UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 30, 2009

OBAMA BACKS SCHOOL DISCRIMINATION

Sam Smith, Progressive Review - At his recent town meeting, Obama had this to say about charter schools:

"The definition of charter schools is pretty straightforward. And that is that in most states you now have a mechanism where you set up a public school -- so this is not private schools, these are public schools receiving public dollars -- but they have a charter that allows them to experiment and try new things. And typically, they're partnering up with some sort of non-for-profit institution.

"So, in Chicago, you've got charter schools that are affiliated with a museum, or they're affiliated with an arts program, and they may have a particular focus. It may be a science charter school, or it may be a language academy. They are still going to have to meet all the various requirements of a state-mandated curriculum; they're still subject to the same rules and regulations and accountability. But they've got some flexibility in terms of how they design it. Oftentimes they are getting parents to participate in new ways in the school. So they become laboratories of new and creative learning.

"Now, there are some charter schools that are doing a great job, and you are seeing huge increases in student performance. And by the way -- one last point I want to make about these charters -- they're non-selective, so it's not a situation where they're just cherry-picking the kids who are already getting the highest grades; they've got to admit anybody. And typically there are long waiting lines, so they use some sort of lottery to admit them."

Obama's statement is false on several scores:

- The schools are definitely selective. They may not discriminate because of ethnicity or class, but they definitely admit only children's whose parents have enough initiative, knowledge and willpower to go through the application process. Children with apathetic, ignorant or drug addicted parents don't get to apply. This is heavily discriminatory, turning the public system into what used to be known in Washington DC as 'pauper schools.'

- The charter schools are not public. To test this out, just try to change the way or more of them are run. The only thing really public about them is the funds they receive.

- If flexibility and autonomy are valuable, then they should be just as valuable to public schools, but public schools are denied these qualities. As Jennifer Parker has put it: "Every school needs to be flexible and innovative. It's damaging to create two systems: the chartered schools that can be innovative and the others that are restricted by bureaucratic constraints. If the charter concept is so great, why don't we just get rid of the restrictions for all public schools?"

- Charter schools can play budget games not available to public schools. For example, in DC there is evidence that charter schools are admitting students, getting their pro rate budget allowance, and then later keeping this money despite the students dropping or being kicked out.

Clay Burell at Education Change notes a number of other factors:

Charter schools don't have to keep anybody. "They can expel students who don't excel or cause problems. And they can also say no when their enrollment caps are met. Public schools can't.

- Traditional public schools also have far more special needs and non-native English language learners than charters.

- Public schools also can't set parental involvement conditions.

- Public schools don't get the supplemental funds from the billionaires, so they spend less per student than charters.

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