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

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Charter Schools and Their Hijacking by the Zealots of Greed

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an interesting piece on the charter school movement. A number of constituencies have supported charter experiments in the past, and most are grounded by economic, pedagogical, or cultural arguments. All three of these dominant lines of argument for charters represent separate scales that exist between conservative and liberal poles, and charter school philosophies reflect a kind of status politics that sometimes becomes defined by rejecting what any particular constiuency sees to be the stumbling block to the success of its own cause, its own tribe. At its worst, this kind of self-definition leads to defining one's own course by supporting everything that the economic, pedagogical, or cultural opposites do not.

Here’s how that works for two of the most trusted education "experts "of the think tank variety, both of whom represent educational non-practitioners and educational non-scholars. For Kati Haycock, one of the cheerleading captains at the Education Trust, there are only two groups of charter supporters--hers, which is correct, and all the others, which are not:
. . . “there are 'two camps' in the charter school movement. One wants to use charter schools to do a better job educating children, particularly poor ones. The other camp simply wants "freedom from everything, from regulations, from state dictates."
Kati’s tried and untrue dichotmizing represents a very old attempt to marginalize opponents to the testocracy for which she advocates by the piling of her straw man creations who don't agree into a box that is then ignited only in Kati's limited imagination.

Andrew Rotherham, insider politico from the Clinton era and nowadays the non-partisan voice for school privatization, offers a more nuanced oversimpification. He says charter school authorizers need to grapple with "what is the ultimate vehicle of accountability for a school? Is it parents or is it government?"

One may guess where Rotherham is grappling, with his impressive array of connections inside the education industry. Rotherham's views represent the ever-changing rationale for the charter biz that continues to evolve or devolve in the wake of charter implementation problems, problems ranging from corruption to business failure to loss of parental interest to weak academic performance.

Rotherham’s own brand of simplistic and false dichotomy (please the government or please the parents) is masked as a cultural appeal to recruit parents to an anti-public school position historically represented by the free market masquerade that advertised charter schools market alternatives that would pressure public schools to achieve higher test scores. Perhaps this eventuality could have materialized if charters had delivered a superior product to the publics or, shall we say, something with which to compete.

But given their demonstrated inability to do any better in raising test scores than the publics they were supposed to inspire, we will most likely never know. It is interesting to see, however, how the “free-market” charter advocates now blame the public schools for the failure of the charters to offer something that might have required some effort to match. Listen to John Ayers:
"There was this market version of schools that prevailed in the '90s, that the market solves all problems," said John Ayers, vice president for communications at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. "I think we are moving away from that, and it's proving not to be true. . . . Districts are better at resisting change than some people had thought."
What is not being said in all this spinning is that the charter companies want the money that is now being spent to operate public schools. What the conservative ideologues want out of charters is to use the charter school organizational model to eliminate the teachers’ unions and the profession of teaching, thus eliminating another stumbling block to corporate fascism. What the social and economic conservatives want is to reduce the amount in taxes that goes to fund education by offering a couple of fast-food varieties of for-profit charters to the poor. These MacSchools are intended to provide an education worthy of future employees of those other fast-food institutions that await many of these same poor children who graduate.

Where all these constituencies coalesce is in the unacknowledged but undeniable and unquenchable craving for more capital, regardless of repeated visits to the take out window.

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