Petrilli: What’s Wrong With Skimming the Best Students?

January 9, 2013

Mike Petrilli at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has an interesting post about the high expulsion rate in DC charters (72 students are expelled from DC charters for every one expelled from the public schools). Be sure to read the story in the Washington Post that he refers to as well as the short video, in which Mike Petrilli appears).

Usually, corporate reformers insist that charter schools enroll exactly the same kids as the public schools. They even insist that attrition rates from charters are no different from public schools. They claim that if they could get high scores with “exactly the same kids,” why can’t public schools.

Petrilli disagrees. In effect, he says that charters are not for all kids. Charters are for strivers. So what if they kick out the lazy kids and the troublemakers. He thinks that’s a good thing because it rids the charter of the kids who don’t want to learn. That way, they can do their best for the strivers and not waste time on the non-strivers.

This commentary by Petrilli is refreshing. We can move past the claim that charters enroll exactly the same kids. We can acknowledge that they are created to skim off the best kids in the poorest neighborhoods. And increasingly, they are opening in affluent neighborhoods where they will skim off top students and destabilize successful community schools.

His post reminds me of a dinner I attended a few months ago in Chicago with a wealthy charter supporter. He said that they are schools for the kids who are motivated to succeed. I asked him what we as a society should do with the other kids. He didn’t know or care.

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She serves on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation, Common Core, the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of Teachers, and Common Good. She is an honorary life trustee of the...