May 7 to 11 is generally recognized as Teacher Appreciation Week, with May 8 specifically being Teacher Appreciation Day. Google it if you don't believe me. Shoot, even Michelle Rhee's anti-teacher organization StudentsFirst is recognizing that, albeit only to get people's contact information in a list-building exercise. So what does President Obama do? He declares it National Charter Schools Week. Not even National Charter School Teachers Week. No, we're supposed to take this week to celebrate the charter schools that exclude disabled kids and homeless kids and kids with limited proficiency in English, the charter that was a Christian school until it became a charter to keep students whose families couldn't afford the tuition, the charter taken over by Scientology.
This isn't to say there aren't some great charter schools out there. But there are a lot more great teachers out there—in traditional public schools, in charter schools, in private schools—and the fact that the president is trying to replace the week to appreciate them with a week honoring an educational form that has, according to the most in-depth research available, performed less well than traditional public schools far more often than it has performed better, with the differences in performance being, on the whole, pretty small, except that one of these systems has meant big profits and big paydays for some charter management companies and their executives, is an unfortunate reminder of how disappointing, how flat-out bad this president's education policies have been.
President Obama's proclamation of National Charter School Week repeatedly invokes the idea of innovation. But if a decade of "innovation" along one very specific line has produced no meaningful improvement, why are we simply supposed to celebrate that specific kind of innovation? Why aren't we innovating by, say, giving traditional public schools the autonomy and freedom to experiment that charter schools have been given? Freddie deBoer's take on "choice," the other common argument in favor of charter schools, seems to apply here as well:
Talking about choice as if it is a benefit regardless of the objective reality of whether the choices are beneficial is bizarre. And the idea that tax dollars should pay for that choice, in that absence of evidence as to why, is just a bridge too far.
A decade into the charter experiment, there is no consistent evidence that charter schools do anything new but weaken traditional public education. If there was evidence that charter schools could scale up and replace traditional public education with something better, it would be one thing. But that evidence simply does not exist, however much this president and his wretched Education Secretary want to promote the myth that it does. Asking America to celebrate this troubled experiment instead of the traditional celebration of teachers in all types of schools is an insult not only to all teachers but to students and parents at the vast majority of schools in the country.
Wed May 09, 2012 at 7:55 AM PT: Diarist SwedishJewfish points out that National Charter Schools Week was designated for this week by Congress in 2001 and first declared by George W. Bush in 2002. TooFolkGR points to an event the president did with the national teacher of the year on April 24.
Those are welcome additions. It's good to see that President Obama did not initiate National Charter Schools Week, and that he has recently honored a teacher. That said, I continue to take serious issue with the fact that he formally honored charter schools with a proclamation and did not do the same for teachers though their week was first established in 1953 at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt.
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