Monday, April 25, 2011

Charter schools: emblematic of our zero-sum culture

A relevant exchange between father and daughter in last season's HBO series "Treme," set in post-Katrina New Orleans:

Sophia:      Where'm I gonna to go to school?
Creighton:  Tulane's working on something for faculty kids. Lusher.
Sophia:       Lusher's not a high school, Daddy.
Creighton:  They're adding high school.
Sophia:       Plus it's public.
Creighton:   Not anymore, it's charter.
Sophia:       Where are they going to put the high school?
Creighton:   They're taking over Fortier.
Sophia:       What about the Fortier kids? Where are they going to go?
Creighton:   Somewhere else, I guess.
Sophia:       That's not fair.
Creighton:   Probably not. That's where we're at now. You want to go to school in New Orleans? So this is how it works. It's a zero-sum world, honey. Somebody wins. Somebody loses.

Part of the reason why I am so appalled by Democrats' support of charter schools is that it is pompous, yet poorly disguised social Darwinism that helps a fraction of the children that require help. It's a zero-sum equation packaged and branded as an opportunity for a disadvantaged generation.

Yet, because of government subsidies, a lot of Democrats (let alone Republicans) stand to make a lot of money off the charter "movement," which exploits the desperation that many parent feel about public schools. I don't know which is more despicable: Republicans, who celebrate the zero-sum game, or Democrats, who participate in under the guise of helping a tiny sliver of the truly disadvantaged for the empty symbolism and the economic opportunities.


  1. But "regular" government schools can and should do the same thing...they can stop social promotion, they can do away with grade levels and let kids advance by subject as they are ready...there is much they can charters are filling a void for those families that want more for their kids than the default/zoned schools are providing...why is this wrong? Last I remember this is how things were done in America...if someone needed something and no one else was providing it you could step in a fill a void...charters are trying to do this. Isn't it past time the default schools tried something different and no...I dont mean is the elementary years that are the foundation and many aren't doing their job which leads to weak middle schools and struggles in high school for many...

  2. Can they? Do you know why these schools engage in social promotion? Why it's either difficult or impossible for a teacher to fail a kid, even if he or she wants to?

    Well, first it's because they don't have enough physical space to accommodate it. (That might be because their classrooms are getting packed with kids who get kicked out of charter schools two weeks into the year.) And secondly it's because it reflects poorly on them in terms of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). If kids aren't advancing, and it begins to happen "too much," the school can be subject to takeover or closure.

    See? If you do your job, you could lose your job. That's how it works in America nowadays.

    Charter schools, of course, get a pass on AYP in their first three years of operation. Meanwhile, as indicated above, they're more or less free to engineer their student population to guarantee that their numbers will come in. The fact that some of them are still failing to get those numbers is astonishing, because, trust me, they are expelling their students—on weak pretexts.

    The public schools get stuck with these student increases, but not the funding increase. They'll have to wait until their count day next year for that, by which time another group of students has started in a charter. Then again, the charter gets the count, gets the cash, and is free to kick them down to the "failing" public school again.