And here's some TV to watch. It's Bill Moyers interviewing Diane Ravitch on the charter school boondoggle.
This week, Forbes Magazine sent a reporter to New Orleans for "Entrepreneur Week" and, naturally, to effusively and unthinkingly praise our charter school movement.
But it is not just startups that give this city such entrepreneurial energy. Alongside the tech startups is one of the nation’s most innovative educational experiments. New Orleans boasts one of the largest concentrations of Teach for America and City Year alumni outside New York. These young leaders are remaining here, creating non-profits to serve the city and opening charter schools at a rapid pace. Indeed, these education entrepreneurs, in partnership with the city, have led New Orleans to have over two thirds of their students in charter schools – the highest rate in the nation.
But Ravitch questions the value of entrepreneurship as a model for public education.
BILL MOYERS: You have said that within ten years, there'll be cities in this country without public education.
DIANE RAVITCH: I think at the rate we're moving now, we will see places like Detroit, New Orleans, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and many, many other cities where public schools become, if they still exist, they will be a dumping ground for the kids that the charter schools don't want. We will see the privatization of public education run rampant.
BILL MOYERS: But not everyone will grieve with you over the loss of public education. There are parents across the country who feel that public schools have let them and their children down. And they're looking for alternatives. They’re not going to grieve with you.
DIANE RAVITCH: One of the points that I wanted to make strongly in this book is that American public education is not failing. It's not declining. It’s not obsolete.
BILL MOYERS: Contrary to the prevailing public mythology?
DIANE RAVITCH: Absolutely. American public schools deal with immense problems. The biggest problem in our society today is that nearly 25 percent of our children live in poverty. And most of those kids will go to public schools and will bring all their problems through the door. And teachers will tell you they have kids in their classroom where a parent was murdered, where the children didn't getting anything to eat yesterday. Where the children are homeless.
These are the problems our public schools are dealing with. And they're, in most cases, doing an absolutely heroic job. But where public schools are in trouble it's because the community's in trouble. And instead of breaking up public schools and sending the kids off into the hands of some entrepreneurs, we should be addressing the needs and problems of the children.
BILL MOYERS: If the for-profit motive were taken out of charter schools, do you think they have potential?
DIANE RAVITCH: No, because I think that what charter schools should be is what they were originally supposed to be. They were originally supposed to be a collaborative, cooperating with public schools, trying to solve problems that public schools couldn't solve. The original idea was that they would go out and find their dropouts and bring them back.
They would help the kids who lacked all motivation and bring these lessons back to public schools to help them. What they have become is competitors. And they're cutthroat competitors. And in fact, because of No Child Left Behind and because of Race to the Top, there is so much emphasis on test scores, that the charters are incentivized to try to get the highest possible scores.
And now that there are so many hedge-fund people involved, they want to win. They want to say to these guys who are on another school board, my charter got higher scores than yours. So if you're going to make scores the be all and the end all of education, you don't want the kids with disabilities. You don't want the kids who don't speak English. You don't want the troublemakers. You don't want the kids with low scores. You want to keep those kids out. And the charters have gotten very good at finding out how to do that.
This week Katy Reckdahl reported on the difficulties New Orleans's Vietnamese and its growing Hispanic population experience finding local schools that meet their children's needs.
As a result of these gaps in services, the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association, known as VAYLA, partnered last year with the national Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund to file a federal complaint. They did so on behalf of 35 Spanish- or Vietnamese-speaking parents with students at five named schools as well as all other non-English-speaking parents of children throughout the city’s public school system.
The complaint alleged that the Orleans Parish School District and the state-run Recovery School District, both of which oversee charter schools as well as traditional, centrally administered schools, routinely fall short of federally mandated translation services for parents who speak little or no English.
Part of the problem stems directly from charterization.
Stand-alone charter schools can’t tap into a traditional school district’s cache of bilingual curriculum materials or rely on a central office to assess new students’ English-language fluency. Many of the schools are now striving to create these resources, but without the economies of scale that can be realized by sharing interpreters or bilingual teachers systemwide.Reckdahl also reports that charters which function as part of larger networks do have more resources to apply toward bilingual support. From this we might conclude that the solution would be for the school board or RSD to grant only one or a few charters to large organizations to run the entire system for them. But then that sort of defeats the whole argument in favor of entrepreneurial competition in the first place, doesn't it.
“They’re operating like silos,” said Ofelia García, a professor of urban education at the City University of New York who has edited and authored several books about bilingual and language education.
It's a phony argument, anyway. As Ravitch points out, the "competition" between charters isn't to provide the best service in their public mission. Instead they are incentivized to outscramble one another for students likely to test well. Here's her interview.