For years charter school advocates have claimed that charter schools have something new and innovative to share with public schooling. It’s a myth. Charter schools bring nothing new to the table. Any innovative charter schools are likely run by real teachers.
Jeanne Allen, who founded the Center for Education Reform (CER,) called the nation’s leading authority on advancing education opportunity and innovation, is troubled that charter schools are being attacked, referring to the recent MSNBC forum and candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who are simply calling for more accountability of charter schools.
Allen’s bio says she earned a bachelors degree in political science from Dickinson College and a masters of science in education entrepreneurship from the University of Pennsylvania.
In Don’t Attack Charters Schools–Learn from Them Allen claims that public schools are failing and charter schools will provided a revolution. She refers to local data unavailable to us.
But her arguing that charter schools bring something revolutionary to the table is unproven and presents simply more vacuous promises. She states:
On national, international, and local data points, most schools are failing to provide the personalization and mobile economy necessary to teach and learn. And rather than offer effective solutions for students in desperate need of revolutionary change, the Democratic presidential candidates scheduled to be at the forum have already embraced the status quo, backing programs and proposals that add more power and money to failing institutions.
The idea of charter school innovation harkens back to Chris Whittle’s Edison Schools from the 90s. Whittle, once likened to Harold Hill in The Music Man, promised great innovation. But his schools flopped.
Kenneth Saltman, who wrote The Edison Schools: Corporate Schooling and the Assault on Public Education, visited one of these schools. His take away:
Walking through an Edison school, one is struck by how similar it looks to any other public or even private school. Initially, however, Edison schools were not supposed to look like other schools (p.15).
Can anyone name something innovative in charter schools?
Many charter schools are strictly run. Students and parents cannot break the rules or students will be removed. That’s not innovation.
Allen claims because charter schools exist they are great. She says:
In almost every place they’ve opened, charter schools have created a revolution in educational excellence, especially for so many of our nation’s most vulnerable students.
We know this isn’t true. Charter schools are known for not serving students with disabilities and ELL students.
A report last August by the United Teachers Los Angeles and California Teachers Association showed that charter schools are enrolling fewer students with disabilities. Those they do enroll generally have less severe – and therefore less costly – disabilities, and that this is having a disparate fiscal impact on public school districts.
Also, the Network for Public Education recently provided their second report about charter schools. The title says it all. “Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste.” Their first report was “Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride.”
Allen uses the word personalization without coming out and saying what she really means.
Corporate school reformers have worked to destroy true personalization the last thirty years by focusing on high-stakes, one-size-fits-all, standardized tests! Public schools must be accountable with test scores or they are shuttered. Visit any urban area and you will find vacant school buildings left as eyesores in the community.
Now we can assume that Allen and company want charter schools with technology, placing children at screens to focus on rote exercises at their level. That’s what she means by personalization.
They want to drop any accountability because they know checking for student progress shows that charter schools lack any real innovation. Placing students online without teachers is not innovative.
We need to elevate all true public schools and give classrooms back to teachers. Real teachers study education deeply and are capable and do the actual work of instructing students. They must be given the freedom to teach with supports and resources, and a correction of the problems facing them. They are the real innovators!
This country needs one great public school system, owned by Americans and not run with expensive experimentation by those who know nothing about how children really learn.
We are starting to have this conversation, finally, with Democratic candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren!
Allen is merely crying over spilled milk for charter school innovation that doesn’t exist. It never did.
Kenneth J. Saltman, The Edison Schools: Corporate Schooling and the Assault on Public Education, (New York: Routledge, 2005), 15.