WaPo Needs to Get Its Ears Checked on Charter Schools

Everyone else heard it. Even way up here in the woods of upstate New York we heard it. Every political person except for the editors of the Washington Post seems to have gotten the message loud and clear. As a bi-partisan program, charter schools are dead. There’s no need for Democrats to hug the corpse. Maybe a medical analogy that invokes the late great Gene Wilder will help get the message across.

Here’s what we’re talking about: Today the editors of the Post issued a rebuke to Democratic politicians like Bernie who have turned their collective backs against charter schools. As they wrote,

We hope candidates keep in mind the polls that consistently show support for charters among black and Hispanic voters. It’s easy to oppose charters if you are well-off and live in a suburb with good schools.

The editors make a strong point. For students with no decent public schools nearby, the promise of higher-quality charter schools has always been appealing. And for that reason, political progressives have long supported the charter movement.

But no longer. The WaPo editorial team seems to have missed the changes that have swept the education-reform community over the past three years. Leading Democratic contenders like Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke had close ties with charter schools in the past, but they have all backpedaled furiously. (Well, maybe not Senator Booker.)

It’s not just that. Recent teacher strikes in Chicago have driven a broad-shouldered stake through the heart of the charter idea. Similarly, other ambitious school plans from the 1990s have died a shuddering death. There’s one big obvious reason for all this, and I think a medical analogy might help make sense of it.

When the charter-school movement took off in the 1990s, it had amazing success because it managed to do what very few political ideas can do. Namely, it attracted support from left, right, and center. The idea of publicly funded schools without all the red tape of regular public schools appealed to everyone who thought that regular public schools weren’t doing the job. And that’s a lot of people.support-for-charter-scools by raceNevertheless, historically speaking the idea of siphoning tax money away from the public-school network is a radical one, and it only held appeal as long as two factors remained true. First, large numbers of people needed to believe that public schools were in a state of desperate dysfunction. Second, people needed to believe that charters were a shared endeavor, still part of the broader vision of public education for all.

The first part is still true. At least, the WaPo editors continue to believe it. As they wrote this morning,

The most enduring — and unforgivable — civil rights offense in our country today is the consigning of so many poor, often minority children to failing schools.

The second part isn’t. At least, people don’t believe it. The obvious reason for that is the new educational sheriff in town, Betsy DeVos. Queen Betsy has become the public face of the charter school movement. Not Howard Fuller. Not Cory Booker. Not even Arne Duncan. Betsy DeVos.

And when Betsy DeVos becomes the face of charter schools, then the idea of charters takes on all the baggage of Team Trump. No Democrat wants to go to bat for charter schools anymore, you sillies, because they don’t want to buy a ticket on the Trump Train.

Consider this gruesome analogy: When would you agree to let doctors amputate your leg? Things would have to be pretty desperate, right? But if it seemed like the only way to prevent an even bigger health catastrophe, you’d go along with it. Before you did, though, you’d want to hear from a bunch of doctors and surgeons. You’d want to be convinced that the radical procedure was really necessary.

The idea of charter schools is just like that. It is a radical change to America’s public schools, and one with serious negative consequences. Funneling scarce dollars away from low-resource public schools and into charter schools is obviously no one’s first choice, but people were willing to risk it in order to get some students into better schools.

They were willing to try it, in large part, because all the experts lined up behind it. From Howard Fuller to Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee to Cory Booker, it seemed as if leaders from both parties agreed that the radical plan was the least-worst idea.

Not anymore. Secretary DeVos has managed to combine a striking ignorance about public education with a patent disregard for pressing educational issues. She has managed to unite left and right in opposition to her country-club blundering. And she has associated all her efforts with her fervent pro-charter agenda.

To drive the analogy home, it is like you are considering a radical amputation, and there’s only one doctor who tells you it’s a good idea: Dr. Frankenstein.

When the editors of the Washington Post urge Bernie and the other Democratic contenders to stay true to the charter dream, they are giving terrible advice. They are asking Democrats to stick their necks out for President Trump. They are asking Democrats to ignore the changes in ed-reform thinking of the past two years and pretend not to know which way the wind is blowing.

Should Bernie and the rest continue to support high-quality public schools for low-income people? Absolutely! But there are other ways to do it–ways besides the dead dream of charter schools. For the editors of WaPo to ask Bernie to support charter schools is like asking him to show up at a campaign rally wearing a MAGA hat.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading | I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  2. The Only Percentage that Matters in Charter-School Politics | I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  3. It’s Really All Over for Charter Schools | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s