Using Individualism to Create Un-Democratic Schools: The Charter School Euphemism

Using individualism in its extreme, American schools are becoming more and more un-democratic. Using the euphemism of school choice, American citizens have been told over and over that public schools are a failure, and parents should have a choice in deciding schools for their children. Charter schools are sweeping the country as the solution to the failing public schools, even though the research indicates that charters do not do as well as public school counterparts.

Henry Giroux writes that economic policies have led to a society which promotes:

the virtues of an unbridled individualism that is almost pathological in its disdain for community, social responsibility, public values and the public good. As the welfare state is dismantled and spending is cut to the point where government becomes unrecognizable – except to promote policies that benefit the rich, corporations and the defense industry – the already weakened federal and state governments are increasingly replaced by the harsh realities of the punishing state and what João Biehl has called proliferating “zones of social abandonment” and “terminal exclusion.” (Follow this link for full article by Giroux.)

In her recent book, Dr. Lisa Delpit suggests that the original idea of charter school has been corrupted. She explains that originally, charter schools were designed to be “beacons” for educational excellence. Charter schools were to be designed to develop new approaches to teaching, especially for the most challenging populations of children. Their results were to be shared with other public schools.

As Dr. Delpit explains, the initial charter school concept has been corrupted. She explains:

Now, because of the insertion of the “market model,” charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. Special education students, students with behavioral issues, and students who need any kind of special assistance are excluded in a multiplicity of ways because they reduce the bottom line—they lower test scores and take more time to educate properly. Charter schools have any number of ways of “counseling” such students out of their programs. I have been told by parents that many charter schools accuse students of a series of often trivial rule infractions, then tell parents that the students will not be suspended if the parents voluntarily transfer them to another school. Parents of a student with special needs are told that the charter is not prepared to meet their child’s needs adequately and that he or she would be much better served at the regular public school around the corner. (Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People“: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.)

We have reported on this blog that two major research studies show that charter schools do not do nearly as well as traditional public schools.

In a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford, hundreds of charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia were studied to find out what was the impact of these charter schools on student learning.

Here are some of their findings from the CREDO study:

  • Of the 2403 charter schools reflected on the curve, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools instead.

Dr. Michael Marder, at the University of Texas has studied not only Texas charter schools, but charter schools in other states including Florida, New Jersey, New York, and California. He has found that most charter schools do not do as well as the traditional public schools.

On the Schlechty Center website, the author wonders whether charter schools are a good idea run amok. The author explains it didn’t take long before “the idea of the charter school was co-opted by those bent on introducing more choice and more competition into the American system of education-and, ironically, also as a tool to bring teacher unions “under control.”

And Schlechty asks, like others, “If it is the regulations that are impeding performance, why not change policies and program restrictions for all schools and for all students, not just the lucky few who enroll in this or that charter school?”

Schleckty also says that policymakers must renounce idea that these schools are primarily a means of providing parents and students choice. Then he suggests:

If one assumes, as I do, that what is needed are schools that encourage continuous innovation and the disciplined exploration of alternative solutions to persistent problems, charter schools such as those now being developed will do little to help us meet the challenges we must meet to ensure that every child will be provided a high-quality education.

Charter Legislation a Dangerous Path

On October 16, Georgia citizens can begin early voting for the November election. On the ballot is an amendment to the constitution that will let the State of Georgia (not the Department of Education) to establish its own pipeline of charter schools. A commission will be composed of appointees made by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house. Not very democratic! Not accountable.

The Georgia bill, which was passed by the Georgia Legislature and signed by the Governor is based on a “model” bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council(ALEC), a right leaning partisan group. Media Matters dot Org investigated the Georgia bill, and found that all of the specifications in the Georgia bill are exact copies of ALEC’s model charter bill. And its no surprise that the legislators that introduced the bill, Jan Jones and Edward Linsey, are ALEC education task force members. Each has received financial support from ALEC.

The question on the ballot is cleverly worded. The official ballot text reads as follows:[5]

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?

( ) YES
( ) NO

What is missing are the details which will allow the commission to approve its own charter schools without local district approval. Also missing is the reality that the money will come from the state and local districts, and as soom legislators have pointed out, education in the Georgia has been underfunded by about $4 billion over the past several years.

Local districts already have the right to create charter schools. So does the Georgia Department of Education. This amendment, which will be found unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court, is a sham being pulled on the citizens of Georgia. Its a sham funded by outside charter school management groups, not by parents and teachers in Georgia. School boards around the state have passed resolutions against the amendment.

Georgia State Senator Doug Stoner, District 6 suggests, we are setting up a dangerous system when we enable the state to expand and approve charter schools without approval by local schools. He puts it this way:

To change the Constitution in order to create a charter school or any “special school” favored by current or future state bureaucrats, and forcing local school districts to accept such schools would set up a very dangerous system that clearly violates the concept of local control. I cannot support such a state government mandate, especially when the legislative majority has slashed local school funding by more than $1 billion in recent years.

Locally elected school board members across the state have spoken out against HR 1162, which comes as no surprise. It is certainly reasonable to ask why the state is creating a new funding stream for charter schools while reducing financial support for other schools, forcing reduced education calendars, elimination of programs and teacher furloughs.

Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. Its kind of like a 19th century elixir, or remedy that will serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools.

Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come. Charter schools have not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.

Yet, it is quite obvious that policymakers have ignored the research that has been conducted by university-based researchers, rather than “partisan think-tanks.” Instead they are enacting laws around the country that will enable for-profit charter management companies to swoop in and establish charter schools, almost at will. These laws further destabilize public schools, and remove the locus of control of local schools, and put it into the hands of unelected bureaucrats (political appointees).

The Georgia charter amendment, if passed, will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state. Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold in these states. Firms will come in a purchase land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA. Boston worked out a deal in the interests of corporate investors.

If you are a Georgia Citizen, how will you vote? Do you see the amendment as a means to improve education, or a way for some to make a lot of money on the tax payers dime?

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Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was coordinator of science education, and was involved in the development of several science teacher education programs, including the design and implementation of TEEMS, a clinically based...