Everything you hear about charter schools is true. And everything you hear about charter schools is false. That’s what 20 plus years working with them has taught me.
They send high numbers of low income kids to college, they pick and choose students, they are safer. They disproportionately suspend certain kids, they save taxpayers money, they are run by hucksters. They outperform traditional district schools, or they don’t.
It’s all true. This duality was highlighted in the recent John Oliver segment, which was seen as critical of charters (and has twisted more than a few knickers), highlighting fraud and lax authorizing, but the segment started with boasting about the college going success of KIPPsters. And both are true.
Whether charters tend to meet their promise of delivering innovative equitable education, depends nothing on the label, “charter”, but the plan and people behind it. There is no essential ingredient to a charter, except independence, about the weakest organizing principle you can think of.
There is no common content in charter schools
Charter law varies widely between states, authorizer practices vary even more widely. And the individual charters themselves run from end to end of the spectrum. This is both in terms of program, and also in terms of outcomes.
Just within Oakland you have military schools, Waldorf, Montessori, arts schools, schools that emphasize testing, schools that don’t, schools that suspend a lot of kids, schools that suspend very few. Many of these schools don’t necessarily like or even respect the educational methods of their “colleagues.”
Same with students served, some charters over-represent high needs students, some under-represent them, some outperform the district, some underperform. It’s the gamut. Outside of the label and resisting control—Charters don’t see themselves as some collective. And there is no common genetic marker in the DNA of charters, just a shared birth story.
I have long argued there is no “charter movement” just a bunch of folks who want some independence from districts—for all range of motivations, most good, some bad, some the jury is out on.
So charter folks honestly need to lighten up when a comedian pokes fun at some real malfeasance (and clean the house). I don’t defend “charter schools” some charter schools are horrible. Look no further than Livermore.
I have lobbied for charters to be closed and others not opened. There is nothing magic about the label “charter” that makes a school better. Or worse. More ethical, or less.
The charter=good and charter=bad worldviews are both wrong some of the time. And they will continue to be because there is no essential content in a “charter.” So we need a new paradigm.
It sounds trite, but we really do need to discard the content-less labels and look transparently at school quality, ethics, and equity. That is exactly what families care about—if anyone bothered to ask them.