Michele Somerville is the mother of three former NYC DOE public school students, as well as a writer and an educator.

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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Charter Schools, Obviously

Reports on the efficacy of charter schools appear regularly, and they generally cite fresh finding from a new study that confirms the obvious. I often wish that the time, effort and funding driving these demonstrations of the obvious could be put to the better use of improving conventional public schools. Has there ever been any doubt that some charter schools yield better results for some children of color and for some poor children. Is that not obvious?


Is it not obvious that some schools that operate as private schools while receiving public dollars are sometimes better able to educate some students?

Is it not obvious that schools that select and eject, without doing much else, dramatically reduce the degree of (educational) difficulty?

Most charter schools seize the opportunity to shape their student populations in ways conventional schools cannot. Charter schools enjoy the liberty of passing on (to conventional public schools) the burden of educating disruptive and “incorrigible” students, students without parents (or whose parents can not be involved) homeless students, students with severe learning disability, and students who lack English language proficiency. Obviously these must attend school somewhere.

What is not always obvious is that the success of charter schools is predicated on a predatory practice.

The media tends to focus more on charter school success stories than upon their failures, but many charter schools are dreadfully ineffective and wildly unregulated. Also, having hustled three of my own children through New York City’s public schools, I know all too well that conventional public schools are in dire need of improvement.

Given the ability of charter schools to game the system and the putatively woeful condition of conventional public schools, it is surprising that the performance gap (between students attending charter school students and those attending conventional public schools) isn’t greater. In the most well-reputed charter school network in New York City, for example, charter school students’ performance on state-wide tests only slightly surpasses that of children and adolescents studying in conventional public schools. Until quite recently this same network was curiously unsuccessful in placing students in New York City’s most elite public high schools.

Children who are unable to gain admission to great charter schools, and those who do but fail to survive the systematic purging that often guarantees the  ‘success’ of such schools, must attend school somewhere. So they land in the conventional schools.

The greatest flaw in the charter school formula for success is that it is essentially discriminatory.

The shrewd charter school leader knows this. So critical to charter schools’ survival is the show non-discrimination that some charter network leaders are willing to use their educational dollars for slick advertising campaigns. subtle discriminatory character of charter schools. In large cities, charter schools have indeed focused upon recruiting children of color, but without theat focus, they would never have gotten the foot in the door. Charter schools were, at their inception, designed to offer the poorest of the poor alternatives. The fact of “a movement” that comprises is contrary to ethos that first gave way to them. The very existence of charter schools in large cities now rests upon the creation of a veneer of educational activism. Little schools with principals gave way to networks with CEOs. While the gradual smoke and mirrors bait and switch continues on, the public will continue to see black and brown faces in ads for urban public schools because black and brown faces are charter school network’s bread and butter.   

If the charter school model works so well, why not do away with public education entirely? It wouldn’t work. Because predators need prey. 

MMS 6 November 2016 NYC

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