  All it did was create an incentive for politicians to find reasons to imprison more people so that their corporate benefactors could continue to fund political campaigns.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Just like the lie that Governor Deal only wanted to create the OSD to give money to his friends, and doesn't really care about education.

BRV
BRV

Deal caring about education and using the OSD as a goody bag for campaign contributors aren't mutually exclusive ideas. He will use the OSD to reward friends, family and donors if it's approved. That's an absolute certainty.

Starik
Starik

@BRV The criminal justice can't send everybody to prison.  The prisons and jails don't have the bedspace. There aren't enough staffed courtrooms to process all the cases unless most defendants plead guilty. Trials require time.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Look at the criminal justice system today and see how many people who have committed serious crimes and were given probation to keep them out of prison. All those drug users who support their habit through burglary? Not a serious offense - no prison time, it is only your hard-earned stuff and your piece of mind they have stolen.

BRV
BRV

Well you are expert on paranoia. Look behind you the union boogeyman is at your back.

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

First. In failing schools, and trending in even good or better schools, teachers face enormous challenges due their students' ever growing need for surrogate parenting. Teaching is a difficult enough job, even when real parents are involved, but teaching and the ever increasing need for surrogate parenting is eating our teachers alive. 


That said, money will not fix this. Ever since the teachers unions drew their first breath, it has been about money. Give us more money, and the administrators are also now highly invested in the cause, the fallacy - more money will equal better results. No. Money is a necessity, true enough, but more and more and more of it is not the key to success. Based on years of results, that is very inconvenient fact. 


I remember the parochial Catholic schools where I attended the well funded public school, but many Catholic friends attended the Catholic schools. Stark and plain facilities. No bells, no whistles. I Nuns and Brothers teaching for their room and board and a little spending money with only books, a desk, and a chalk board, and from what I heard, rulers and paddles that stung like wasps. Iron clad discipline, every minute of the day, and most importantly, if they got into trouble at school, what they faced at home from Mom and Dad was even worse. Hopelessly lost, undisciplined, and disruptive students cases were expelled immediately - period. Those kids grew up with incredible educations and went on to attend the finest colleges and universities in America. Money had not one thing to do with their success. 


Why the money thing?  Because of "careerism" in the ranks

 of the teachers and administrators. They are well aware that twice the money spent on their failing schools next year will not change one thing. But, it will increase their pay. And based on the enormous challenges of teaching and surrogate parenting, who can blame them for wanting more pay for what they are called upon to do. 


If you do not think that teacher and administrator careerism is a very high priority (if not the highest) in poor schools or in a school district with lots of poorly performing schools, you must have slept through the recent APS scandal. 


Charter schools, not a bad idea. Lots of parent input, local control, etc. But teachers and administrators do not want any money drain from the public system. First, because their jobs are getting tougher every day. And then teaching is suddenly no longer a calling, a vocation, a profession. It is a career. And a career is judged by how quickly you rise up the ladder, and how much you are paid.  

30303
30303

Why is this newspaper column such a tireless opponent of charter schools and education reform in general?

How can it continue to defend perpetually failing public schools?

Starik
Starik

@30303 Because teachers are the foundation of the black middle class.

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

@Starik @30303  But black children are the primary victims of failing schools, and are doomed to poverty and crime without reform. But their adult surrogates don't care.

BRV
BRV

The initial and continuing "theory" about charter schools has always been wrong. Before the first charter school ever opened we already had abundant evidence from the market-based early childhood education system that efficient market theory isn't applicable to education in part for the reasons that Chester Finn cites. But true believers gonna believe, so we'll keep on with the magical thinking that markets will magically improve education for all. They haven't and they won't as evidenced by the experience of the US and every other country where marekt-based "reform" has been tried. Of course charter proponents have lots of faith and lots of money to spread around to politicians, so more charters we shall have.

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

The author's observations do not apply to Georgia, frankly.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I would like to see the GHSGT returned and the graduation rate at the failing schools would go even lower.

class80olddog
class80olddog

In all the opposing articles (hundreds?), it is always argued that the existing failing schools are only failing because they lack the funds to become successful- that is incorrect. It has been shown that more spending does not increase educational results. We spend four times what we spent in the sixties and NAEP scores have barely budged. The problem is WHAT we spend the money on. The bottom line is that existing failing schools have had forty years to turn things around - it is time to try something new.

class80olddog
class80olddog

So FIX it locally! I have always said that schools solving their own problems is better than charter schools or the OSD. But they won't even look at their major issues: discipline, attendance, and social promoton. Or if they look they say they cannot address those issues because of PC rules!

ByteMe
ByteMe

@class80olddog Changing control from local to a state bureacracy or to a corporation isn't going to change the outcome.  The issue is local, so fix it locally instead of thinking that an autocratic solution will actually work (hint: it's been tried and it doesn't work, just enriches a few people at the expense of the actual students).

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

@class80olddog Actually, your "four times" statement comes from a popular meme stating that inflation adjusted federal spending on schools is up 375% over the last 30 years. The problem with this is that a) the per student number is really 117% *the 375% ignores the increase in the number of students) and b) state spending per student has decreased. So, while spending is up, it is not up nearly four fold.  


One factor in the increase is that 30 years ago, many women went into teaching to supplement their family income. Beginning with Reagan, however, it has become almost impossible for a single income family to achieve middle class and women are looking for better careers than teaching. Pay for teachers is not very attractive when compared with a corporate IT or accounting position.