Friday, August 06, 2010

Now Why Would Civil Rights Groups Have Reservations About Charter Schools....

If you read the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, you will read that the only possible explanation for civil rights groups' reservations in relation to charter schools is that they're in bed with the teacher's unions.
By casting their lot firmly with teachers unions, the leadership of the NAACP and the Urban League hope to preserve their power and safeguard their traditional sources of financial support.
That's presented by the authors of the editorial, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West, both of Harvard, as a conclusory statement. A non sequitur. As if the only possible reason in the world why civil rights groups might express
"reservations" about the Obama administration's "extensive reliance on charter schools." They specifically voiced concern about "the overrepresentation of charter schools in low-income and predominantly minority communities."
Is that taking a different position might alienate teacher's unions.

The editorial also presents an argument that's all-too-typical, these days - that public policy should follow opinion polls:
Someone should remind these leaders who they represent. The truth is that support for charters among ordinary African-Americans and Hispanics is strong and has only increased dramatically in the past two years. Opposition along the lines expressed by the NAACP and the Urban League is articulated by a small minority.

* * *

Support for charters among African Americans rose to 49% in 2009, up from 42% in 2008. This year it leapt upward to no less than 64%. Among Hispanics support jumped to 47% in 2010, from 37% in 2008.
So by the authors' logic, whatever the facts and whatever their concerns, civil rights groups should have adamantly opposed charter schools a mere three years ago but now, with shifts in the result of opinion polls, they are obligated to support them. For that matter, what if next year's survey shows a significant drop in popular support for charter schools?

Even if you accept that public policy should follow the polls, and further assuming that the author's methodology was sound, the authors' logic falls flat:
Each year we provided respondents the same, neutral description of charter schools, followed by the question: "Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools?" Those interviewed were also given the choice of saying they "neither support or oppose" charters.
That survey result is not, on its face, inconsistent with the position of civil rights groups. Quite obviously it is possible to favor the formation of charter schools while simultaneously having reservations about those schools, both generally and as a solution to the problems of inner city schools. To see an example of why, the authors could have turned to the news section of the very paper in which they're published.
The Equity Project Charter School garnered headlines and accolades when it opened last September with an unusual plan: recruit top teachers and pay them $125,000—substantially more than the average teacher salary anywhere in the country.

Its test scores did not match the hoopla: Only 37.4% of the students were proficient in math and 24% were proficient in English. On average, the other public schools in Equity Project's Washington Heights district performed better, the test scores released last week showed.

"It's not unexpected" for a first-year school, said Zeke Vanderhoek, founder and principal of the middle school. "I'm very confident in the vision of the school and the teachers we have, but we're not there yet."
Two weeks ago, the New York State Department of Education renewed the charter of Opportunity Charter School, the city and state's worst-performing charter school. Eight percent of the students were proficient in English and 7% were proficient in math. In the district in which Opportunity competes, proficiency scores in both subjects were above 50%.
I do expect the performance of the Equality Project to improve, and there are charters that are achieving results on par with, and sometimes better than, their public school counterparts. But the questionable performance of some schools based upon assumptions of what will improve school performance, and the terrible performance of other schools based upon what very well could be opportunism and profiteering by the private interests behind those operations, should inspire political, civil rights and opinion leaders to exercise caution.

Further, when the lessons of the charter school movement seem to boil down to "student performance improves with a longer school day", the question is raised: why is it necessary to have charter schools to lengthen the school day? For that matter, it may be that the same results can be achieved with the same length and number of school days, but with a shorter summer vacation.
The results of four-year pilot study, obtained by The Globe and Mail, show that children who have only a one-month summer break do better in math, retain more of their lessons and need less time for review.

This study rides on the tail of a 20-year investigation in the U.S. by researchers at Johns Hopkins University that found children from low-income families fell nearly three grade levels behind their higher-income peers.

The culprit? Summer vacation. The learning advantages families can offer their children during non-school months – like lessons, camp and parents who can afford to stay home with their children – are often only available to an elite few from high-income homes.
I think that last sentence incorporates a great deal of assumption and overgeneralization, but the results of the studies are not surprising.

Beyond the question of quality and opportunism, and the question of what they actually bring to the table, there are additional reasons why civil rights leaders may be skeptical of charter schools. First, charter schools tend to be segregated. Second, they tend to adopt policies toward children and classroom instruction that would not be acceptable in middle or upper class public schools. Third, the major "franchise" charter schools, such as KIPP schools, are not on the whole self-sustaining, but instead rely upon outside grants to balance their books, raising questions both of their long-tern sustainability and of whether that money might be better directed at public schools. Fourth, when you put education in the hands of a private organization, even if it's a well-meaning nonprofit, you diminish the oversight of state and local government. It's a fair retort that a lot of inner city governments and school boards have failed to do their job, or became hopelessly corrupt, but abandoning reform in favor of charter schools leaves a lot of children behind. Fifth, charter schools often rely upon the public schools for a significant amount of educational support, as their facilities often lack the amenities of public schools - sports facilities, cafeterias, libraries, art rooms, etc.

So there are many valid reasons why a civil rights leader might have reservations about an emphasis on charter schools. But wait, there's more. Let's hear what some unabashed racists have to say about the editorial and charter schools:
Even though the teachers unions oppose “charter schools”, I wonder if a lot of black teachers secret love them so that they can teach the few students who have more than a room temperature IQ. While many may be scams, I personally don’t have a problem with smarter than average blacks being separated from the dim bulbs when it comes to school. Since black teachers can no longer keep baseball bats on their desks, this is the next best option.
A nice display of loving concern, right? So how about vouchers instead of charter schools?
The main reason Whites send their children to private or Catholic schools is so their children don’t get beat up, terrorized by Black students in the public schools. Give these same Black students “Vouchers” to go to White private schools and the same process happens there.
Nope, nothing that might concern a civil rights leader there....

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