Thursday, May 4, 2017

Jeff Bryant: The Democrats’ Dilemma On Charter Schools

The Democrats’ Dilemma On Charter Schools:

The Democrats’ Dilemma On Charter Schools


President Donald Trump’s adamant promotion of “school choice” and his selection of Betsy DeVos for education secretary have put advocates for charter schools in the Democratic party in a bind, and now they’re scrambling to keep the luster of the well-polished charter school brand unblemished.
Their latest tactic is to carefully distinguish charters from the system of school vouchers Trump and DeVos favor, but they serve this cause poorly by making erroneous claims about how the charter industry works in most communities and what these schools do to harm public education.
The latest misfire comes from David Leonhardt’s op-ed in Monday’s New York Times in which he takes on DeVos and her preference for vouchers while denigrating charter skeptics as people who need to get “an open mind.”
It’s a precarious tightrope Leonahrdt attempts to walk, and he stumbles quite badly.
First, A Little Background
First, it’s important to understand the source of the school choice schism in the Democratic party goes back 25 years, Jeffrey Henig explains in Education Week, when proponents of school choice came up with two different ways to achieve their goals: school vouchers and charter schools.
While conservatives favored vouchers, which were a creation of free-market economist Milton Friedman, political centrists and some left-leaning people became infatuated with charters because they were birthed by “business-oriented moderates and technocrats” who became the predominant force in the Democratic party during Bill Clinton’s presidential administration.
Around the turn of the century, these two strains of school choice advocacy united after pro-voucher forces, largely funded by the Walton Family Foundation (of Walmart fame), encountered a series of stinging defeats at the ballot box and a rising tide of anti-voucher sentiment among the general public.
Voucher advocates welcomed their union with charter school fans because it gave their cause a bipartisan aura and some support from the civil rights community. “Charter proponents … welcomed the political and philanthropic support of the pro-voucher forces,” Henig writes, because they needed rightwing leverage and money to undermine opposition coming from teachers’ unions and public school advocates.
For conservatives, the bipartisan unification for school choice established the slippery slope to potentially privatize public education. Moderate and lefty supporters of charter schools, on the other hand, got a Faustian bargain that gave them “education reformer” cred and the favor of Wall Street investors in exchange for colluding with the right wing.
With Trump and DeVos, the bargain Democrats made on charter schools has come due.
What Leonhardt Gets Wrong
So what’s a charter-loving Democrat to do? Based on what Leonhardt writes for the Times, many are choosing to re-up their support with false claims and deceptive rhetoric.
Leonhardt begins his column by calling attention to a new study showing the voucher program in the District of Columbia has had a negative impact on student achievement – a worthwhile news item to note for sure. But it becomes quickly apparent Leonhardt brings the subject up not to lambast DeVos but to miscast charter school skeptics as actors in a “caricature” debate over the fate of public education.
That’s a convenient strawman that leads him to state there are those who “conflate vouchers … with charter schools,” but he cites no credible sources to substantiate his belief that critics of DeVos and school choice are incapable of distinguishing between charters and vouchers.
Most concerning about Leonhardt’s column, though, is the many misleading statements he makes about how charter schools operate and what their impact is.
He cites a few credible studies showing positive impacts of charter schools on student achievement, but he doesn’t appear to have read credible reports that have found otherwise.
For instance, the most rigorous and most expensive study of charter school performance commissioned by the US Department of Education found no overall positive effect for charter schools.
A recent study of charter schools in Texas found charters overall have no positive impact on test scores and have a negative impact on earnings later in life.
So it’s totally misleading for Leonhardt to argue charters have “flourished” (whatever that means) when their track record is decidedlymixed at best.
Leohardt then piles on one misleading statement after another.
His assertion that “charter-school systems are subject to rigorous evaluation and oversight” is counter factual to reports from the charter industry itself that show only about 3 percent of charter schools are closed for under-performing, and even those that are closed have operated an average of 6.2 years.
In Ohio, only one of 10 charter school students attend a school rated high performing.
In Michigan, charter schools score worse on national assessments, known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” than their traditional public-school The Democrats’ Dilemma On Charter Schools:
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