Home > Uncategorized > David Leonardt’s Blind Support for Charters Allows Him to Sidestep Major Issues: Funding and Housing Inequity

David Leonardt’s Blind Support for Charters Allows Him to Sidestep Major Issues: Funding and Housing Inequity

May 2, 2017

David Leonardt, one of the NYTimes columnists who unapologetically supports the expansion of charter schools, offers charters as the best way forward in public education. His column begins with a promising premise: vouchers are a bad way to address the inequitable opportunities that exist in today’s schools.

Betsy DeVos’s favorite education policy keeps looking worse. Last week, the Education Department, which she runs, released a careful study of the District of Columbia’s use of school vouchers, which she supports. The results were not good.

Students using vouchers to attend a private school did worse on math and reading than similar students in public school, the study found. It comes after other studies, in Ohio and elsewhere, have also shown weak results for vouchers.

But then Mr. Leonardt goes into a lengthy and misleading analysis comparing charter schools to public schools. He begins with this overdrawn contrast between “anti-charter” defenders of traditional public schools and “reformers” who, presumably, want to make the world better.

…the highly charged debate over education often lapses into misleading caricature. On one side of the caricature are defenders of traditional public schools, who believe in generous funding, small class sizes and teacher training. On the other are so-called reformers, who believe in vouchers, charter schools and standardized tests.

He compounds this by making two statements about charter schools that are largely inaccurate:

  • Unlike most voucher programs, many charter-school systems are subject to rigorous evaluation and oversight. Local officials decide which charters can open and expand.

This is contrary to the laws being passed in the majority of states controlled by GOP legislatures and country to what pro-charter organizations want. Any reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog knows that profiteers want compete and total de-regulation.

  • Crucially, many charters are open to all comers, which means their success doesn’t stem from skimming off the best.

Again, this is contrary to the reality of charter enrollments, which effectively screen out children of parents who are either disengaged or working too many hours to complete the paperwork required to apply for a charter school. Public schools ARE open to all comers, whether the parents have the wherewithal to complete paperwork or not.

He ends his article with this maddening exhortation to “progressives”:

The District of Columbia study highlights the charter/voucher contrast in a neat way. The voucher results look so weak — even worse than elsewhere — partly because the city’s charters are so strong. That is, voucher recipients are being compared with children at higher-performing public schools than in the past, and the voucher schools aren’t keeping up.

It’s an argument for a political compromise: fewer vouchers, more charters.

If you’re a progressive, I realize that this compromise may make you squeamish. Progressives often prefer to spend more on traditional schools — which are still crucial — and to trust them.

But I would encourage you to look at the full evidence with an open mind. Charters have the potential to help a lot of poor children in the immediate future, and it’s hard to think of a more important progressive goal.

Charters DO have the potential to help SOME poor children in the immediate future… but ALL poor children could be helped immediately if we spent more on “traditional” schools, as the comment I left on the article indicates.

I count myself as a progressive, and after working 29 years as a public school superintendent in 5 different states in the Northeast here’s what I find: traditional public schools, governed by elected school boards in communities that can afford to provide generous funding for small class sizes, a wide array of programs, and teacher training do far better than any schools in America. Unfortunately for our country, these well financed districts are invariably located in our country’s most affluent communities whose housing costs of housing prohibit the enrollment of children raised in poverty. If we were serious about making public education a “…powerful force for accelerating economic growth, reducing poverty and lifting middle-class living standards” we would fund ALL schools at the same level as our most affluent districts. In 2015, Scarsdale spent $31,005/pupil. The State mean was $23,370. New Rochelle, within commuting distance of Scarsdale, spent $22,584. Scarsdale taxpayers, who chose to spend roughly $7,500 more than the State mean and roughly $8,500 than their neighbors to the south believe spending on public education matters… and New Rochelle could do a lot with the $28,000,000 in additional funds they would have if their per pupil spending matched Scarsdale.

Choice advocates like Mr. Leonardt sidestep questions of inequitable funding and the housing patterns that underly these disparities in spending. As a progressive, I believe we need to face these issues.

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