Charters As Last-Resort Private Schools

A while ago, I noted that there is a urban hierarchy of schools:

If there’s a reason why charter schools are popular in some quarters–and they can be especially divisive in the inner city–it’s because they are viewed as ‘public private schools.’ There’s a hierarchy in urban areas (not so much in the burbs). First, parents either want to send their kids to an elite private school or elite public school (e.g., Boston Latin, Hunter Prep in New York City). Failing that, they’ll send their kids to a ‘second tier’ school (often a Catholic or other denominational school). Finally, rather than sending their kids to a ‘regular’ public school, parents will try to get their kids into a charter school, since these schools are often viewed as publicly-funded private schools (for instance, charter schools often have a ridiculously low retention rate).

By way of an excellent post by Jersey Jazzman (really, go read it), we come across this admission by a charter school supporter (boldface mine):

“I see nothing wrong with charters functioning as a poor man’s private school. I see much that’s right about that,” said Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. But he maintains that the schools should be more transparent about their competitive advantage. “What’s not right is to say, ‘We are just the same as any other public school,’ when you are not behaving the same way as a public school.”

If we are going to create a two- or three-tier public school system, we need to ask these questions:

  1. How do we decide which students get into and are retained in these upper-tier schools?
  2. What happens to the kids who are in the bottom tier–regular public schools?  Do they have to suffer with disruptive students, or is there a remedial/special education track within these schools (something Marc Caleb Rossiter has proposed in Ain’t Nobody Be Learnin’ Nothing)?
  3. Will the bottom tier have access to the same amount of resources?  What if, given the increased special needs of this group, they require more resources per student?  Will they receive it?
  4. Why would charters be a better selective school system than publicly run schools?

At least, as Jersey Jazzman notes, charter school proponents are admitting there’s no special charter school sauce: their advantages are due to different student bodies and policies that allow them to maintain these differences (e.g., suspension and ‘counselling out’).

One we ask these questions, we really get to the heart of the rich/poor divide (boldface mine):

Every teacher deals with children who don’t listen to and follow directions, who are noisy, who distract their fellow students, who show disrespect (intentionally or otherwise), and who have a variety of personal characteristics that impede the smooth functioning of a classroom and a school. Sometimes these children have profound learning disabilities that impact not only their own learning but that of their classmates. Sometimes they clash with teachers or fellow students who may not work well with a particular sort of person. Sometimes their home lives are less than ideal, even if they are not disadvantaged.

Suburban schools, however, only counsel out these children as an absolute last resort. Only children with the most severe emotional or intellectual disabilities are placed out of district in the leafy ‘burbs, and almost always after protracted attempts at accommodating them within the schools in their districts. And the kids who call out without raising their hands or who don’t “track” their teachers are not considered threats to the learning of others; they are treated as children who teachers must patiently and persistently educate.

This is yet another example of why suburban “choice” looks nothing like charter school “choice.” The expectation in affluent, highly resourced districts is that all children, regardless of their special education status or behavior in class, will be educated by the district. Yes, you will find tracking and gifted programs, but the children will all be in the same building with the same access to facilities and resources and extracurriculars. And if you ever tried to change that — to put the “disruptors” into a separate building, away from their peers — there would be hell to pay.

It’s time for some hard questions:

These are hard questions. Asking them unmasks hard truths. Those truths leads to difficult conversations. But if we really care for the education of children in urban schools, we’d better start having these conversations, and stop swallowing the facile nonsense of [charter school chain operator] Eva Moskowitz and others who have been shown, time and again, to be little more than self-promoting hucksters.


This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.