As an advocate of public education, I see little difference between the charter school option and school choice generally. So for the purpose of this argument, I'll treat the two as synonymous.
For some parents, charter schools offer an alternative to what they view as the stifling orthodoxy of traditional public schools. In districts that bow to the testing dictates of No Child Left Behind (like PPS), charters are refuges from excessive testing and the obsession with literacy and numeracy at the expense of a much broader curriculum that includes music and art and all the other areas of student learning that can't easily be assessed by a multiple choice test.
Some charters, then, --not all (like the Arthur Academies)-- are perceived as student centered. And progressive. That's a good thing.
Some say that charters are laboratories for innovation that can steer other public schools in the right pedagogical direction. If true, that's also a good thing. I have my doubts about the legitimacy of that claim, however, on two grounds.
First, to say that charters can influence what happens in traditional public schools makes no more sense to me than the notion that competition between schools results in better schools all around. That's market ideology. It doesn't work in the realm of education.
Secondly, as I wrote in a comment to the post on charters on PPS Equity, we already know what works to truly improve and reform K-12 education. (Steve Rawley later noted that I "...took the piss out of that argument [labs for innovation], and I think he has a point… we already know what works; we just have to implement it.")
Here are some of the reasons why charters and choice fail the test of good public policy:
- They don't serve the common good. They benefit some students --usually the more advantaged-- at the expense of others.
- Charters and choice concentrate good students with supportive parents in some schools, and leave others --the disadvantaged-- behind in less affluent schools.
- Despite the ruse of the "lottery", charters are selective primarily because they require a parent application. That works to the benefit of motivated and informed parents.
- Charters can dismiss students who are behaviorally difficult. (That may be more true nationally than in Portland.)
- Charters may be publicly funded, but they are otherwise private. Charter school organizations are statutorily tax exempt 501(c)(3) corporations run by special interest groups, even though the groups consist --usually-- of "concerned" parents.
They are other "cons" to the charter school issue. Suffice it for me now to conclude with a couple of quotes from Ockley Green parent, Rose, (a nom de web, I'm pretty sure, of a fairly well-known Portland writer.) Rose has contributed much to the (again) record-breaking PPS Equity post, "Charters and PPS":
- "...you asked how charter applications are barriers to poorer families.
"You have to think of this in terms of a parent without your resources. You clearly have a car, don’t work nights, have childcare, and speak English, and other abilities which make going to 4 mandatory meetings almost an entire year before your child might attend a given school a viable option.
"Think about this process for a parent without those resources. There are many parents without cars, without computers, and with limited English." ...
- "...school choice has stripped many schools of their wealthier students.
Now Ockley is a largely poor minority school floating in a gentrifying
neighborhood where most white parents send their kids Somewhere Else.
"We don’t need to discuss how much this hurts a school and hurts the students left behind."
- "...I don’t see any way around the barriers imposed by school choice and
charters. Someone will always be left out, and that someone will
probably be brown, black or poor.
"So the short answer is, we need to bite the bullet. We need to get rid of school choice."
What Rose says makes eminently good sense. Let's bite the bullet on school choice. And charters.