Peter Greene, who blogs at Curmudgucation, wrote an insightful blog post that Diane Ravitch excerpted on her blog yesterday. Titled “100% Charter Fail” Greene’s post made the point that the for profit charters do NOT want to take over all the schools, they are only after the easiest portion of the market. Greene writes (with my emphasis added):
It’s telling that while chartercrats are cheering on complete charter conversions for cities from York, PA to Memphis, TN, no charter chains have (as far as I know) expressed a desire to have a whole city to themselves. The preferred model is an urban broker like Tennessee’s ASD or the bureaucratic clusterfarfegnugen that is Philadelphia schools– charter operators can jostle for the juiciest slice of the steak and try to leave the gristle for some other poor sucker.
It’s not even that charters are worried about how successful they will look…. the numbers that they are most attentive to are the ones on the bottom line, and that’s why no charter operators in their right minds would want a 100% charter system that they had to be responsible for.
He then offers these insights on why the “free market” will not work in public education:
Here’s one more reason that free market economics do not belong in public education– in the free market, all customers are NOT created equal. All customers are NOT equally desirable to businesses. And the free market deals with these undesirable customers very simply– it doesn’t serve them. (This is why, for instance, when you hire FEDex or UPS to deliver a package to your uncle on some back road in Bumfargel, PA, FEDex and UPS turn around and hire the United States Postal Service to deliver it for them.) In a charter system, those High Cost Students become human hot potatoes.
“Well, we’ll just require charters to serve a certain segment of the population in our 100% charter system,” you say. And I will remind you of one other critical difference between charters and true public schools. True traditional public schools do not say, “It’s too hard to turn a profit in this business environment, so we are just going to close our doors.” Traditional public schools are in it for the long haul. Charter operators are in it as long as it makes business sense to be in it. If they don’t like the deal you’re offering them, they don’t have to stay.
I especially liked his Post Office analogy because it reinforces my notion that small towns think of their public school the same way they think of the Post Office: both serve as community hubs and community identities. It is noteworthy that both the school consolidation efforts and the post office closures hit a stone wall in the small New England communities where I worked as a consultant for the past two years: people in those communities were explicitly willing to pay a premium price to retain the schools that identified their community as distinct from a larger nearby community.
My observation that I shared on both blogs:
For profit charters don’t want to take over the whole market any more than Walmart wants to… Do you see a Walmart in Scarsdale? In New Trier? In Radnor PA? Conversely do you see any Walmarts in poor urban neighborhoods? Walmart is willing to cede the upscale market and abandon the urban poor to make as much profit as possible on the mass market. For profit charter operators think the same way. They’ll go after the market of engaged urban parents and middle class neighborhoods and towns that are seeking relief from high taxes. The for profit charters are not cherry picking to destroy public education, they are cherry picking to make money.
One concluding observation: The charter cheerleaders need to look at who charter schools are leaving behind before they make claims about charter expansion, choice, and vouchers being a “civil rights” issue. The poor children with disengaged parents, the disabled children who will pull down test scores, and the remote rural communities will be left behind and the public schools in affluent communities will continue to thrive and become more exclusive as their housing prices rise correspondingly. Charters, choice, and vouchers are all about rewarding investors and shareholders… not about helping children.
In a case that could have national implications, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the state has “…no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students” in a school district that the state turned over to a charter school that has not improved its performance. This overturned a lower court decision that the State has a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.”
Kary L. Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Michigan who filed the suit on behalf of eight students of nearly 1,000 children attending K-12 public schools in Highland Park, MI, stated that “This ruling should outrage anyone who cares about our public education system. The court washes its hands and absolves the state of any responsibility in a district that has failed and continues to fail its children.”
The suit, which named as defendants the State of Michigan, its agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District, maintained that the state failed to take effective steps to ensure that students are reading at grade level.
“Let’s remember it was the state that turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter management company with no track record of success with low performing schools,” said Moss. “It is the state that has not enforced the law that requires literacy intervention to children not reading at grade level. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure and maintain a system of education that serves all children.”
