Alan Singer: Charter Schools Don’t Do Miracles

Of course, I don’t believe in mircales, and so, this story is not a surprise. But what is bubbling underneath the rhetoric of the Obama/Duncan education reform agenda is more and more evidence of the dark side of so-called innovation. This “dark side” has grave implications for an education that serve the public good. And it is clear that the elite driving these reforms have no regard for the nineteenth century elite vision (of course it was flawed too) of “non-sectarian” schools that help build public education systems over 150 years ago. Just look at how far we’ve come!

From Alan Singer’s July 2 piece in The Huffington Post, a few important trends are noted. For example:

But a closer look at the Locke [highschool] miracle, way down in the Times article, exposes what has actually taken place there. In 2007, a former principal complained that Locke was the Los Angles dumping ground for problem students. Only 15% of its students could pass the state standardized math test. The first thing Green Dot did was get rid of all the troubled students and bring in a fresh supply. It also dumped most of the teachers – keeping those prepared to work longer hours for less pay, what it defined as enthusiasm. Locke reopened in Fall 2008 with a new freshman class. Green Dot also fixed up the place to make it attractive for the photo ops.

The big problem was cost, although Green Dot is a non-profit company, its administrators do get paid. The four year turnaround at Locke was $15 million over budget. This does not include part of a $60 million grant from the Gates Foundation to support state development, which makes the actual cost of the turnaround much higher. Unfortunately, the federal government has set a $6 million cap for the reorganization of an individual school. Green Dot is now more than 150% over budget. The rest of the money, $9 million, was covered by donations from foundations, supposed charities, but often business groups hoping to make lucrative profits from the dismantling of public education.

Locke is actually a good model of what educational change will really cost. The school now has additional administrators, security, two psychologists, busing, and health services for students, in addition to staff development provided by the Gates Foundation. None of this has anything to do with being a charter school. This is just the real cost of educating inner city children.

I think that any school would show improvement wtih the extensive investment of those kinds of resources — except for the reportedly aggressive use of force.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, New York questions have been raised about another miracle charter school, the Hebrew Language Academy. While 15% of the students in New York City are white, white children make up two-thirds of the students attending this school. This is essentially a private religious school for white Jewish families financed with government money. The parents have made this very clear, explaining in a New York Times article that if it were not the Hebrew Language Academy they would be paying $20,000 a year to send their children to private religious schools. Additionally, the curriculum is chauvinistically pro-Israel. There are Israeli flags all over the building and children sing songs about Israeli pioneers who built homes on empty land, the area’s Arab population conveniently ignored.

This school also receives outside money to operate, from a Jewish philanthropist named Michael Steinhardt who also happens to be a hedge fund manger and a big financial supporter of Israel. The school’s organizers, using Steinhardt’s money, plan to open a string of similar charter schools around the country.

So, not only are charters associated with increasing segregation by class and race, we here too see the ideological sifting and public support for religious instruction that will take place.

And finally, the last part is suggestive an all too common connection between charter operators, fraud and abuse.

This superhero principal actually grew up in this Bronx neighborhood and has an understanding of the life faced by these kids. However, he is in constant trouble with school authorities and has bounced from school to school. He is now under investigation by the Department of Education for three serious rule violations and was suspended at least once.

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