Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dumb Charter Ideas 

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, who I usually think of as a pretty smart guy, promotes some terrible new proposals regarding charter schools by EducationSector's Andrew Rotherham. Let's review them with my comments:

1. Put an annual cap on charter school growth for all but the best charters. Here is statist thinking if I have ever seen it. Government loves to get into the business of picking winners and losers. The problem with this outlook is that reality is not static, it is dynamic. In a marketplace businesses will sometimes improve, some will become less prosperous. So it is with charters. Also, this idea does not leave room for innovative excellent start-up charter schools.

2. Provide space for charter schools in exchange for their good test scores. Again, this suggestion fails to take into account the changing nature of charter schools. As they mature, test scores will improve. However, if schools are penalized by not having space while they are growing and learning then the environment will itself be detrimental to educating children. Mr. Rotherham has got to know better than this since he serves on the Board of Directors of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy which had space issues for years and still has issues with test scores. If the William E. Doar, Jr. Charter School for the Performing Arts had not gained a permanent facility in its first year then I don't think we would have made AYP after three.

3. Give adjustment funds to school systems that allow charter schools. What he is saying here is that he wants to give money to traditional public schools when students leave them to attend charters. Since under most charter school models the money follows the child then the traditional schools that lose students to charters have their budgets reduced. This is the main incentive that transforms the public education system into one in which the parents and kids are the customers instead of the school bureaucracy. If you take this away then you might as well throw charter schools into the trash.

4. Tie school spending tightly to individual students, and have more money for those more expensive to teach. This is a call to weigh per pupil allocations based upon how difficult it is to educate the child. This is not a new idea and already takes place in D.C. High school students and those for whom English is a second language, for example, have higher student payments compared to those in younger grades for whom English is their native language.

5. Let teacher unions organize within charters, but not too much. This idea actually makes me ill. Unions have been a killer for inner city schools who have been only interested in fighting competition to traditonal schools in all forms. I don't understand how Mr. Rotherham can make this recommendation and still be called an expert on education.

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