Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Days of Charter Schools and Vouchers Are Numbered

SunsetIf you were trying to make a buck on the side and were pretty sure that some new or improved technology would drastically undercut the market for cell phones within five years, would you invest in Apple stock or look for other opportunities?  Well, that is the type of information I have for the Koch Brothers and Devos families of the world.  Invest your money elsewhere.  Vacate the Secretary of Education’s office.  The days of charter and voucher growth are numbered.  And regulation is coming to those charters and vouchers already in place.

Why am I suddenly confident, rather than nervous, about charters and vouchers?  I got the chance to meet and listen to teachers from across the country at the Network for Public Education’s annual conference in Indianapolis this past weekend.  For the first time in my professional career, I had a firm sense of public education’s future.  I have litigated and participated in several civil rights and school funding cases, dealt with lots of different advocates, and watched closely as the teacher protests unfolded this spring.  In Indianapolis, I saw something special—something I had never seen before.

I saw a broad based education movement led not by elites, scholars, or politicians, but everyday people.  Those everyday people were teachers who were not just from big cities, small cities, suburbs, or the countryside, but from all of those places and as diverse as America’s fifty states and ten thousand school districts.  The teachers weren’t just young or old, white, black or brown, men or women, straight or gay. They were all of the above.

So what then binds them together?  Their opponents would say they are radicals or self-interested.  But these teachers weren’t that either.  As I sat down across the table and listened, I was struck by just how “every day” many of these teachers were.  They had hopped on planes and come from across the country, but they were not any different from my kids’ teachers back in South Carolina--who had not even hinted at the possibility of a strike.

These movement “leaders” in Indianapolis were reluctant leaders.  Like my kids’ teachers, these teachers struck me as the type who put their heads down, follow the rules, teach what the state asks, and care most of all about their students.  And while these teachers were obviously disappointed in their states and concerned about the future of public education, I wouldn’t even call them mad.  They stepped out on a ledge because they felt they had to. 

One teacher, whom I recognized from this past spring's newspapers but won’t name, actually had a lot of good things to say about her teaching experience and school.  She said her principal lets her teach how and what she wants and that her school is good place.  If I did not know who she was, you could not have convinced me that she led thousands of teachers this past spring.

There is one stereotype, however, that fits these teachers well: studiousness.  They read—a lot.  They research—a lot.  As a result, they know and keep track of stuff that normally only policy wonks and professors know.  Details matter in education policy and these teachers were on top of them.  If I were governor and starting a new watchdog agency—whether in education or some other area—these teachers are some of the first people I would hire.

Over time, I have come to realize that clients matter more than attorneys.  Groups of committed individuals standing behind movement leaders are, as often as not, more important than leaders.  Attorneys and leaders tend to be just vessels for something larger than themselves. 

What makes this teacher movement special is that the leaders are also the followers.  The leaders come from within the ranks, not urged on by outsiders, elites, or money.  They are urged on by their own sense of right and wrong, by their heartfelt care for public education and the kids its serves.  For those reasons, they won’t be going away, bought off, or fatigued any time soon.

Polling in several states suggests these teachers are going to take their legislatures by storm in a few weeks.  But as important as those elections are, they will not decide the final fate of public education.  Whether it is this year, next year, or several years from now, this otherwise complacent cadre of teachers will reach their goal.  They have been awakened by states that overreached and pushed them too far.  Now that they are awake, they won’t stop fighting for public education no matter what happens this fall.  That, more than anything, tells me that the days of privatizing public education are numbered.

--image by Alvesgaspar, courtesy of Wiki Commons


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I so wanted to be there last weekend!!! I stayed in bed with bronchitis. Need to make it the last 13 days!

Let me just say that I understand exactly what you are saying about the teachers. I came to them, as a candidate for office and asked THEM what their biggest problems, joys, struggles were. They told me. Over and over again. I met with two retired teachers on Labor Day. One I have known for 45+ years. After two weeks, they had a facebook page set up and now have about 300 members.

The problems they face are universal. Indiana devotes more money to vouchers than anywhere else in the US. I have studied the history extensively. (Lawyer—- guilty) Teachers don’t become teachers because they want to work 2-3 jobs so they can pay their bills and buy supplies for their classrooms. They teach our youngsters much more than math, science, spelling and reading. Good teachers teach because they are drawn to the idea that they can make a difference in one chld’s life. I have never met a teacher who hasn’t had a former student come to them and tell them how their life was changed because of the teacher.

They are guardians of our neighborhoods and of our communities. When you begin to fracture the very foundations of a school system, (see Muncie, IN and Gary, IN) you begin to destroy the neighborhoods and communities.

I have researched and written much about this topic as it relates to Indiana. I’m more sorry than ever that I did not get to attend last weekend.

Thank you so much for this post.

Posted by: Cindy Reinert | Oct 23, 2018 8:07:25 PM

Thanks for the positive note on the NPE Conference. I've been to all five NPE conferences and what you explain has been true for all five. And yes, I'm just a retired public high school Spanish teacher who, indeed, does read and research education issues.

Be that as it may, if I may offer you a copy of my book "Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractice in American Public Education". In it I discuss the purpose of American public education and of government in general, issues of truth in discourse, justice and ethics in teaching practices, the abuse and misuse of the terms standards and measurement which serve to provide an unwarranted pseudo-scientific validity/sheen to the standards and testing regime and how the inherent discrimination in that regime should be adjudicated to be unconstitutional state discrimination no different than discrimination via race, gender, disability, etc. . . .

All I ask in return is for you to give $10 to your favorite charitable cause. Just email me at [email protected] with your address and I'll send you one.

Posted by: Duane E Swacker | Oct 24, 2018 6:55:11 AM

I am sure there are a number of very good Charter schools and private schools. One of the problems is that they are held to different standards than public education. Public education is held to the highest standard and scrutinized on a regular basis. We don't get to chose our students. We are required to educate them all, no matter what their needs, background, or social status. When certain politicians stop trying to dismantle public education and let the educators make the decisions Charter schools will no longer have a place in education.

Posted by: John Gruber | Nov 7, 2018 7:34:01 AM

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