PUTTING AN END TO CHARTER SCHOOLS
Itís true enough that most charter schools donít have
to meet the same state requirements as public schools.
Itís equally true that they drain money from public schools thereby
leaving the public system fewer resources when they usually need more to begin
with. In fact, for me charter
schools are probably best understood as the expression of the exasperation of Al
Shanker, the charter school mastermind, with the impenetrable bureaucracy of the
then already failing New York City schools, schools which he knew were once
models of excellence for the nation but which had become ossified remnants of
their glorious past. Thus, as he
originally conceived them, they were to be schools within schools run by
teachers who would be accountable for the education of the students in their
charge and free of the stifling, anally retentive pedantry that passes for
supervision in too many of our public schools. There is an easy way to make them
fade into the oblivion they deserve. Improve
the public schools.
During two recent union leadership meetings I attended, the subject of
charter schools was on the agenda. More
specifically, both bodies were discussing legislative proposals to curb the
growth of charter schools in
Unless and until education unions militantly organize around an agenda
for improving the public schools that resonates with their members and all
Americans, an agenda that offers hope to students imprisoned in objectively
failing schools and their parents, the peddlers of alternatives to public
schools will appeal to segments of the public who desperately yearn for schools
that will equip their children with the skills to obtain a better life.
To many of the public, increasingly aware of the problems facing the
nationís public schools, our attempts to corral the charter school movement
are seen as inimical to the welfare of their children, whether they are or not.
Very unfortunately and dangerously, they too often see us through the
prism of race, as the worst of our public schools are usually populated by
students of color.
There is no good reason for us to be seen this way. We need to be more clearly on the side of parents who want better education than theyíre getting for their children. A nation with so many high schools that graduate only half their students is a nation disgraced. We need to go way beyond sloganeering about a quality school for every child and be in the vanguard of a civil rights movement to make that slogan a reality. We need to be the champions of higher academic standards in all of our schools instead of patting ourselves on the back when we meet the inferior standards of most states of which I am aware. Where administrations and boards of education are the enemies of high standards, preferring the appearance of learning to the real thing, we must use our union solidarity to confront them and expose the absurdity of their position. We must do all of this and more if we are the advocates for the rights of children we claim to be and if we are to revive respect for us and the institution of public education we claim to cherish.
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