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

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Charter Schools Week, Part 1: Ravitch Rewrites Shanker

In some recent email snuggling between hedge fund kingpin and KIPP supporter, Whitney Tilson, and Diane Ravitch, Dr. Ravitch attempted to educate Whitney on some of the early rationale for charter schools. Instead, she muddied the historical waters with a bizarre and inaccurate recollection of some of the early developments.   

Here's a clip from Ravitch's conversation with Tilson, in which Ravitch wistfully considers returning to a time that never was:
I would like to see charter schools return to the original idea proposed in 1988 by Albert Shanker and a professor in Massachusetts named Ray Budde. Charter schools were supposed to be collaborators with public schools, not competitors. Their teachers would belong to the same union as public school teachers. They were supposed to have freedom to innovate and expected to share their innovations with the public schools. At the end of their charter–say, five years or ten years–they would cease to exist and return to the public school district. Shanker thought that charter schools should exist find innovative ways to help the kids who were not making it in public schools, those who had dropped out, those who were unmotivated, those who were turned off by traditional schools. I support that idea. We have strayed very far from the original idea and are moving towards a dual school system, one free to choose its students, the other required to accept all who show up at their doors.
Even though Tilson might certainly appreciate this gloss (since it offers some justification for the chain gang approach), Ravitch ignores the principal reasons that Shanker was initially interested in charters.  

When the idea of independent charter schools arrived on the scene in the late 80s, education policy folks and teachers were excited by the prospect of public school experiments that embrace new organizational structures and educational ideas and strategies that the larger systems might learn from and emulate.  AFT president, Albert Shanker, was particularly interested in the potential of charters to attract economically diverse and ethnically diverse students, much the same way that alternative schools of the 60s had, but with major differences.  

Shanker wanted charters to serve the needs of individual students, yes, but he wanted charters, too, to help to improve the public school systems in ways that that would make schools more humane, integrated, progressive, and effective for students and teachers, alike.  He was not interested in remedial charters for students on the verge of dropping out, as Ravitch claims.

By the early 1990s, however, Shanker had seen the corporate writing on the wall, and he saw charters as the privatization threat that has become full blown over the past two decades--with 7,000 charters today.  Of course, Ravitch and her misleading allies who run the teachers' unions leave out this part of the Shanker history, just as they ignore the historical fact that Shanker was interested in charters as a tool for increasing integration, improving new instructional strategies, and experimenting with organizational structures.

Today "high quality" charters have failed on all three counts, as they are now frozen in place by a rigid segregation model grounded in a behavioral management rigor mortis that has more in common with the 19th Century than the 21st.  

In the kinds of charters that the federal government and Wall Street love to fund, there is penal kind of segregation that operates inside an organizational structure that turns professional teachers into temporary corporate servants to the brutal whims of clueless school CEOs.  

What results are paternalistic indoctrination programs that exploit teachers and the unpaid drudgery of students to raise test scores, thus expanding the "no excuses" apartheid charter schools as the school model of choice for the poor by white philanthropists and Washington's elite.

We clearly see the preference for the "no excuses" KIPP Model in the statements and actions taken by the corporate progressives who run the U. S. Dept. of Education. This will be taken up in Pt. 2, which examines the first charter school program grant program under ESSA, which will be worth $160,000,000. It's not pretty.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:40 PM

    The more they vilify us, the harder we work. Is the USDOE conducting research on the psychological effects of charter schools counseling out children with special needs and behavioral challenges? Are charter school teachers educating children newly arrived from other countries? How many students in charter schools have parents who are illiterate in their native languages? Shanker and Ravitch are not living this reality. Urban public school teachers are.

    Abigail Shure