Charter Schools in Perspective

by Harry on December 5, 2016

The thread following Henry’s post responding to Tyler Cowen’s comments about school choice reminds me that people might find this site—Charter Schools in Perspective—useful. It contains valuable and well contextualized summaries of the basic facts on the ground and of the research as of about a year ago, and resources for journalists, academics, and the general public who want to know more. It emerged from a project that I was involved with (along with one of our occasional commenters Leo Casey) a couple of years ago, supported by the Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda. Maybe it would be helpful for the incoming Secretary in the Department of Education.

{ 45 comments }

1

kidneystones 12.06.16 at 5:22 am

Very readable, grounded, and very well-organized. I skimmed just a few sections and look forward to returning to this study as often as possible.

Congratulations, and thank you to all involved.

2

John Quiggin 12.06.16 at 6:48 am

Thanks for this, Harry. The evidence is useful, but inevitably quite a bit of it is old. My perception is that the evaluations of charters are becoming less favorable over time.

Following up on points in the other thread, there are good reasons to expect the performance of charters to decline over time, as idealistic founders depart and for-profit EMOs take over. That seems consistent with other examples of education reform (for-profit schools in Sweden, vocational education in Australia) where initially glowing assessments have given way to admission of disastrous failure.

3

Peter T 12.06.16 at 9:18 am

“have given way to admission of disastrous failure”

A look at the official Swedish site shows no such admission. Nor, AFAIK, are state governments in Australia putting money back into state vocational education, or admitting any systemic problem. Nor do I expect to, as the policy is not driven by educational outcomes, but by ideology and the need to enlarge the market.

4

dbk 12.06.16 at 12:24 pm

Thank you, Harry. I scanned several sections today, and will continue reading in more depth. The report is rather difficult to evaluate and reflect on, given how many different methodologies were employed, considerable variability among regions, original school populations … so many variables to consider.

I also spent some time reading up on the sole charter school in the town I grew up in. It serves a poor, largely black urban population (70% entitled to free-and-reduced meals), and was spearheaded by local educators, including a faculty member at the local engineering-heavy university and a former CEO of our major industry. Its explicit goal is to educate poor students in grades 7-12 in STEM. Academic periods are long (up to 90 minutes), the school year extends beyond that of the district’s public schools, there is a graduation requirement for students to complete 40 hours of community service, students wear uniforms, parents are actively encouraged to become involved through the PTO and parent seminars, etc.

The first class of 39 graduated in May 2016. Of these, 31 were admitted to the local junior college (most on full scholarships offered by a special program), 4 to four-year universities, 1 entered the military, and 3 were undeclared as of graduation. The school’s ACT score was 19.4 – one point below the state average, way above that of the public high school most of them would have attended [15.2], but not high enough for admission to the local four-year engineering-heavy local university which helped start the school. It receives, if I recall correctly, only 75% of the amount allocated to the other public schools per student, so does fund-raising (and, I assume, is receiving grants/donations) to make up the difference.

For these 39 students, the school was a success. The thing is, though, that the school graduated less then 50% of its entering class (7th grade = 80). The corresponding public school has a graduation rate of 60%, and 65% enter post-secondary education (academic or technical/applied) within 18 months of graduation. It has managed to go through three principals in six years – perhaps not so unusual for a start-up, but worth watching in future. It seems to be conscientiously overseen, however – an encouraging sign.

I guess I am puzzled by why this couldn’t have been done at one of the district’s already-operating public schools. The local manufacturing behemoth actually did something a bit similar a few years ago – they just up and paid for an entire International Baccalaureate program at my old high school. Why couldn’t they (and the local medical providers – the town is a major healthcare provision center and has a medical school) have sponsored a STEM-track at one or two existing schools? Our high schools are growing emptier by the day – my own enrolls half the number of students it had when I was there, and could have hosted a STEM track twice the size of the charter school’s total enrollment (the charter operates in an old primary school).

I still believe that the best way to fix inner-city and rural schools in poverty-ridden regions is to improve existing public schools themselves. But perhaps this is simply too daunting, and charters do indeed provide choice to the students and parents ill-served by inner city and poor rural schools.

However, the Secretary of Education nominee has demonstrated a strong preference in favor of for-profit charters in her home state, and this seems to me of grave concern for those who still believe in primary and secondary education as a public good.

5

Patrick S. O'Donnell 12.06.16 at 2:44 pm

I found Diane Ravitch’s recent review essay in the New York Review of Books on charter schools and privatization helpful and persuasive. I’m wondering what others think. Here is part of the piece:

[….] For the past fifteen years, the nation’s public schools have been a prime target for privatization. Unbeknownst to the public, those who would privatize the public schools call themselves “reformers” to disguise their goal. Who could be opposed to “reform”? These days, those who call themselves “education reformers” are likely to be hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs, and billionaires, not educators. The “reform” movement loudly proclaims the failure of American public education and seeks to turn public dollars over to entrepreneurs, corporate chains, mom-and-pop operations, religious organizations, and almost anyone else who wants to open a school.

In early September, Donald Trump declared his commitment to privatization of the nation’s public schools. He held a press conference at a low-performing charter school in Cleveland run by a for-profit entrepreneur. He announced that if elected president, he would turn $20 billion in existing federal education expenditures into a block grant to states, which they could use for vouchers for religious schools, charter schools, private schools, or public schools. These are funds that currently subsidize public schools that enroll large numbers of poor students. Like most Republicans, Trump believes that “school choice” and competition produce better education, even though there is no evidence for this belief. As president, Trump will encourage competition among public and private providers of education, which will reduce funding for public schools. No high-performing nation in the world has privatized its schools.

