Charter schools shouldn't get to pick which of these kids deserve an education.
Powerful forces, from politicians to billionaire donors, are promoting charter schools aggressively, saying charters are the answer to the (alleged
) crisis in American education. The problem is the results don't measure up, and instead of admitting that, charter proponents, many of them in very powerful positions, institute double standards or just close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears when it comes to solid evidence of what's going on. Here are just a few recent stories demonstrating the double standard that benefits charter schools, even as they fail to measure up educationally:
- New York City is planning to move a public high school for at-risk kids to a building without science labs, a gym, or daycare facilities for the children of students, in order to make room for an elementary-level charter school run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. Screw at-risk kids, apparently. Eva Moskowitz is politically connected.
- In New York state, many charter schools are refusing to turn in teacher ratings as the state has asked. Even though the charter schools aren't being asked to turn in the same kind of evaluations as public school teachers are subject to, still, they have a million excuses about why this shouldn't apply to them at all. (Because they're special.)
- A Chicago expo supposed to highlight exciting, great new schools put the double standard on display. Charter schools just aren't expected to meet the standards to which traditional public schools are held:
But a WBEZ analysis of the more than 100 new schools featured at the expo this year shows 34 percent of them are rated Level 3 by the district, the lowest grade given. Schools receiving the designation include campuses run by some of the largest charter networks in the city, including UNO and the Chicago International Charter School. This is the first year the district has graded charters on the same scale as traditional schools.
But the person running the expo doesn't think such standards should apply to charters, because they're so good in ways not measured by tests. Except that her organization promotes those very standards when it comes to traditional public schools.
In recent years, the district has closed neighborhood schools rated Level 3, citing poor performance.
- It's a good thing for charters they aren't being held to the same standards as traditional public schools, because yet another study, this one from Wisconsin's Forward Institute, finds they aren't measuring up:
- It is clear from the results of this study that overall, charter schools are underperforming at the core level of their mission—student excellence and achievement.
- The data clearly show that public schools are doing a better job offsetting the effects of poverty on education than their charter school counterparts. A concerted effort should be made to ascertain how and why this is the case, replicate that effort in charter schools, and reinforce those standards and methods.
- One of the major criticisms of charter schools is that they exclude the most disadvantaged kids, leaving traditional public schools to educate kids who face more challenges and need more resources, and giving charters an advantage when schools are compared. Charter supporters often claim this isn't true, that their schools serve a similar proportion of special education students or homeless ones. But here's more on how charter schools under-enroll special education students.
- Similarly, one of Diane Ravitch's readers rebuts a New York Daily News claim that charters in two New York City school districts are performing better than traditional public schools despite having equivalent student bodies. The reality?
District 7 non-charter public schools
Does that look equivalent to you? Traditional public schools in that district serve more than twice as many special education students. More than five times as many highest need special education students. Substantially more English Language Learners and students arriving already having scored in the bottom third of students citywide in both English and math. Can you see how maybe the traditional public schools in that district are facing more substantial challenges in getting students to do as well on tests? But if you read the New York Daily News, you'd believe that the charter schools face the same challenges and are just doing better, while the public schools are just that bad.
Special education students: 27.7%
Highest need special education students: 11.9%
Economic need index: .93
English Language Learners: 21.5%
Incoming student Math/English scores: 2.83
Incoming students who scored in the lowest third citywide in English: 52.4%
Incoming students who score in the lowest third citywide in Math: 53.6%
District 7 charter schools
Special education students: 12%
Highest need special education students: 2.3%
Economic need index: .78
English Language Learners: 12.6%
Incoming student Math/English scores: 3.08
Incoming students who scored in the lowest third citywide in English: 34.7%
Incoming students who score in the lowest third citywide in Math: 31.5%
The fact that charter schools do not admit—and are allowed not to admit—some of the students who most need education and attention and help to get through school and be ready for productive adulthoods should, to my mind, disqualify charter schools from the praise they get. Big funders like Bill Gates and the Walton family and politicians from the 2010 class of Republican governors to President Barack Obama want to remake American education in the image of charter schools, but it's an image that excludes disabled kids and kids who don't arrive in school speaking fluent English. Charter advocates rarely admit that, but the numbers are clear. I get how this is appealing for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, but Obama?
Similarly, testing and testing-based teacher evaluations are thrust on traditional public schools, then when charters fail to measure up, the very people who've been promoting testing tell us that testing shouldn't be the be all and end all for charters, because they offer other benefits. And it's true! Testing as it's currently done in the U.S. is an unreliable, profit-driven enterprise that doesn't necessarily measure what we're told it measures. But applying a terrible standard to traditional public schools and not to charters is just an excuse to shift resources from one to the other.
There's a lot of profit in charter schools for some. And for others, tearing down the public good of education for all kids is a treasured political goal. But if you believe in education for all kids, with a minimum of corporate profit, it's past time to drop the double standard and stop insisting that anyone who calls attention to their multitude of failings is a blind supporter of the status quo or doesn't care about kids or doesn't care about education. It's past time to admit that charter schools are not performing as advertised.