No Charter School Data: Oversight or Intentional Distortion?

Charter Schools Are Opaque

In the October 13 edition of The Nation, Pedro Noguera wrote about the continuing dearth of real data documenting the performance of charter schools. This movement, once supported by Albert Shanker and others as laboratories for educational innovation, has been co-opted by market-based reformers that suggest competition is the solution to poor performing public schools. I would go farther and say that the charter movement, funded by big money profiteers and hedge fund managers, seeks to access public money in support of for-profit schools.

Charter vs. Public Isn’t a Legitimate Comparison

Noguera points out the attractive theory of ‘choice’ as a means to force public schools to improve. The problem here is that the ‘reforms’ simply aren’t working out as forces for school improvement.  When researchers compare results on similar students, only 29% of charters outperform local public schools. Most charters were no better than the local public schools, and 31% were worse.

Charter Innovations–Drill and Kill, Stifled Individuality

And what do many of the well-know schools suggest as new models? It’s an overwhelming level of test prep focused on language arts and math, to the detriment (and even the exclusion) of a well-rounded experience that should include science, social studies, the arts, music and physical education. It might also include a regimented school day with an extreme expectation of absolute obedience to authority, with no room for individual expression. And more significantly, again and again it can be shown that ‘successful’ charters accomplish these results with fewer needy students, fewer special education or second language students, and more money per pupil for instruction. They draw better cross sections of students from their neighborhoods and manage to filter the lower performing students from their ranks, returning their weaker students to the public schools who are required to take them. The competition isn’t equal from the start, and yet charter results are still mediocre, at best.

Noguera does a good job of summarizing the many ways in which charters hide the reality of their student selection process, their funding, their student and teacher turn-over, and indirectly their ability to stay under the harsh light of true accountability as they are promoted by well-heeled marketing. That the charter movement continues to enjoy political support and continues to be able to masquerade the realities of their accountability distortions while disparaging public schools is a travesty of responsible reporting.

This edition of The Nation has other articles on saving education. While I haven’t yet read all of them, I intend to do so. The next I will read is Diane Ravitch’s take-down of Eva Moskowitz, who, with Michelle Chen, is an example of educational profiteering at it’s worst.  Read the introduction to the special edition by the editors of The Nation:  Our Public Education System Needs Transformation, Not ‘Reform’ here.

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