Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jim Horn: “Charter Schools: What Would Dr. King Say?”

Jim Horn is one of my favorite education issue writers. He is associate professor of educational leadership at Cambridge College in Cambridge, Mass., and is founder and contributor to Schools Matter.

“Charter Schools: What Would Dr. King Say?”
It is unfortunate that the charter school industry now finds itself on the wrong side of educational progress and civil rights history, even as industry spokesmen like Nelson Smith engage in a public relations campaign aimed to minimize awareness of the segregated conditions that exist in the majority of American charter schools today.  Whether located in the poorest, brownest neighborhoods of the Twin Cities or in the leafiest, whitest suburbs of North Carolina, charter schools often engage in a form of intensely-segregated schooling that either contains and isolates minorities in urban centers, while offering middle class parents escape routes from traditional schools that are increasingly tainted by the burgeoning poor, which now comprise 20 percent of American children

In system-wide comparisons, the charters were 20 percent more segregated than the public schools, and in the more localized comparisons, the charters were 18 percent more segregated than neighboring publics.  In the words of the Report's authors, the "data show that we are in the process of subsidizing an expansion of a substantially separate-by race, class, disability and possibly language-sector of schools, with little to no evidence that it provides a systematically better option for parents or that access to these schools of choice is fairly available to all."

If charter schools had some pedagogical advantage to recommend them, then perhaps the social costs of re-segregation, anti-cultural curricula, and total compliance instructional methods would be easier to accept.  Perhaps.  But in study after study after study over the past ten years, corporate charter schools, either the for-profit or non-profit varieties, are more likely to be academically weaker or no better than the public schools they seek to replace.  The largest of the studies conducted by Stanford's CREDO group included a longitudinal and peer-reviewed examination of 70 percent of the nation's charter schools in 15 states and Washington, DC.  Significantly, it was funded by supporters of the charter movement, who, no doubt, got results they had not anticipated.

The study found that only 17 percent of charters do better than matched public schools, 46 percent show no significant difference in performance, and 37 percent do worse than matched public peers.  Unfortunately, a very recent Fordham Institute study now finds that, despite the charter industry's mantra that "bad schools don't last-ei­ther they improve or they close," 72 percent of bad charters remain open five years after they were identified as bad…

As we approach another day of commemoration for the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we may wonder what Dr. King would make of our current state of educational affairs, wherein education is declared by reformers, with no apparent irony, as the civil rights issue for a generation of children whose schools are more racially segregated by race and class than those of thirty years ago.  We can only guess how he might respond to business and political leaders who offer segregated total compliance schools run by corporations as the only other choice for parents who desperately want something more than the malignantly-neglected public schools that have recently had the remaining trust and human caring squeezed out of them under the weight of test and punish reforms.  Indeed, we may wonder what Dr. King would say to those federal officials and corporate foundation heads who view children principally for the future capital they will generate to maintain a corrupted anti-worker political economy and corporate welfare system that threaten to undermine democracy, equal opportunity, and free enterprise, itself…

…In the coming years, if corporate foundations like Gates, Broad, Fisher, and Walton, along with the political establishment whose favor they curry, would put as much economic and ideological weight behind rebuilding a stronger and more equitable public system of schools, rather than tearing down a system that took almost 200 years to create, then the ideals of American democracy would have a much better chance to survive these difficult times and, perhaps, one day flourish in ways we have yet to witness.  I believe Dr. King would agree.



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