The motives for the privatization movement are various. Some privatizers have an ideological commitment to free-market capitalism; they decry public schools as “government schools,” hobbled by unions and bureaucracy. Some are certain that schools need to be run like businesses, and that people with business experience can manage schools far better than educators. Others have a profit motive, and they hope to make money in the burgeoning “education industry.” The adherents of the business approach oppose unions and tenure, preferring employees without any adequate job protection and merit pay tied to test scores. They never say, “We want to privatize public schools.” They say, “We want to save poor children from failing schools.” Therefore, “We must open privately managed charter schools to give children a choice,” and “We must provide vouchers so that poor families can escape the public schools.”

The privatization movement has a powerful lobby to advance its cause. Most of those who support privatization are political conservatives. Right-wing think tanks regularly produce glowing accounts of charter schools and vouchers along with glowing reports about their success. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing organization funded by major corporations and composed of two thousand or so state legislators, drafts model charter school legislation, which its members introduce in their state legislatures. Every Republican governor and legislature has passed legislation for charters and vouchers. About half the states have enacted voucher legislation or tax credits for nonpublic schools, even though in some of those states, like Indiana and Nevada, the state constitution explicitly forbids spending state funds on religious schools or anything other than public schools.

If the privatization movement were confined to Republicans, there might be a vigorous political debate about the wisdom of privatizing the nation’s public schools. But the Obama administration has been just as enthusiastic about privately managed charter schools as the Republicans. In 2009, its own education reform program, Race to the Top, offered a prize of $4.35 billion that states could compete for. In order to be eligible, states had to change their laws to allow or increase the number of charter schools, and they had to agree to close public schools that had persistently low test scores.

In response to the prodding of the Obama administration, forty-two states and the District of Columbia currently permit charter schools. As thousands of neighborhood public schools were closed, charter schools opened to take their place. Today, there are about seven thousand publicly funded, privately managed charter schools, enrolling nearly three million students. Some are run for profit. Some are online schools, where students sit at home and get their lessons on a computer. Some operate in shopping malls. Some are run by fly-by-night characters hoping to make money. Charters open and close with disturbing frequency; from 2010 to 2015, more than 1,200 charters closed due to academic or financial difficulties, while others opened.

Charters have several advantages over regular public schools: they can admit the students they want, exclude those they do not want, and push out the ones who do not meet their academic or behavioral standards. Even though some public schools have selective admissions, the public school system must enroll every student, at every point in the school year. Typically, charter schools have smaller numbers of students whose native language is not English and smaller numbers of students with serious disabilities as compared to neighborhood public schools. Both charters and vouchers drain away resources from the public schools, even as they leave the neediest, most expensive students to the public schools to educate. Competition from charters and vouchers does not improve public schools, which still enroll 94 percent of all students; it weakens them.

Charter schools often call themselves “public charter schools,” but when they have been challenged in federal or state court or before the National Labor Relations Board, charter corporations insist that they are private contractors, not “state actors” like public schools, and therefore are not bound to follow state laws. As private corporations, they are exempt from state labor laws and from state laws that govern disciplinary policies. About 93 percent of charter schools are nonunion, as are virtually all voucher schools. In most charter schools, young teachers work fifty, sixty, or seventy hours a week. Teacher turnover is high, given the hours and intensity of the work.

Over the past twenty years, under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, the federal government thas spent billions of dollars to increase the number of privately managed charter schools. Charter schools have been embraced by hedge fund managers; very wealthy financiers have created numerous organizations—such as Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, and Families for Excellent Schools—to supply many millions of dollars to support the expansion of charter schools. The elites who support charters also finance political campaigns for sympathetic candidates and for state referenda increasing charters. In the recent election, out-of-state donors, including the Waltons of Arkansas, spent $26 million in Massachusetts in hopes of expanding the number of charter schools; the ballot question was defeated by a resounding margin of 62–38 percent. In Georgia, the Republican governor sought a change in the state constitution to allow him to take over low-scoring public schools and convert them to charters; it too was defeated, by a vote of 60–40 percent.
In addition to spending on political campaigns, some of the same billionaires have used their philanthropies to increase the number of charter schools. Three of the nation’s biggest foundations subsidize their growth: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation. In addition to these three, charters have also received donations from the Bloomberg Family Foundation, the Susan and Michael Dell Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (ex-Enron), the Fisher Family Foundation (The Gap stores), Reed Hastings (Netflix), Jonathan Sackler (Purdue Pharmaceutical, manufacturer of Oxycontin), the DeVos family of Michigan (Amway), and many more of the nation’s wealthiest citizens. Eli Broad is financing a program to put half the students in Los Angeles (the nation’s second-biggest school district) into privately managed charters.

The Walton Family Foundation alone spends $200 million annually for charters, and claims credit for launching one of every four charter schools in the nation. The Walton family of Arkansas is worth about $130 billion, thanks to the Walmart stores, and they are vehemently antiunion. For them, charters are a convenient way to undermine teachers’ unions, one of the last and largest remaining pillars of the organized labor movement. Bill Gates has personally spent money to pass charter legislation in his home state of Washington. Three state referenda on charters failed in Washington, and the fourth passed by less than 1.5 percent of the vote in 2012. Gates’s goal was stymied, however, when the state’s highest court ruled that charter schools are not public schools because their boards are not elected. In the recent election, Gates and his allies supported opponents who ran against justices of the state Supreme Court who ruled against public funding of privately managed charter schools, but the voters reelected them. [….]

