I just returned from Washington DC where I marched for Save Our Schools (SOS), and where I was honored to speak on a panel with two individuals whom I respect as experts about special education needs. I mingled with many great educators and parent activists who I consider friends. We stood side-by-side to support great public schools.
But while we stood sweating in the hot DC sun for the cause that we believe in deeply, the teachers union (which helped support the SOS meeting), Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party were cheerleading for charter schools.
As Schools Matters blogger and author Jim Horn, who has been critical of charters, unions, Republicans and Democrats, and SOS stated yesterday, “What a hangover it must be to wake up in DC this morning to find the privatization protest that you attended yesterday was undercut by the same people who funded the protest. Wow.”
Well, for the record, I paid my own way to the conference, and I donated a little more to help someone who needed it get to the rally. But Jim makes a serious point that cannot be ignored.
Were we being duped? Why do the union, Hillary Clinton and the Dems keep focusing on charter schools when the pervasive needs in this country surround democratic, truly public, traditional schools?
Why should we have two school systems competing against one another?
Much harm has been done, and tax dollars wasted, to use public school funding to support ill-conceived charter schools. Consider Ohio, Detroit, Chicago, and the list goes on. Type in any city, charter schools and scandals.
Hasn’t enough time and failure gone down that we can now proclaim charter schools a failed experiment? Teachers for the most part are not in charge of these schools.
The Tired Transparency Pledge
Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high quality public school options and expanding these options for low income use. We support democratically governed great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools. And we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools, focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.
Will the transparency and accountability discussion get past the discussion stage?
And about destabilization…most of us live near cities where closed schools stand as painful reminders of privatization due to high-stakes test scores—schools converted to regimented charters that get even worse test results!
Some argue there are charter schools that work, and I am sure there are some that do. So why not bring them out of the shadows and into the oversight of the local school district as alternative schools?
Or turn them into private schools that provide school scholarships to students through non-profit donations.
Saying one will increase transparency and accountability does not make it so. If anything, the language surrounding charter schools is becoming increasingly murky.
Public Charter Schools
While public charters would appear to be those charters that are still controlled by the community, the fact is this idea has been badly warped in meaning. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have created stirs by being unclear in their mention of public charter schools on the campaign trail.
For example, Aspire charter schools, a controversial chain of charters throughout the country, now call themselves Aspire Public Schools. They dropped the “charter” from their title even though there is little, if any, public involvement in how these schools are run.
Like so many charter schools, Aspire also claims to be innovative, yet we see nothing specific to help real public schools. Under innovation, they claim they will help prepare students for college. Well, traditional public schools have always done this.
So where are the research-based best practices Aspire and like charters get praised for? What most of us see, are students especially poor students in schools that are run like boot camps, tightly controlled with drill exercises that rival the army!
Aspire is also big on blended learning. Digital instruction is a huge concern among educators.
This raises another serious concern. Why are so many charter schools segregated?
For a time, real public schools attempted to bring diversity to traditional public schools. This was done quite effectively in places like North Carolina. What happened to those attempts?
The union likes to blame the Koch brothers, and in North Carolina and around the country, that’s appropriate, but they pretty much ignore the harmful privatization ploys by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Waltons.
Check out all the corporate groups the union sided with on the Teach Strong website. Many of these groups are backed by corporations who want to privatize public schools.
Charter Schools, Special Education and ELL
Both the new Every Student Succeeds Act and the union now push for charters to take on special education. Yet, charter schools are not equipped to address the needs of students with disabilities.
Also, for years children in traditional public schools have been pushed out of special ed. services for total inclusion and high-stakes tests—privatization ploys. Even the most cognitively disabled students are put on a general education track of unrealistic high-stakes tests.
Students with second language needs have also been excluded from charter schools.
Now the worry is that charters are going be special education schools for particular disabilities or groups of students.
There will be no more opportunities for inclusion, and the real threat is whether there will be qualified teachers in such schools for both special education and ELL students.
How many charter schools are now run by religious organizations? Whatever happened to Separation of Church and State?
We need real public schools, with real teachers who serve ALL children. This needs to be done within the framework of community needs and with an attempt to bring children together.
With the problems we currently witness in today’s society, all of us, and especially the children, need this more than ever!
But, unfortunately, there’s a huge disconnect with these mixed messages. I’d like the message about charter schools explained and retracted because it was damn hot out there beneath the Lincoln Memorial. I wouldn’t have been there if I thought it didn’t mean really saving our public schools. And I don’t appreciate being duped!