Monday, September 26, 2016

Arne Duncan talk at Smith College draws anti-charter school protesters

Arne Duncan talk at Smith College draws anti-charter school protesters:

Arne Duncan talk at Smith College draws anti-charter school protesters

NORTHAMPTON — Former U.S. education chief Arne Duncan was greeted by a packed auditorium Wednesday evening, as well as opponents of a question on the Nov. 8 ballot that would lift the state’s cap on charter schools.
Duncan, who resigned in January after serving since 2009 as secretary of education, now is a managing partner at the education advocacy group Emerson Collective.
He was in Northampton to deliver the inaugural Jane Grossman Cecil ’50 Memorial Lecture at Smith College’s Weinstein Auditorium. He delivered anecdotes about his career in education during a 30-minute talk, which led to a question-and-answer session.
Earlier, Duncan met with students on campus.
Duncan’s appearance drew a crowd of more than 100 listeners, as well as about20 protesters from Save Our Public Schools, a grassroots organization that opposes Question 2 on the Massachusetts ballot.
If the measure passes, up to 12 new charter schools could open annually. These are schools that have an independent charter and receive public money from the home districts of students who choose to attend them.
The protesters stood quietly in the back of the auditorium, sporting signs that read “Save our public schools” and “Vote No on 2” and “Students are not a cash crop.”
Save Our Public Schools members said their underlying concern is that charter schools absorb public money while benefiting only a small portion of students.
Duncan spoke to the issue when he was questioned by one member of the audience about his support for charter schools.
In Massachusetts, “there’s this big tension between public and charter schools, so I’m wondering where this idea of change happening from the inside fits into your idea of charter schools?” a woman asked Duncan.
“I want to make sure the facts are clear — charter schools are public schools, so it’s not charter versus public,” Duncan responded. “Charter schools are publicly funded. I’m very agnostic, I’m very pragmatic. I just think we need more good schools in America. There’s nothing about the name ‘charter’ that tells me anything about quality.”
Duncan reasoned that there are “excellent” charter schools and underperforming charter schools, just as there are the same mix of traditional schools.
“I’m absolutely in support of high-performing charter schools,” he said. “I think we need to replicate and learn from them … I think this tension is about adults, not kids. We need to make sure every kid has a chance to be successful.”
Barbara Madeloni of Northampton, who is president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, was among those with Save Our Public Schools. She stood outside the auditorium after Duncan’s talk to engage with potential voters about Question 2.
Madeloni suggested that Duncan’s rationale regarding charter schools as public schools is misguided.
“Public funds going into private hands does not make (charter schools) public,” Madeloni said. “There’s no democratic oversight — local school committees (and) town councils... have no say on whether a charter school can open in their community, and there’s no local accountability for what happens in the school.”
She continued, “We thought this was an opportunity to educate people here at Smith and the guests listening to the secretary about this question, and why it’s reckless and why we need to vote no.”
Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at Duncan talk at Smith College draws anti-charter school protesters:

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