The whole essay is here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/08/when-public-goes-private-as-trump-wants-what-happens/

6

Cranky Observer 12.06.16 at 3:55 pm

One point I’d be interested to see discussed in responses: of all public schools in the United States (all schools, not just large urban) what percentage do you classify as failing? By what criteria and from what data source?

7

WLGR 12.06.16 at 4:02 pm

LFC @ 111, I’d respond to your argument if you had actually made any. The simple existence of individual economic mobility isn’t in dispute by me, as much as I might question its relevance to the vast majority of impoverished people’s lives in practice, and conversely the necessity for a large section of the population in capitalist society to be raised into an economic stratum of low-skilled employment (and/or unstable part-time employment and/or chronic unemployment and/or incarceration etc.) doesn’t seem to be in dispute by you. Or at least you seem too caught up in a weird non sequitur of “marxists r dum, did u no marxisms liek a religun, ha ha zing, betcha never hurd dat 1 b4” to present anything that might actually dispute it.

Harry @ 114, saying that people are prone to see what their ideology lets them see is absolutely a tautology, and without accusing you of anything direct or specific, no amount of media/publishing/research background into any subject can make anybody somehow exempt from this. I probably haven’t spent as much time on the subject as you have but I know many people who have, and they’d generally roll their eyes at the idea of any empirical research we have on programs like KIPP being rigorous or controlled enough to dignify with a term like “quasi-experimental”. Of course any genuine planned experiment along these lines would end up in Nuremberg/Helsinki territory pretty quick (the great curse of social science research) but in order to state with any deserved impact that we have experimental evidence of a particular approach’s efficacy, we’d need a few things to be true. First we’d need to strictly define our population of interest — is this approach meant to work for all impoverished US children? impoverished US children in inner cities? impoverished nonwhite US children in inner cities? impoverished nonwhite US children in inner cities who don’t move around a lot? impoverished nonwhite US children in inner cities who don’t move around a lot and have a stable household with parent(s)/guardian(s) able to support their education? etc. — and we’d need to ensure that any effort to isolate the variable “KIPP or non-KIPP” was being measured within genuinely randomized samples of that population of interest. We’d also need to decide what exactly about this approach we’re trying to measure — is it just the effects of the institutional structure and pedagogy with all else equal, or are we assuming that a school’s ability to attract private philanthropy (Elected school boards aren’t exactly rolling in Gates or Walton bucks) can be part of how we determine its effect on students, and can we expect this to continue at the same rate if or when the use of such schools is expanded? (Do we want to consider the possibility that haut-bourgeois philanthropy toward charter schools for poor students is a ploy to make these schools seem more attractive in order to influence public policy before yanking the money once their agenda is established, which actually would closely resemble the retail pricing practices of a certain Walton-affiliated company you may have heard of?)

Maybe most importantly, though, we’d need to explicitly define our goals, especially whether we’re interested primarily in individual economic mobility or broad economic uplift. If the goal is to cherry-pick only a select number of impoverished (plus other variables etc. etc.) children who might be able to individually make it into the middle or upper classes and put them in a better position to do so by segregating them from their non-upwardly-mobile peers, a project for which approaches like KIPP might actually be successful, then advocates should be explicit about this and not pretend that the goal is actually some high-minded pursuit of a solution to poverty in general. But this strikes me as something many ed reform folks don’t seem to want to realize about themselves: limited pipelines of upward mobility could make quite a lot of sense as a strategy to prevent broader uplift by channeling individual discontent and ultimately stunting the development of class solidarity, but since nobody likes to think of themselves as oppressors, the people implementing this strategy have an interest in mystifying this strategy as seeking the end of poverty for all children, not just the pre-selected stable and motivated ones who’ve successfully jumped through the hoops for some high-profile new Gates-funded charter school. A little bit of clarity here could go a long way.

8

Harry 12.06.16 at 4:28 pm

Just a word about the evidence for KIPP. NOBODY who has read the evidence could reasonably think that it shows that KIPP would do well for the children whose parents do not apply for the program, or that it shows that whatever benefits it produces could be reproduced at scale. People can believe that, but they cannot believe that the research indicating that it does well by the kinds of students who apply (on average) shows it. The research I am interested in does, indeed, do all the things you think the research should do. Which is why I pay attention to it.

Question about your eye-rolling friends. Is there anything that would change their mind? Basic rule of thumb: if there is a lot of high quality evidence that indicates you are wrong, you should be open to rethinking even if, in the end, you do not change your mind because the balance of evidence ends up supporting your initial belief. Big difference with global warming: there really isn’t any high quality research indicating that it is not happening — its just not a balance of evidence issue.

9

anymouse 12.06.16 at 4:47 pm

Same thing for early intervention and Head Start only way more so and yet.

Nobody gives a rat’s behind about the evidence.

10

LFC 12.06.16 at 5:28 pm

WLGR @7
seem too caught up in a weird non sequitur of “marxists r dum, did u no marxisms liek a religun, ha ha zing, betcha never hurd dat 1 b4”

I’ll let people go to my comment in the other thread, to which you’re responding here, and decide for themselves whether I said that.

11

WLGR 12.06.16 at 8:34 pm

(Obviously I meant to post that in the other thread… the curse of clicking a link, scrolling to the bottom, and focusing on the input field w/o looking above it first.)

