Home > Uncategorized > In an Evidence Based World, Deregulated Charter Schools Would be Banned. In Our World of Magical Thinking About Free Markets, They Will Expand… and Children Raised in Poverty Will Lose

In an Evidence Based World, Deregulated Charter Schools Would be Banned. In Our World of Magical Thinking About Free Markets, They Will Expand… and Children Raised in Poverty Will Lose

September 8, 2017

This weekend the NYTimes publishes its semi-annual Education issue, and the articles from that special supplement have been emerging in the past couple of days indicate that our country is ignoring evidence about the seemingly intractable problems facing our public schools.

The title of one of the articles by Mark Binelli, “Michigan Gambled on Charters. Its Children Lost“, provides a sweeping analysis of the profound failure of deregulated charter schools in Michigan. Sold to the voters as a means of equalizing funding and outcomes in public schools across the state in the early 1990s, deregulated for profit charters have done neither. Funding disparities persist and those districts taken over by the state and managed by the private sector instead of local school boards have not improved the outcomes or opportunities for children. Here are a couple of pieces of evidence Mr. Binelli offered in his article that describe the adverse impact of the vaunted free market after more than two decades:

…a Brookings Institution analysis done this year of national test scores ranked Michigan last among all states when it came to improvements in student proficiency. And a 2016 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research organization, found that 70 percent of Michigan charters were in the bottom half of the state’s rankings…

The 2016 report by the Education Trust-Midwest noted: Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.

Charters continue to be sold in Michigan as a means of unwinding the inequality of a public-school system in which districts across the state, overwhelmingly African-American — Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, Muskegon Heights, Flint — grapple with steep population declines, towering financial obligations, deindustrialization and the legacy of segregation. By allowing experimentation, proponents argue, and by breaking the power of teachers’ unions, districts will somehow be able to innovate their way past the crushing underfunding that afflicts majority-minority school districts all around the country. In reality, however, a 2017 Stanford University analysis found that increasing charter-school enrollment in a school district does little to improve achievement gaps. And in unregulated educational sectors like Michigan’s, there’s evidence that charters have actually increased inequality: A 2015 working paper by the Education Policy Institute determined that Michigan’s school-choice policies “powerfully exacerbate the financial pressures of declining-enrollment districts” — and districts with high levels of charter-school penetration, the authors found, have fared worst of all.

So the evidence is in: Michigan’s adoption of a free market model has NOT resulted in greater equity of opportunity and, even worse, has diminished the overall quality of education in all schools in the state. In the face of this evidence, one would expect that policy makers and politicians would abandon the idea that the free-market could solve the problems facing public schools. But instead, we have a Secretary of Education whose family funded politicians who support the “wild west” free market approach and who retains her faith in the free market… and we have a political party who also supports the survival-of-the-fittest approach of the free market over the equal opportunity approach of a “nanny state”.

Mr. Binelli matter-of-factly describes the reality of the problems facing public education in Michigan in this paragraph near the end of his article when he describes Mildred C. Wells Academy, a K-7 charter school in Benton Harbor, a small, poverty stricken district in SW Michigan overseen by the Bay Mills Indian Community, an Ojibwa tribe with over 2,000 members and 5.5 square miles of reservation land located over 300 miles away on Lake Michigan. Here’s the assessment of the school offered by B.M.C.C. charter leader Mickey Parish”

The school’s facilities, a pair of modular buildings, were “very poor,” and the same went for student test scores, though Parish stressed the context: “The level of learning is comparable to that of the local public-school system, which is dismal. So ours is dismal.” B.M.C.C.’s curriculum specialist, Kathy Tassier, pointed to selective testing gains, and suggested that the students had been motivated to “really take ownership for that growth” after learning of another local charter’s slated closure. Tassier meant the remark as a compliment. But inadvertently or not, she’d applied the language of market capitalism, of increasing productivity via brutal Darwinist competition, to a group of K-7 students. They could have been assembly-line workers being warned that the factory would close if the Chinese kept eating their lunch.

And why is the performance dismal? Because Benton Harbor’s students are raised in poverty and not afforded the same opportunities as the children in Bloomfield, an affluent suburb north of Detroit where the public schools are exempt from the brutal Darwinist competition because their taxpayers are able and willing to pay a premium for their schools. And why will the performance remain dismal? Because those in Bloomfield who are able and willing to pay a premium for their schools want to believe that the magic of the marketplace will solve the problem more than “throwing money at it”. Evidently, money thrown at schools in their district makes a difference… but money thrown at schools in other districts doesn’t.


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