Why could this have national implications? As noted in earlier posts, school districts in “failing districts” are often taken over by the State who, presumably, have the ability to overcome the effects of poverty more effectively than the local school boards and, increasingly, States look to privatization as the answer (e.g. Newark and Camden NJ; Philadelphia PA; Chicago IL, to name a few). If State’s are not responsible for providing a quality education, who is? Are parents in affluent districts the only ones who will have their children attending quality public schools? Will for-profit schools be allowed to continue to operate even if they fail to get results?
While I am not well versed in the structure of MI’s court set up, I have to assume their Supreme Court will have the find say on this… and I assume the MI State “…agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District” will continue to argue that they are not responsible for ensuring that every child gets a quality education.
Here’s my final question: how can the state defend it’s willingness deny a quality education to all children while at the same time wresting the control of “failing schools” from local boards who are more than willing to make every effort to achieve that goal?
Nick Kristoff’s column in today’s NYTimes poses this question: “Do Politicians Love Kids?“. My answer is: “Yes…. but… they love shareholders more!”
Kristoff’s column focuses on the need for universal prekindergarten, an issue he believes both parties can support. The column offers James Heckman’s research as evidence along with lots of statistics comparing our nation’s preschool programming with our “competitors”.
But, as noted in earlier posts on this issue, I believe Republicans and “school reform” advocates will use the expansion of prekindergarten as an opportunity to expand “choice” and expand the privatization movement that has burgeoned under NCLB, RTTT, and in urban districts under the control of business minded neo-liberal and/or conservative mayors. This led me to leave the following comment:
Given the Republican majority in the House and Senate and a handful of sympathetic neo-liberal Democrats here’s the likely pre-kindergarten scenario: vouchers. Instead of putting prekindergarten programs under the aegis of public school systems Republicans and “school reform” Democrats will advocate for “parental choice” and use the funds to open privatized programs instead of expanding the mission of “failed government schools”… and the shareholders of these programs will benefit while urban neighborhood schools and small rural schools wither.
Politicians love kids… but they love shareholders even more… because kids can’t vote or make campaign contributions but shareholders can.
A few weeks ago Time magazine hit the news stands with this horrific cover:
When the article came out progressive bloggers went ballistic and Facebook was full of links to send letters to the editors of Time to decry their cover, which stated (wrongly) that is was impossible to fire a teacher. Having written several posts on this topic, I clicked on the AFT’s link and sent a letter explaining the reality of the situation, namely that teachers have a probationary period that is typically three years and that some of the teachers who “opted out” of the profession were, in fact, counseled out. Because of this, the reality is that 98% of the teachers are doing well in their work even though this fact vexes politicians like Andrew Cuomo.
My daughter in Brooklyn who shares my frustration at the bashing of public education sent me a link to this blog post from Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, who dedicated most of the space to a well researched letter to Time in response to their reprehensible cover. Written by Nancy F. Chewning, assistant principal of William Byrd High School in Roanoke, VA, the letter includes the following points, some of which I have not made in my earlier posts decrying the bashing of teachers:
- Aspiring teachers are held in low esteem on campuses
- Teachers make substantially less than others with an equal education
- The OECD reports that “American teachers work far longer hours than their counterparts abroad.”
- No other professions are held to a 100% standard- Only teachers!
- And this gem: “According to a new study from the Journal of Patient Safety, 440,000 people per year die from preventable medical errors. In fact, this study found that medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the United States today.” Are we closing hospitals because of this? Are doctors losing tenure because of this?
- The NEA [National Education Association] ranks 221st in terms of lobbying expenditures… WELL behind banks, military, and other professions— like doctors– who are not depicted as “Rotten Apples”
The letter describes the money teachers spend on their own supplies and to provide their students with food, school supplies, and clothing. It describes the time teachers spend advocating for their children outside of school. It describes the responsibilities teachers are asked to assume for the well-being of their children. And it describes the devastating impact poverty has on the children in Roanoke, VA, impact that is felt in every district that serves children who are raised in poverty across the country.
I wish some political leader in our country would stand up for public education and especially for the teachers who work tirelessly to help children raised in poverty…. but it’s easier to blame teachers than to blame poverty because “fixing” poverty requires the redistribution of wealth and (gasp) spending money on people in our country who are in need. Here’s hoping the silence about poverty ends as we consider who to elect for President in 2016.