Of course there are things that would change their minds, there are things that would change literally anybody’s mind about literally anything. I’m trying to be polite in urging you down from your ideological high horse about your own skeptical empirical science-y prudence amidst the ideological barbarians at the gates — to quote Clifford Geertz, “I have a social philosophy, you have political opinions, he has an ideology” — but at the point where you’re comparing ed reform skeptics to climate change denialists, the cordiality starts to wear thin. Especially because many of the same vested neoliberal interests that back climate denialism are also deeply entrenched in the politics of ed reform, so if anybody in this debate seems more likely to be comparable to global warming denialists, it might as well be the researchers whose conclusions are in accord with the ideology of their billionaire patrons. Even within the liberal mainstream there are researchers like Ravitch whose conclusions dispute the general efficacy of charter schools and question the representativeness or scalability of high-profile orgs like KIPP, and unlike many of their opponents none of them are hooked up to an endless money spigot from Redmond or Bentonville; to me this would seem to make their conclusions more credible, but maybe setting one’s rubric as “ideological vs. non-ideological” is a maneuver to make it seem as if not being in it strictly for the money would actually detract from their credibility instead.

In any case, here’s what you said in the other thread: “We have pretty good evidence concerning KIPP, that they do well for the kids when it comes to traditional measures of success.” What you didn’t say was this: “We have pretty good evidence concerning KIPP, that they do well for the kids who have stable non-transient households and functional supportive families, and successfully complete an application process for the program, and don’t drop out or leave for any reason when it comes to traditional measures of success.” You packed a hell of a lot of ideology into that simple little phrase “the kids”, and now after being called out on it, you’re clarifying that when you said “the kids” you meant kids who almost by definition aren’t suffering from many of the worst and most destabilizing effects of systemic racialized poverty. The issue here goes way beyond the fog-inducing effects of the science news cycle, since the caveats and variables being handwaved away in short summaries and headlines like “KIPP does well for the kids” contain much of the very core of the problem in which we claim to be interested.

Unless, of course, the problem in which we’re actually interested isn’t the misery of impoverished communities in general, but a lack of opportunity for the most functional and non-destabilized individuals from impoverished communities to escape the miserable surroundings of their upbringing and join the affluent ruling and professional classes. If the second is our real objective, something like KIPP could be exactly what we’re looking for, and when we say “the kids” we might as well mean “the select group of kids we consider deserving of upward mobility” as opposed to the larger group of kids we’re content to see remain trapped in cycles of poverty. And it seems plausible that this is exactly what the neoliberal ed reformers mean underneath all the obfuscation, because giving certain children of racialized poverty individual chances to climb the socioeconomic ladder meshes quite well with the superficially progressive neoliberal politics of representationalism — the struggle for a ruling class that resembles in as many ways as possible the downtrodden masses it rules, even while dominating them with an ever more iron fist.

12

bobbyp 12.06.16 at 11:11 pm

I still believe that the best way to fix inner-city and rural schools in poverty-ridden regions is to improve existing public schools themselves…

This seems reasonable. But more importantly, we need to get the causation correct. High income neighborhoods generally have terrific public schools. It strikes me that the education ‘reformers’ are putting the cart before the horse….but then again, as nearly all of them either come from or are sponsored by the very rich, I am not at all surprised at this.

13

Harry 12.07.16 at 12:20 am

Ok, well I did clarify in the comment that you are responding to, so. I take a comments thread to be a conversation in which we do not need to say absolutely everything that we know every time we write. Accept the clarification or not, its up to you. I did make an assumption that, given that nobody who produces this research thinks that it suggests that it shows anything about how well these schools would do for kids whose families don’t apply, and always specify carefully that it does not do so, your eye-rolling friends familiar with the research would also know that.

‘you’re comparing ed reform skeptics to climate change denialists’. What I said was that ed reformers are not like climate change denialists in that, unlike climate change denialists, some of what they say is true. I specifically said that this is, unlike climate change, an issue where we have to balance evidence. That is, I strictly and literally implied that unlike climate change denialists, ed reform skeptics have plenty of evidence on their side (I would actually say, and have implied, a preponderance of evidence). So, if your cordiality wears thin when the comparison I make between climate change denialists and ed reform skeptics is that ed reform skeptics are entirely unlike climate change denialists, I guess I should keep my trap shut.

14

engels 12.07.16 at 12:37 am

Maybe it’s not the deepest or most important issue here but as J-D said on the other thread, if we’re talking about privatisation, why not just call it privatisation? It’s a pretty concrete word which denotes a pretty concrete thing, which, as Peter T observed on the previous thread, has been going on at a good clip at least since the 1980s–and hence one which one might therefore hope many adults in a democracy could have a reasonably informed opinion of. Why do we have to say ‘choice’ and ‘ed reform’ all the time? To be against ‘ed reform’ would seem to suggest thinking that the current system is pretty much perfect and and must not be tampered with in any substantial way and I’m rather doubtful that’s common view.

15

Leo Casey 12.07.16 at 1:48 am

I think that the relationship of charter schools to privatization is more complicated than generally understood. I explain why here: http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2015/01/17/the-charter-school-challenge/

16

kidneystones 12.07.16 at 2:13 am

@15 Very helpful and informative.

@5 As well-written as the piece is, your comment seems to be a catalogue of reasons why nobody should support charter schools, which is satisfactory as a polemic, perhaps, but tells us little why public educators, parents, and students prefer alternatives to failing public education. The comment by Sebastian H. on the other thread drives this forcefully home when he discusses California.

The link here in the OP is illuminating and Leo’s linked article @15 confirms that those hoping to bend the arc need to understand the dynamics driving change. Republicans are winning, as has been often noted, because Democrats and their allies are failing to address the concerns of the folks who should be their base. Unless this changes, the base is going to continue to move towards those who at least pretend to listen. The concerns of the poor are real and have been largely ignored by Dems for too long.

17

Harry 12.07.16 at 3:26 am

“Maybe it’s not the deepest or most important issue here but as J-D said on the other thread, if we’re talking about privatisation, why not just call it privatisation?”

