Why charter schools initiative should win this time
I was not surprised by the arguments against charter schools following the Seattle Times editorial board's endorsement of Initiative 1240, a proposal to create 40 charter schools over five years.
But I was surprised by how little the arguments have evolved over time. Here's the top 10 rationales against charters and my counterarguments.
1) Charter schools are not a silver bullet. Altogether now, there is no magic potion. We are not waiting for Superman. Research proves charters can be an effective part of reforming a public education system that still has not made good on the promises of equal education opportunities laid out in Brown vs. Board of Education.
2) Charters will cost money. Yes. Just as investments in gifted education, arts education and science, technology, engineering and math curricula will cost money. And none of these investments will cost as much as the 14,000 high-school drop outs last year will cost in lost potential and wages as well as use of taxpayer-funded social services. A study of the Chicago and Illinois public school systems found high-school dropouts nationwide will collect an average of $70,850 more in government benefits in their lifetimes than they will pay in taxes.
This Frontline documentary was a poignant reminder of the perils of not investing boldly and substantially in front-end services like early learning and K-12 education. The result is much higher spending in the juvenile justice system.
3) We cannot afford charters when we're underfunding traditional public schools. Washington state has reduced the portion of state revenue that goes to the K-12 system to the point where we're ranked near the bottom. The state Supreme Court's McCleary education funding decision will drive anywhere from $1 billion to $4 billion more into education. What is rarely talked about is how the state will spend the extra dollars, on top of the $13.6 billion allocated to the K-12 for the 2013-15 biennium. Has spending evolved over time to take advantage of changes in education and technology? Moreover, how can we not be able to afford public charters but yet have the money for public innovation schools?
4) The 22 innovation schools approved by the state Legislature is change enough. No, it isn't. A student's chances of getting into one of the innovation schools is as small as their chances of getting into one of Seattle's highly sought after North End schools if their family does not already live in that community. In the public system, a quality education too often depends on zip code. That's not good.
5) Charter schools are being promoted by a bunch of rich, white guys. Sorry, but the paucity of diversity is visible on both sides of the charter campaign. Check out the I-1240 debates. Take a look at who's clogging the blogosphere. Anyone looked at the leadership of the Washington Education Association lately?
Yes, the money and visibility on both sides of the charter debate is largely white establishment. You'll find the same with Referendum 74, the marriage equality law. In communities of color the money and political clout to wage these kinds of campaigns is often absent.
But when Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, introduced a series of tough education reforms, including charter schools, he was flanked at the press conference by parents and minority education advocates, including Kevin Washington from the Black Education Strategy Roundtable. UPDATE: Democrats for Education Reform released its Hot List earlier today, a compilation of reform-minded candidates seeking public office around the country. The candidates from Washington offer a visual rebuttal to the rich, white guys argument.
6) Charters are the first step to privatizing public education. Charters cannot and should not replace good traditional public schools. The goal is not either or, but both. I learned that from Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, supporter of charters. A bragging point for Tacoma is Lincoln Center, modeled on the Kipp charter schools.
7) A study from the prestigious Stanford University debunked charters Actually, Macke Raymond, author of the oft-cited Stanford study of charter schools operating in 15 states was quoted in a recent Times story as saying that of the 41 states with charters, "you can find, in every single location, a substantial amount of charter schools that are doing really, really well, but the results are always mixed."
If my child cannot attend a good traditional public school, I want him or her in the charter school doing "really, really well." My moral compass says I have to provide the same opportunity for my neighbor's children.
Moreover a meta-analysis of charter school studies by the University of Washington's Center for Reinventing Public Education offered further insights into how charters can work well.
8) Charters are union busters. I'm not persuaded they have to be. Yes, only 12 percent of charter schools are unionized, but in four states - Maryland, Alaska, Hawaii and Iowa - charters are 100 percent unionized.
9) There is nothing a public charter school can do that an innovative traditional public school can't. Theoretically true, but in practice the historical narrative of K-12 public education is of a system reluctant to change unless slapped with the threat of a court order. Hard-fought improvements in the way we teach special education children, those who are gifted and those who struggle mightily have come at a glacial pace, keeping private and parochial schools in business.
10) The teachers union will do anything to avoid charters even acquiesce to some reforms, meaning we're going to get change. Great! But let's go back to the Times story I linked to earlier about Federal Way's TAF Academy. The school was started by Trish Millines Dziko to ground bright, minority students in STEM education. I recall Millines trying in vain to partner with the Seattle Public Schools before moving to south King County. Arguments that TAF is an example of how innovative schools can happen sans charters forget the huge mountans Dziko had to climb. An education should be a right, not a blood sport.
Also, Dziko said if charter schools had been allowed in Washington state when she started TAF Academy, her school would have been a charter school. That's because when she was looking for models of what she wanted to do, they were all charters. The fact that Dziko has successfully partnered with Federal Way - indeed she wouldn't have it any other way now - is an example of how public education can incorporate charters and traditional schools.
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
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