Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Charter movement blinded by free-market ideology?

There is a gathering pushback to the idea of charter schools as some sort of magic bullet that can fix the troubles of public education. In this new post, education curmudgeon Diane Ravitch states it as plainly as it gets: "Charters are not a silver bullet. They are a lead bullet. Their target is American public education."

Ravitch begins with yet another criticism of the documentary Waiting for Superman, the cinematic wet kiss to the charter movement that she pegs as "a one-sided, propagandistic attack on public education which echoes the prescriptions of those who have devoutly wished for the privatization of education."

Then Ravitch describes a laundry list of recent charter school failures. Two recurring themes emerge in the list: charter schools are susceptible to financial shenanigans, and they tend to marginalize students who would pull down their scores. One of her examples is the recent Newsweek article about New Orleans charters' discrimination against special needs students.

Ravitch is right on target about fiscal mismanagement. Most of the charters in Louisiana that were forced to close failed because of shoddy bookkeeping.

Which leads us to this post in The Lens, an investigative journalism blog in New Orleans. The article is most critical of charter school boards that violate the state's open meetings and public records laws, making it difficult if not impossible for parents and the public to know how the schools are being run:

In response to three months of requests from The Lens, a surprisingly large
number of New Orleans charter school boards failed to comply with even basic
requests for information. Many didn’t respond at all. Of the officials who did
answer, some provided only partial information – and still others claimed they
aren’t public officials or required to do their work in public, even though
state law says otherwise.

Even if a charter school is on the up-and-up, transparency is an issue. Because each charter school has its own board, it's just not possible for the news media to cover them as they do traditional public school boards. That makes charter schools less accountable to the public, even though the schools are funded by the same public dollars as other schools in the district.

And that is just an invitation to mischief.

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