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Friday, April 5, 2013

Silly Charter School Debate

I am becoming more and more weary of silly education debates. A case in point is the ongoing criticism of most charter school studies.

First, jumping from a study confined to KIPP to charter schools in general is quite the over-generalization (sorry for the tautology).

Second, if the charter school outperforms their neighborhood traditional school, parents who can, will naturally choose the charter school. Silly to criticize parents for a perfectly rational decision.

Third, everyone agrees that parent involvement is key. To criticize a charter for requiring parental involvement is also silly. (My only beef is the over-rigidity of some charters. I once tried to enroll my children in a certain charter while I worked in a boarding school. The local traditional school did not want my high-achieving kids. Of course, I could have enrolled them anyway, but why would I want to force a school to take them. That sounds like a recipe for disaster. The charter required every parent to volunteer one day per week, which of course, I could not do. I offered a number of service alternatives, all of which were rejected. The school lost exactly the type of involved parent they hoped to attract).

Fourth, if charter schools use their freedom to act to pursue policies they hope will improve academic achievement, it is useless to criticize charter schools for their success in raising academic achievement.

Most criticism of charter schools boils down to, “if charter schools were just like traditional schools, they would be just like traditional schools.” Beyond silly. In the case of lottery-determined enrollment we should expect lottery winners to outperform lottery losers. After all, out-performance is precisely the hope that motivated parents to apply in the first place. To call the out-performance “contaminated,” a word with strong negative connotation, belies quite a negative bias. We should not put charters in a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't position. If a particular charter tries an experiment and fails, it is silly to criticize charters in general. If a particular charter succeeds, it is silly to dismiss their achievement as non-comparable.

We should applaud successful charters, especially those who operate in low SES areas. It is counterproductive to dismiss the strong performance of any particular charter school. It would be far better for traditional schools to make themselves worthy to be parents' school of choice as they were when I was a kid (gosh over half a century ago). Finally, if we teachers cannot conduct our public education discussions with more logic and less bias, how do we hope to be able to teach our students critical thinking? The problem is succinctly represented by a comment from a teacher in an EdWeek article about charter schools, "Obviously as a public school teacher, I do feel a bias against charter schools." Why should a public school obviously be biased against charter schools just because you are a public school teacher? If we are critical thinkers able to teach critical thinking to students, we should know how to evaluate a question on its merits, regardless of our own personal status. I challenge you to put aside everything the union is telling you, and do your own INDEPENDENT research, which is, of course, the hallmark of critical thinking.