David Leonardt Get’s One Distinction… but Misses Another
David Leonardt is a one of the many NYTimes columnists who believe in the magic of “choice and charters”, but in a column last week he went out of his way to describe to a questioning reader why he supports charters but opposes vouchers. In the column he did a good job of making the distinction between the two, drawing on the expertise of two professors:
“People often confuse charters and vouchers, but they are very different,” wrote Parag Pathak of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology… Vouchers are essentially coupons that allow parents to spend their tax money at private schools, while charters are public schools that operate outside of the normal bureaucracy. Voucher-financed schools often have little oversight or accountability, while many charters must demonstrate that their students are learning.
“The larger theme,” notes Douglas Harris, a Tulane professor who co-wrote the New Orleans paper, “is that not all school reform is created equal. The charter system here has significant accountability: Low-performing schools are closed. Students are assigned by lottery, and system leaders limit mid year transfers and discipline policies to prevent schools from cherry-picking students.”
He concludes his column with these paragraphs:
Unfortunately, DeVos has shown little appreciation for the difference and pushed for education reform regardless of results. It’s the mirror image of school boards and teachers’ unions that have cast all education reform as evil, regardless of results. Both stances end up hurting our schools.
What Mr. Leonardt and the pro-reform cheerleaders have failed to do is make a far more important distinction: between de-regulated for-profit charter schools and public schools. Something is amiss when de-regulated schools can deny entry to some students, expel students for nit-picking offenses that public school teachers routinely deal with, and fail to disclose their financial statements to the public while taking funds raised by taxpayers. And when these same schools pay less for teachers, do not employ qualified teachers, get space and utilities paid for by tax dollars, and make huge profits for their shareholders something is absolutely wrong. Public school Regulations are as important as environmental regulations. Moreover, the regulations placed on any business that takes public funds should apply to the for-profit K-12 schools and proprietary post secondary schools.
In a future column, I hope that Mr. Leonardt will recognize that distinction and support the need for more transparency, more regulations, and more equity in charters.