The Weaponization of the Charter Concept
I love the idea of charter schools, and I love that many charter schools have stayed true to that idea. Schools designed by teachers to innovate, experiment, and share their findings with the rest of the world? Yes, please!
Many charter schools live up to this idea. Some take on kids at risk of dropping out of the school system entirely, even though this jeopardizes their ability to make performance targets. Many do innovative work with technology, culture, and pedagogy. There are good people leading and teaching in these schools, and we should applaud the individual successes when charter schools have found ways to help students who were struggling in their previous schools.
However (and you knew there would be a “however”), the charter concept has been shifted from its original purpose. It wasn't the hard workers building good schools that did this; it was a collection of market idealists, profiteers, and those with animus towards district schools.
At their best, these folks want competition between charter schools and district schools to “unleash the power of the market.” (I've explained why that doesn't work.) This comes from a misplaced idealism that assumes competition will drive increases in the quality of education, when really it just increases the importance of marketing.
At their worst, these folks want to use charter schools as a way to shame and starve district schools. This describes a small but influential fraction of charter advocates. They've rejected the spirit of collaboration and innovation that animated the early charter concept, preferring a crusade against local school districts. It's this approach that spreads the inaccurate picture of charter schools being generally superior to district schools. That's where conservative candidates get the idea that the best way to improve low-performing schools is simply to encourage more charters.
The transformation of the charter concept from a helping hand into a fist does a disservice to everyone working to make more schools good places for kids. There are many schools – district and charter alike – that are doing great work. Others need more resources and fresh approaches. Let's lower our voices, unclench our fists, and work together to build a range of schools that meet the needs of the full spectrum of students.