In “The Nation” Noguera and Ravitch Demand Support for Public Schools and Tough Regulation of Charters

Pedro Noguera’s pithy and hard-hitting piece, Why Don’t We Have Real Data on Charter Schools?  was just posted on the website of The Nation as part of an October 13 special edition of the magazine that will explore issues in education.  Noguera is the New York University sociologist who has written extensively on the challenges for public schools in our nation’s big cities.  Examining the discrepancy between what it used to be imagined that charter schools would become and today’s reality, Noguera concludes: “Charters were supposed to be laboratories for innovation  Instead, they are stunningly opaque… In several cities throughout the country, there is a fierce conflict raging over the direction of education reform.  At the center of this increasingly acrimonious debate is the question of whether or not charter schools—publicly funded schools that operate outside the rules (and often the control) of traditional public-school systems—should be allowed to proliferate.”

Noting that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan continues to say—without doing anything about it— “we ‘need to be willing to hold low-performing charters accountable,'” Noguera charges: “The problem here is that charter schools are frequently not accountable… To begin with, unlike public schools, which are required by law to show how they use public resources, most charters lack financial transparency… Transparency is especially important with for-profit charter schools to prevent fraud and the misuse of public funds.  The Pennsylvania auditor general found that the state’s largest charter operator had pocketed $1.2 million in ‘improper lease-reimbursement payments.’… In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has emerged as a national spokeswoman for the charter movement; she makes over $500,000 a year—more than double what the city’s public-schools chancellor makes, even though Moskowitz is responsible for only a fraction of the number of students.”

Noguera explains that while charter schools pretend to accomplish better test results for the same kind of students, charters serve fewer students with severe disabilities, fewer extremely poor children, fewer English language learners, and fewer students with severe behavioral problems.  His depiction of the danger of such disparities is blunt: “When this occurs, local pubic schools end up enrolling a disproportionate number of ‘high-need’ children—and not surprisingly, their performance statistics decline…  If charter schools are going to serve as models of innovation, they should be required to operate on a level playing field and adopt clear guidelines concerning the rights of students and parents.”

The Nation‘s education issue also features a piece by education historian Diane Ravitch on Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter network in New York City: The Secret to Eva Moskowitz’s ‘Success.’   Ravitch explains that Moskowitz serves many fewer homeless students than the New York City Public Schools; no students with severe disabilities while severely disabled students make up 14.1 percent of the student population in Harlem’s public elementary schools; and half as many English language learners as neighboring public schools.  According to Ravitch, Moskowitz also refuses to replace any students who drop out: “The only Success Academy school that offers grades three through eight (the testing grades) tested 116 third graders but only thirty-two eighth graders… Why the shrinking student body?  When students leave these schools (for whatever reason), they are not replaced by other incoming students.  In public schools, students also leave, but they are usually replaced by new students… What we can learn from Success Academy is that it is possible to winnow out the most intractable students and be left with the best and most compliant ones by selective attrition. But that is no model for public education.”

In Our Public Education System Needs Transformation, Not ‘Reform’,’The Nation editorializes on the need for stronger traditional public schools in the poorest communities where the charter experiments now proliferate: “A truly progressive vision for public education shouldn’t focus on stories of how a few kids competed their way out of blighted neighborhoods. Instead, it should focus on taking back that stream of money going to charter chains and corporate tax cuts and redirecting it toward schools anchored in strong communities and using proven methods for teaching kids—the very methods deployed in schools where the rich send their children.  Indeed, the most disadvantaged kids should get even more support for their schools than their privileged suburban counterparts.  Without education equity, we don’t have an educational system at all—we have a rigged rat race that starts in kindergarten.”

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