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

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Unpacking the Boston Globe's Definition of Charter School

Ever since the corporate foundation tax havens and oligarchs like Eli Broad and Bill Gates have been pushing charter schools in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe has maintained its allegiance and dedication to charters in its editorializing and in its version of edu-reporting.  As the broke little sister of the NYTimes, which shares the same enthusiasms for the nano-cultural, zero tolerance segregated penal model for schooling the urban poor, the Globe functions as primary mass media face for what is most often a low-key approach to destroying public schools.  Nary or scant the negative word for these bastions of choice, innovation, and freedom for my children, or at least the freedom for my housekeeper's children.

Here is the Globe's definition of charter school in its most recent revision of its revised history of charter schools:
Charter schools are public schools, funded with public tax dollars, which operate under fewer regulatory restrictions and are usually independent of school districts. Most do not have teachers [sic] unions. Admittance may be determined by lottery. Many supporters see charter schools as laboratories for educational innovation.
Let's take that apart and look a little closer at this compact and Cubberley-esque definition.

Charter schools are public schools, funded with public tax dollars, which operate under fewer regulatory restrictions and are usually independent of school districts.
  If accepting public dollars makes them public, then they are public schools.  The "No Excuses" charters like KIPP and the KIPP knock-offs attract extra funding from vulture venture philanthropists and corporate foundations that can put tax-credited dollars to work implementing social policy that effectively contain, segregate, acculturate, and psychologically engineer the poor.

In most every other way, they are not public, for they do not abide by regulations from the State in terms of curriculum, physical plant, services such as libraries, clinics, and gyms, teacher quality, due process for employees, benefits, transportation, or length of school day even.  Nor are they governed by publicly-elected school committees who oversee financial transactions and bookkeeping matters. From the State website:
The increased freedom available to charter schools coupled with increased accountability, infuses all aspects of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's oversight of charter schools, beginning with the rigorous application process that groups must go through to receive a charter. Once the Board of Education has awarded a charter, the new charter school has the freedom to organize around a core mission, curriculum, theme, or teaching method. It is allowed to control its own budget and hire (and fire) teachers and staff. In return for this freedom, a charter school must demonstrate good results within five years or risk losing its charter. 
Most do not have teachers' unions.  Many do not even have teachers, if you mean by "teacher" a professional who has been educated, trained, and certified by some accrediting body.  The popular replacement for professional teachers preferred by the KIPPs is provided by Teach for America, which collects federal dollars supplemented by hundreds of millions from the same venture philanthropists and corporate foundations to recruit and "positivize" well-meaning Ivy Leaguers into a "Corps" of social missionaries who can be exploited and discarded after a couple of years of twelve hour teaching and homework tutoring days. 

These "teachers" may be dismissed at a moment's notice by a CEO principal, and they are paid, on average nationwide, 20 percent less than public school teachers.  What a deal.

Admittance may be determined by lottery.  The new charter paint jobs, national media campaign, slick documentaries, recruitment plans, and high test scores attract large numbers of urban parents who are desperate for something better than the malignantly-neglected public schools that suffer the effects of malignantly-neglected poverty.  These parents are hoping for some way to catapult their children beyond their communities that are now invisible or written off, now almost 50 years after the War on Poverty.

As schools of choice, many parents find that choice works both ways.  If their children do not live up to the expectations of the total compliance corporate code of academic and behavioral conduct in these charters, they will find themselves pushed out.  After all, the KIPPs and their knockoffs have brand or model to protect in order to maintain that marketing campaign.

Many supporters see charter schools as laboratories for educational innovation.  It's good that many "supporters" do, for most everyone else sees the same total compliance model of chain gang test prep in all the KIPP franchises and the high scoring KIPP wannabes.    If there is innovation, it is the backwards kind that produces a rigid pedagogical antiquarianism whose steroidal application of direct instruction looks more like 19th Century learning model than it does the 21st.  Ask any parent in the leafy suburbs around Boston if they would allow such "educational innovation" on their own children, who spend their days engaged in learning with real teachers, rather than being brow-beaten, force-fed, and behaviorally programmed by neophytes.

So innovation is largely restricted to the psychological programming from the corporate positivity experts who are spreading the gospel according to Seligman:  work hard, be nice and great rewards will come your way--and if they don't, there are two possible explanations--you did not work hard enough, or you were not nice enough. As the President and other Ivy League legacies like to say, No Excuses.

1 comment:

  1. Jim: As always, your stick is perfectly crafted to a perfect point.