I agree that vouchers really are privatization. I also agree that in some states charters are something like privatisation. But, engels, I think you live in England or Wales. Would you regard every primary school in England as privatized? If so why? In most States (eg mine), most charters look less privatized, relative to traditional public schools, to me than most schools in the UK look (long explanation needed of why that is, which I won’t go into now for lack of time but, for example, charter schools have no discretion over admissions, whereas all primary schools in the UK can have discretion, and most do). My questions aren’t rhetorical, I really don’t know how to think about it).

18

Sebastian H 12.07.16 at 4:06 am

“To be against ‘ed reform’ would seem to suggest thinking that the current system is pretty much perfect and and must not be tampered with in any substantial way and I’m rather doubtful that’s common view.”

It is an interesting topic. So far as I can see ‘ed reform’ in theory is something most people can get along with, but once you try essentially any specific ed reform in the US you are going to hit serious pushback from teacher’s unions–I presume because they pretty much would prefer that the system not be tampered with in any substantial way.

19

Peter T 12.07.16 at 4:42 am

Ah, yes. Those nasty unions. As if the people actually doing the job had any insights…

Privatisation is a push going for decades, across multiple areas – wherever looks most vulnerable or wherever some defect can be pointed to. The underlying logic has nothing much to do with the area in question and is, in fact, more likely to be found in Lenin’s observations on the dilemmas of finance capitalism.

20

John Quiggin 12.07.16 at 6:56 am

Peter T @3 Maybe the official site doesn’t admit failure, but the minister in charge does so https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/10/sweden-schools-crisis-political-failure-education

And at least some Australian governments are putting money back into TAFE http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/skills-first-real-training-for-real-jobs/
http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/queensland-budget-2016-live-coverage-20160614-gpif15.html

That’s not to deny that ideology still dominates

21

Meredith 12.07.16 at 7:34 am

Apologies in advance for not reading everything recommended here.

I’d like a little history of public (American sense) education here. Although that isn’t easy. Dorchester, MA in 1631: public meant church and state in sync, as one.

In line with their Puritan (and allied) brethren in GB and other places in Europe, the goal: educate everyone, which would require the community’s full support and efforts.

Interesting how that played out differently in different regions. In, say, MA, that meant church/state integrity. In NY, that meant churches, for a long time. In the South, it meant churches, for a few (sometimes even Blacks), but pretty much just churches (and private tutors for the rich — tutors educated usually in the North).

I am doing a terrible job here at this. Maybe the test case is NYC in the early-mid 1800’s. The city subsidized church-sponsored schools. There was a strong movement for direct city-run schools that gained traction as Catholics got more and more funds for their church-sponsored schools. (OMG, the state is sponsoring Catholics?) Finally NYC began to catch up with NE, as it expanded its public education without religious affiliation — even as, in NE, that church affiliation was built into the state.

Me, I am for the state as the proper religion, at least when it comes to schools. But then, I look at Trump and the state as religion and recoil. The beat goes on.

22

dbk 12.07.16 at 9:09 am

Harry @ 146 (previous thread):
But when I oppose a voucher proposal that I am doing so from a position of extreme and unearned privilege, and when you are all-things-considered privileged, and you seek to deny some part of that privilege being extended to others who are unprivileged, you should at least feel a bit awkward about it.

Re: the word “awkward”.
In the same piece in the NYRB cited at length by @5 above, Ravitch discusses the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ three-decade experiment with privatized prisons (the largest provider being Corrections Corporation of America). This experiment has not gone well.

The same issue has a review of a collective volume on solitary confinement (Martin Garbus, “America’s Invisible Inferno”). Among other things, Garbus notes that “[i]t is difficult to read this book without feeling shame.”

“Shame” is what I feel when I think about the educations the poor children of our nation are being denied through no fault of their own.

There’s been a fair amount of reference to ideology on both threads, and I’m no exception to its influence on my thinking about charter and voucher schools.

In my thinking, there are private and public goods/services, and there is a reason why they used to be clearly distinguished. The former, for example, is discretionary (one can choose to purchase x-good or not, and the quality of x is in accordance with one’s financial means) and we allow markets (free, or at least to some extent free) to determine prices and the success/failure of a private-good or service provider. Public goods and services – education and healthcare – are not discretionary.

Public goods and services require vast outlays for infrastructure which, at least back in the Dark Ages when I was studying the economics of public goods, private providers were loathe to invest in – not only due to initial costs, but due to recurring maintenance and upgrades, which are also expensive. Private providers, therefore, seek to avoid or delay such costs – as well as to cut the costs of daily operations wherever they can.

This is what has happened with private prisons, and we are witnessing a somewhat comparable phenomenon with the ACA, with the narrowing of networks accompanied by premium increases (though the latter may be offset by subsidies, the former cannot). The prospect of decreasing profit margins spurs providers to seek ever-new ways to cut costs to maintain profits, and the narrowing of networks (which results in “near-monopolies” by remaining providers) eventually leads to a decrease in choice by “consumers” (who used to be called “patients”, but whatever).

What’s to prevent something comparable happening once all the former public schools in inner cities and poor rural regions have been replaced by charters?

Late in her essay, Ravitch devotes a paragraph or so to one of the chapters in the books she is reviewing which contrasts the Finnish system to that of the U.S. She notes that U.S. critics bemoan the fact that American society is too socially diverse for anything like the Finnish system. But diversity isn’t the only issue – in fact, the Finnish system could function well in a diverse society, as Ravitch notes. The problem is that Finnish society is equitable and egalitarian (Gini coefficient 26.8 [2011] vs the U.S. 45 [2007]).

