Wednesday, February 22, 2006

How charter schools destabilize the public school system

I'm pushing this essay by Craig Gordon, posted at Peter Campbell's edublog, Transform Education.

What caught my eye: Gordon describes the dynamics involved in how charter schools impacts a public school system, something Gordon is witnessing as a teacher in Oakland.
One aspect of what I mean is that schools like Edison are technically public, yet they transfer public dollars into the hands of private investors. But the privatization effect of charters goes much further: for-profit and not-for-profit charters alike conform schools to principles of privately run enterprises, especially competition and exclusion. Charters must compete for markets (students). Charters pick and choose who attends them (and who doesn't). Competition is touted as the high virtue that makes charters "superior" (despite much evidence to the contrary), and exclusivity is a major attraction for individual parents and students. The ability to exclude is an important factor in the success of those charters that are, in fact, successful.
The need to exclude scares me, especially as a parent. It doesn't surprise me that exclusion naturally leads to inequity, the opposite of what a democratic system requires in order to thrive.
But I think it has a lot to do with eliminating the expectation of quality public education as a civil right. True, that expectation has never been fulfilled, but the process we're witnessing right now is eroding the ground beneath movements fighting to make it a reality. It destabilizes and disorients communities, it continues to reshuffle the deck, and makes the prospect of educational equality appear impractical, just as equality seems an impossible dream in every other sphere that's thoroughly privatized (e.g., health care, housing, food), just as capitalism itself makes economic equality appear unattainable.
I'm just touching on just one aspect in this post but the balance of the essay includes vital information on a new form of funding, called Reality Based Budgeting, something that seems very close to school-based social darwinism in action.

Last comment: the frame within which charter schools are sold, as providing choice, is clearly a diabolical trap desparately needing redefinition by us. I'm not sure what our response should be but pointing out the inevitable erosion of education equity might be one approach.

I know I'm short on answers and solutions, something which annoys me to no end. What I would give to see more think tank funding on real progressive education policy. Lakoff and all, where are you on this?