Today’s New York Times urges the NAACP to oppose a moratorium on charter schools. The NAACP does not want to settle for second best. The Times argues that while some charters are mismanaged, well run charters are a better option for struggling students. This is a weak argument and one wonders if it is really a political one. Who benefits?
The article acknowledges high charter suspension rates and does not mention charter high student attrition when they cite increases in school achievement. This matters. If you run students out who return to public schools, what have you accomplished?
The claims even by federal agencies that charters violate students’ civil rights and increase segregation are essentially dismissed by the editors. They state: …”it’s nonsensical to fault a charter school for serving a minority student body in an overwhelmingly minority area”. So, is the reasoning that it is appropriate to pull out a few minority students for special treatment funded by Wall Street and let everyone else flounder in a city that itself is segregated?
There is of course a political back drop to this story as explained by PBS. Charters expanded during Mayor Bloomberg’s era, and when Bill de Blasio was elected to curb expansion, a political war ensued. Charters share public school space in New York City. The Mayor wanted charters to pay rent for the space in public schools they took over. (At least in New York, for-profit charters with their excessive lease payments are banned.) Major players in the war included not only the mayor, but also Eva Moskowich, a former local politician and current head of Success Academies, New York’s largest charter chain, Governor Cuomo, as well as religious and independent schools. This is a story not about children, but about power politics.
To give you a glimmer into this world, this past April alone, New York’s largest charter chain, Success Charters received $25 million from the hedge fund billionaire Julian Robinson plus another $10 million from other wealthy donors. Wall Street has been behind the charter movement in NY City for years. Their schools receive funding not available to public schools. If charters are wealthier than public schools, isn’t that an argument that the city is engaged in a form of tokenism not available for the larger population? Arguments cited by proponents that if you take over struggling schools, pour in money, kick out struggling students, achievement goes up is hard to take when most kids are left out. The billionaires aren’t wealthy enough to support everyone, just those they choose.
Last week, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education cited the charter industry for its mismanagement and profiteering. For the New York Times to gloss over these civil rights and fraud citations in its opposition to the NAACP’s call for a moratorium is wrong headed. The Times speaks to a national audience. The few charters that thrive based on innovative instruction rather than on admission and retention policies are to be lauded and no doubt supported. This is the role that they can best serve.
Do students in many public schools struggle? Of course! Is the public school system too big and inflexible to change? No! The current choice system is the divide and conquer approach. It creates an even bigger problem of inequity and inadequacy. Schools reflect the problems in the areas in which they are located. Communities have to face these issues to change the status quo. There are times when the phrase: Charters are the cheap choice, not the best choice comes to mind.