The inequalities in education mirror those elsewhere in our society. Until these problems are addressed and redressed, any solution will be a band-aid on a gaping wound. That’s not to say that a band-aid isn’t something, but it’s not going to close the primary trauma.

That’s my ideology, anyway.

23

Ebenezer Scrooge 12.07.16 at 1:20 pm

I might be the only person who has posted on CT whose kid actually goes to a charter school. In Newark, NJ, no less. This, I know, is a very limited qualification.

“Charter school” casts a very broad net. Many of them are out-and-out scams–either by local entrepreneurs, or by for-profit charter management organizations. Some states (including mine) are pretty good at weeding out the scams, but none are perfect. Many of the non-scamly ones aren’t very good. Many of the good ones (e.g., KIPP) aren’t as good as they pretend to be, or are too focused on test scores and “drill-and-kill” teaching techniques. Mine is none-of-the-above–just a good sound elementary school.

I’m not sure about the use of the word “privatization.” It conceals an important distinction. There are three ways of providing a service: government; nonprofit; and for-profit. They have different advantages in different contexts. The for-profit system (which “manages” nonprofit charters, using the nonprofit as a kind of legal condom) just doesn’t work. The verdict is still out on nonprofit charters. They shouldn’t be lumped with the for-profits, whose verdict is clear. And the word “privatization” does just that.

To go beyond my very limited expertise, I am constantly astounded by the weakness of the charter advocates’ arguments. They can’t say their better arguments in public, and their public arguments are weak. As I see it, their arguments are:
– Unionz evil! They can’t say this too clearly, but they obviously believe it.
– Urban school boardz corrupt! There is something to this, although the history of presumably-less-corrupt-state takeovers is not encouraging. And again, you can’t say this in public.
– Bad kids infect good kids. Again, there is something to this and maybe you can say this in public. I suppose in this vision of charterization, public schools act as penitentiary prep.
– Flexible dynamic throbbing pulsing charter management! For some reason, this argument is acceptable to newspaper editors, although it is obvious blather. Charter schools suffer from bad diseconomies of managerial scale.
– Various kinds of arguments that translate to cream-skimming, of teachers or students.

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Sebastian H 12.07.16 at 5:15 pm

The problem I see in the US is that those who oppose serious reforms or other experiments fail to deal with the bigger picture very well.

In California for example, in the early 1970s, public schools were very well regarded. Since that time, per pupil spending (after being adjusted for inflation) is up almost 100%.

Since that time California slipped from one of the higher per pupil spending states to one of the lowest, so other states were increasing spending at an even faster rate.

Since that time, California went from being on of the most locally controlled states to being one of the states with the most centralized distribution of funds.

During that period the general consensus appears to be that inner city schools got worse. They’ve had periods of improvement, but I think that it is fair to suggest that they are worse than before, and the best counter-consensus might be that they are about the same or at best a small bit better. (Now if we disagree with that consensus we should be having a totally different discussion where Democrats are saying ‘hey inner city schools are pretty much ok’ or something).

And just to head off potentially fruitless sidetracks, Baumol’s cost disease probably isn’t the answer–because it would imply that teacher’s salaries should be going up dramatically which isn’t the case.

So I don’t know how you want to stylize these facts, but it makes the two routine answers (they are massively underfunded and they are too locally funded) seem grossly inadequate. Those answers have been tried for 50 years in a row or so.

Now it may very well turn out that charters aren’t the answer. But the above facts are why inner city parents are willing to try seemingly large gambles–the routine alternate solutions have been tried.

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WLGR 12.07.16 at 6:51 pm

Harry, the implied criticism in the statement that “if there is a lot of high quality evidence that indicates you are wrong, you should be open to rethinking”, and the smarmy spelling out of “basic rules of thumb” for adequately skeptical inquiry as if we’re 14-year-olds who just discovered New Atheism, certainly sound like a thinly veiled comparison to me. The core objection to organizations like KIPP succeeding with de facto cherrypicked groups of students isn’t that it doesn’t or can’t happen at all (not to discount the way these kinds of “success” stories often are built on bullshit, a symptom of the systemic potential for fraud and corruption inherent in such a loosely regulated educational model) but that by definition “succeeding” in this way does nothing about the problems in which we’re actually interested. Any school can far exceed the alleged achievements of outfits like KIPP by doing more explicitly what these outfits do less explicitly, except we call schools like this “magnet schools” and don’t attribute their success to any new pedagogical silver bullet that offers deeper lessons for the socioeconomic uplift of students with less preexisting motivation and support. Without trying to imply any deeper comparison, it’s a “Hitler says the sky is blue” kind of maneuver: since we object to Hitler for reasons having nothing to do with his stance on sky color, bringing up this stance as a response is at best irrelevant and at worst a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters. I would have thought of all of this as something we wouldn’t have to say every time we write, but maybe spelling it out would be helpful.

As far as “privatization”, it’s certainly appropriate in a sense, but to many people it seems to imply an overly rigid opposition between public and private sectors, when the neoliberal agenda in practice absolutely doesn’t revolve around any inherent conflict between governments and markets — a zombie idea whose endless reanimation with cash infusions from patrons like the Kochs is arguably a form of obfuscation meant to keep erstwhile opponents of neoliberalism stuck on the wrong arguments. A more useful distinction both for neoliberalism and for those seeking to understand it is between productive and non-productive economic activity, in a strictly capitalist sense of whether or not it can accommodate the extraction of profit; accordingly, a more useful conceptual lens seems to be the commodification of public services, which can be a lucrative domain of capitalist accumulation even when the services in question remain nominally under public administration. (One of my favorite theorists Ursula Huws has a developed and accessible critique along these lines.) Public education is a ripe target for this accumulative process regardless of how the extraction of profit from educators’ labor ends up being structured administratively, and the idea that it might succeed in resisting commodification at all is more or less an existential affront to capital, which seems to be why the ruling class in the US has risked dropping its customary ideological shield of “two parties disagreeing with each other” in order to more effectively coordinate a combined political attack.

