Saturday, March 26, 2011

The potential of charter schools: still largely theoretical

My review of Diane Ravitch's "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" is now up at the Nonpartisan Education Review.  In it, I note that Ravitch doesn't fully appreciate the potential of charter schools:

Ravitch rightly describes charter schools as falling short on both measures, and as not, on average, providing a better alternative to public schools. What she doesn't admit, however, is that these shortcomings aren't inherent to charter schools per se, but largely result from the obstacles placed in their way by state governments and the education establishment. Since most states require that most charter school teachers be certified, it's hard for charters to avoid hiring teachers who haven't been indoctrinated by education schools. The lengthy and highly technical application that would-be charter school founders must submit can often be properly filled out only with substantial help from establishment insiders. Applicants must demonstrate in detail how the charter's curriculum will line up with those infamous, NCLB-inspired state standards. Many school districts limit the number of new charters they will license, and their highly political application process tends to favor insiders. School districts also limit enrollment and/or prevent expansion. Both of these factors force some charters to accept only a fraction of their applicants. Beyond all this, charters face many of the same regulatory burdens as existing schools, as well as, simultaneously, all of the challenges and startup costs that come with starting a new school without the logistical and initial financial support of the local school district.
It's hard to appreciate just how constraining all this can be unless you've actually attempted to start your own charter school. In particular, imagine the possibilities if cities couldn't limit the number and size of charter schools, and if charters (just like private schools) were free to hire the best teachers they can attract, regardless of whether they have official certifications from ed schools?

Yes, charter schools, as a collective whole, haven't yet offered nearly enough of an alternative to public schools, but perhaps that's partly because their gatekeepers don't want them to. Some of us hope that will change.


FedUpMom said...

Katharine, I enjoyed your review, but as the grammar police, I must inform you that you spelled "hordes" wrong (you've got "hoards of highly impressionable students".)

I completely agree with your basic point that Ravitch doesn't notice parents as vital stakeholders in education.

FedUpMom said...

Also, I mentioned the same problem on my blog here:

A Plague on Both Your Houses

Katharine Beals said...

Thanks,FedUpMom, for noticing this as well. I'm a lousy speller, but apparently this is a rather common error:

Are you an editor, by any chance? You sure have a keen eye!

FedUpMom said...

Thanks! I've never edited professionally, but I'm sure I'd be good at it.

For my next paid venture, I'm planning to go into math tutoring!