"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, April 10, 2006

Charter Schools, Education Customers, and Snake-Oil Salesmen

That paragon of "non-partisan" think tanking, Andy Rotherham (Eduwonk), has an op-ed in Friday's Times pumping the value of online charter schools--and any other charter schools, for that matter. It seems that most alternatives to public schools controlled by those power-hungry unions will do as suitable replacements, and it does not seem to take much evidence to get Mr. Rotherham enthused for these new schooling options. His reasoning:
. . . they are valuable for many students. For example, a student in a rural community with few schooling options who finds the curriculum in her school too limiting might be better served through an online program that allows her to learn at her own pace. So, too, might a ninth grader who finds unbearable the jock-and-popularity culture that still largely prevails in our high schools. And some parents may want to be more involved in their child's education than is possible in traditional public schools but don't have the time or resources to do fully independent home schooling.
So we should embrace these new unproven public revenue sinkholes because we have citizens who don’t live in cities, or because we are unwilling to deal with kids who are bullying and tormenting others, or because there are some parents who want to home school, sort of?

The one thing that these reasons for online charters have in common is the isolating nature of all three, and each offers a rationale that would turn social ostracism, geographic isolation, and parental control into a need for an edu-consumer product that pretends to privately solve issues that should be the stuff of public concern, debate and civic problem solving. All these reasons, too, seem to lead to educational options that make oversight and accountability difficult. I am wondering, for instance, if there is any “scientifically-based” research to show that any these new charter options work any better than the public schools that are being side-stepped.

I am particularly interested in what the scientifically-based research says on the corporate welfare charters that Rotherham is working so closely with--in his own non-partisan way, of course. Could it be that
Mr. Rotherham's enthusiasm grows at a comparable rate to his close ties with the ed industry support groups, such as the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, National Charter School Research Center, New Schools Venture Fund, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), and the Charter School Leadership Council. I am wondering if Mr. Rotherman was Chairman of NCTQ during that organization's inspired efforts to create ABCTE, the phony online test-and-teach (for $500) outfit that carried off $40 million in ED discretionary grant funds between 2002 and 2004.

To hear Mr. Rotherham tell it, charter schools are about a group of teachers getting together to start a school
by "having the teachers collectively manage the school themselves without a principal. This sort of variation should be welcomed, not tamped down." I entirely agree, as does the NEA, by the way. What I don't agree with is the use of public education money to fuel the corporate takeover of American schools. If you have a look at the agendas of the groups above that Rotherham in involved in, I think you will see very little emphasis on teacher-led innovation or teacher-led management, and a great deal of emphasis on the new growth industry called education.

By the way, the reason that online charters for high school students come so highly recommended by salemen like Rotherham is that the online for-profit variety has proven so far to be the only profitable ones at the high school level. Eduwonk knows where the edu-dollars are.

Here is a story on Big Bill Bennett's online EMO/virtual school, K12, which received a federal grant from ED in 2003 for $4 million.

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