Of course we can’t dismiss the way so many of the neoliberal ideologues engaged in the fight to commodify public education affect some sort of selfless altruistic motivation, even trying to outflank public school teachers — a caste whose outward decency relative to Fortune 500 executives otherwise seems like it’d be on fairly solid ground — by obsessively hammering away at a narrative of corrupt and self-interested teachers’ unions. But this in no way precludes a long-term strategy ultimately aimed at commodification and profit once the old institutions are successfully destroyed, any more than Walmart selling below cost at a newly opened store precludes raising their prices once the local competition has been driven out of business. (As an aside, the generalization of this two-faced strategy to encompass literally all philanthropy was a criminally under-discussed “innovation” of the now all-but-forgotten Clinton Foundation; even Bill himself was very explicit about the Foundation’s work as a foot in the door to open new domains for the expansion of markets, both on the practical grounds that this would be more efficient than traditional philanthropy and on the moral grounds that “it’s wrong to ask anyone to lose money” on charity.) Don’t underestimate their duplicitousness, even if on some level they’re also fooling themselves.

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Collin Street 12.07.16 at 8:08 pm

To go beyond my very limited expertise, I am constantly astounded by the weakness of the charter advocates’ arguments.

The big thing that noone talks about is this: right-wing voters ain’t very smart.

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Harry 12.07.16 at 8:19 pm

Yeah, well it might sound smarmy because I spend so much time talking to people who seem entirely determined to ignore any evidence that indicates their preferred policy solution might not be ideal, and for whom even considering the evidence seems like an anathema. I continue to be haunted by the memory of a senior and eminent education professor criticizing me for mentioning during a talk evidence that she acknowledged was sound because “there are undergraduates in the room” (who, she appeared to think, should only be exposed to the evidence that directly supported the policy conclusions that she agrees with). So yes, I do sometimes get irritated, and I apologize if it makes me smarmy. I’d swear that I only mentioned global warming at all because someone else raised the issue — I thought it was you, but now I can’t find where you did so it must not have been, and the whole discussion now goes over two threads so god knows who mentioned it or where, but I only distinguished them because someone else talked about it! (Unless I imagined that, which I guess is possible — either way, I apologise for it!).

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engels 12.07.16 at 10:21 pm

The big thing that noone talks about is this: right-wing voters ain’t very smart.

Ever heard of the Daily Show?

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engels 12.07.16 at 10:27 pm

Harry, I’ll get back to you, but please note I didn’t equate charter schools with private schools but ‘ed reform’ and ‘choice’ with privatisation, and it was a query not an assertion. (Commodification is a different but related issue. I strenuously disagree that neoliberalism makes the distinction between public and private ownership irrelevant.)

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nastywoman 12.07.16 at 10:36 pm

@27
Heads up! – I think Charter Schools are great – if they are ‘great’ and have a head teacher like this very idealistic cousin of mine in North Carolina – and I think Charter Schools can be pretty terrible if they use their ‘systemic potential for fraud and corruption inherent in such a loosely regulated educational model’.

But in such a loosely regulated model as the US – isn’t that systemic on the so called ‘Meta’ level?
And I ask that as somebody who is against “privatization” of education – as I went to school in Europe and was very happy with my ‘public’ school -(and ‘public’ University)

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Harry 12.07.16 at 10:42 pm

Thanks, ok I didn’t see it as a query — my answer — I’d see privatization as a matter of degree, and choice as an aspect of privatization (but national standards as something that counteracts privatization; so for example in England and Wales, the government that extended choice and introduced the national curriculum was both extending and counteracting privatization). Thing is that in the traditional public school system choice for the affluent abounds through the housing market and the availability of private schools. And choice for the affluent within the public system is facilitated (I would say deliberately) by a system of local control, local funding, and localized zoning of housing development, with numerous small districts all within easy commuting distance of each other, thus enabling the affluent to work and play in cities with a large supply of low-income labor while living in suburbs where they don’t have to pay for services poor people need, and where their children can attend generously government funded public schools which no poor children attend. You and I, I imagine, agree that this is morally outrageous but local control is beloved by the left and the right and even describing it the way I just did tends just to get you rude stares.

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kidneystones 12.08.16 at 6:06 am

@ 31 “Thing is that in the traditional public school system choice for the affluent abounds through the housing market and the availability of private schools. And choice for the affluent within the public system is facilitated (I would say deliberately) by a system of local control, local funding, and localized zoning of housing development, with numerous small districts all within easy commuting distance of each other, thus enabling the affluent to work and play in cities with a large supply of low-income labor while living in suburbs where they don’t have to pay for services poor people need, and where their children can attend generously government funded public schools which no poor children attend. You and I, I imagine, agree that this is morally outrageous but local control is beloved by the left and the right and even describing it the way I just did tends just to get you rude stares.”

Please do not stop!

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Suzanne 12.08.16 at 5:26 pm

@16:
The actual poor tended to vote for Clinton, who beat the other fellow by a meaningless 2.6 million votes.

As for the Rust Belters who went for Trump, their message has been heard loud and clear, judging by Trump’s Cabinet appointments. Arsenic in the water? A mere bonne bouche, my friends. Trump and the GOP are going to clout his voters on the backs of their heads like baby seals.

I anticipate they’ll just come back for more, those that can still walk to the polls.

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J-D 12.08.16 at 7:29 pm

Sebastian H

The problem I see in the US is that those who oppose serious reforms or other experiments fail to deal with the bigger picture very well.

Now it may very well turn out that charters aren’t the answer. But the above facts are why inner city parents are willing to try seemingly large gambles–the routine alternate solutions have been tried.

Have you ever heard of the fallacy of the politician’s syllogism (so named by Yes, Prime Minister)? We must do something; This is something; Therefore, we must do this?

It is possible for people to be in favour of radical change (for example, in education), but to be opposed to one particular proposal for radical change (for example, voucher funding for education).

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Sebastian_H 12.08.16 at 9:18 pm

“It is possible for people to be in favour of radical change (for example, in education), but to be opposed to one particular proposal for radical change (for example, voucher funding for education).”

Sure, but so far as I can tell there hasn’t been a serious left leaning proposal for radical change (or even semi-serious on the margins change) in decades. So you’ve ceded the field to the voucher advocates, and that is the only option that poor people see. Which sounds like it could be a developing political problem.

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engels 12.08.16 at 10:06 pm

there hasn’t been a serious left leaning proposal for radical change (or even semi-serious on the margins change) in decades. So you’ve ceded the field to the voucher advocates, and that is the only option that poor people see. Which sounds like it could be a developing political problem.

Sebastian we agree (although I think it’s been a problem for decades). Let’s put banning private schools back on the agenda! (Perhaps also introducing lotteries…)

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John Quiggin 12.08.16 at 11:10 pm

@35 Abolishing local funding is a serious left leaning proposal, but the alleged advocates of bold reform won’t touch it.

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Leo Casey 12.08.16 at 11:49 pm

In the vein of recent good research on charters, see Bruce Baker’s paper on the effects of charter expansion on district public schools: http://www.epi.org/publication/exploring-the-consequences-of-charter-school-expansion-in-u-s-cities/?mc_cid=c22114ad64&mc_eid=09afd82598

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Harry 12.08.16 at 11:53 pm

Yes, I think the problem is with ‘serious’. Banning private schools would be almost a complete irrelevance in the US, where the role that private schools play in the Uk is played by well-funded public schools inaccessible to poor kids (about 7% of kids attend elite-ish private schools in the UK; in the US it is a tiny percentage — most private schools are low-ish cost, and religious, because unlike in the UK there are no religious public schools; it is the availability of close-by, unequally funded, suburban public schools that damages urban schools). Incidentally, engels, all charter schools use lotteries (they are required to), as do most voucher schools. Abolishing local funding is where the action would be, as JQ says, but it is politically untouchable, partly because it is intimately connected to the local control so beloved by the educational left. Far the best is the Bolder Broader Approach, which does have real influence, but not, I’d say, huge influence. And it doesn’t have a nice, clear, reform idea, like ‘vouchers’ because… well, because reality is more complicated than that, and BBA is sensitive to reality. (I’ll declare an interest, BBA co-chair Helen Ladd is one of the co-authors of my next book).

http://www.boldapproach.org/topics/

Charter schools came from the left, by the way. Al Shanker and the AFT. Rightwingers adopted it when they figured that vouchers were a dead end.

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engels 12.09.16 at 12:36 am

I was thinking of UK but

Banning private schools would be almost a complete irrelevance in the UK

is surely not true in the only part of US—NY—I’m familiar with, where I think they’re a cause of extreme racial and social segregation and 1% cronyism/inbreeding, if not individual paychopathology (people I’ve personally known from that background make the average British ex-boarder look like well-adjusted men or women of the people by comparison.)

Charter schools came from the left, by the way

So did neoconservatism.

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engels 12.09.16 at 12:42 am

(Any policy that has Gareth Wilson going for his musket is relevant enough for me…)

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Harry 12.09.16 at 12:51 am

Parts of the east coast, for sure, still have elite private schools. But these still don’t harm the schools the poor attend anywhere near as much as public schools and the localized funding system and localized labor market for teachers and.administrators. And the US is a big country.

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Sebastian H 12.09.16 at 1:01 am

I had never heard of the BBA, and I follow the area with some interest. I’ll take a look.

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engels 12.09.16 at 2:41 am

This is how the world ends
http://money.cnn.com/2014/06/10/luxury/preschool-new-york-city/

There’s a limited number of spots in Manhattan’s most elite private schools, which are thought to be feeders to the best colleges and universities in the country. And parents have bought into the narrative that if their child doesn’t go to a good preschool, they won’t have a shot at getting into one of the top secondary schools. “You think college is bad? Try getting into preschool on the Upper East Side,” said Amanda Uhry, president of Manhattan Private School Advisors, which charges between $15,000 and $35,000 to 1,500 clients each year to help their kids land a spot in private school. “Some of these preschools get 400 recommendations for 16 spots.” … To make their child stand out, Uhry said she’s seen parents try it all. Some put their kids in socialization classes. One father claimed his 2-year-old was a violin virtuoso. And at least ten of Uhry’s clients have asked President Clinton for recommendations. One client even requested a recommendation from the Pope.

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engels 12.09.16 at 3:32 pm

Banning private schools would be almost a complete irrelevance in the US

Move along nothing to see here

Since 2000, The Heritage Foundation has con­ducted several surveys of Members of Congress to determine how many Senators and Representatives practice school choice by sending their children to private school.[2] In 2007, The Heritage Foundation updated this survey and found that 37 percent of Representatives and 45 percent of Senators in the 110th Congress sent their children to private schools-almost four times the rate of the general population.[3]

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