If bad ideas can be said to have fathers, then charter schools have two.
No, I mean two flesh and blood men who did more than any others to give this terrible idea life – Minnesota ideologues Ted Kolderie, 89, and Joe Nathan, 71.
In my article “Charter Schools Were Never a Good Idea. They Were a Corporate Plot All Along,” I wrote about Kolderie’s role but neglected to mention Nathan’s.
And of the two men, Nathan has actually commented on this blog.
He flamed on your humble narrator when I dared to say that charter schools and voucher schools are virtually identical.
I guess he didn’t like me connecting “liberal” charters with “conservative” vouchers. And in the years since, with Trump’s universally hated Billionaire Education Secretary Betsy Devos assuming the face of both regressive policies, he was right to fear the public relations nightmare for his brainchild, the charter school.
It’s kind of amazing that these two white men tried to convince scores of minorities that giving up self-governance of their children’s schools is in their own best interests, that children of color don’t need the same services white kids routinely get at their neighborhood public schools and that letting appointed bureaucrats decide whether your child actually gets to enroll in their school is somehow school choice!
But now that Nathan and Kolderie’s progeny policy initiative is waning in popularity, the NAACP and Black Lives Matter are calling for moratoriums on new charters and even progressive politicians are calling for legislative oversight, it’s important that people know exactly who is responsible for this monster.
And more than anyone else, that’s Kolderie and Nathan.
Over the last three decades, Nathan has made a career of sabotaging authentic public schools while pushing for school privatization.
He is director of the Center for School Change, a Minneapolis charter school cheerleading organization, that’s received at least $1,317,813 in grants to undermine neighborhood schools and replace them with fly-by-night privatized monstrosities.
He’s written extensively in newspapers around the country and nationwide magazines and Websites like the Huffington Post.
But it all started for Nathan back in 1987 when he happened to see an advertisement on TV, according to Ember Reichgott, the former Minnesota State Senator who originally proposed the first charter school bill.
The ad was called “Ah, Those Marvelous Minnesota Schools,” writes Reichgott.
It dared to dispute the Reagan administration’s propaganda hit piece “A Nation at Risk” which painted public schools as failures that needed to be disrupted and replaced.
Well Nathan wasn’t about to take it.
According to Reichgott’s book, “Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story”, Nathan:
“…talked with the Minneapolis Foundation, among others, about what they might do. ‘The Minneapolis Foundation decided it was time to introduce into Minnesota some pretty radical ideas,’ said Nathan. So plans got underway for the Itasca Seminar, with a focus on public education.”
This seminar was instrumental in turning the tide in Minnesota that ultimately birthed the most infectious school privatization virus on an unwitting nation.
Nathan had always been a fan of transferring public services to private control. In fact, he had just finished lobbying for privatization in the National Governors Association. Now back in Minnesota, he joined together with Kolderie, a former journalist and self professed “policy entrepreneur” who had been pushing for the same thing since at least the 1970s.
Their ideology – expounded by southern segregationists and people like the divisive economist Milton Friedman – was extremely unpopular, but they were about to get a break.
In 1988, Albert Shanker, the union hero President of the American Federation of Teachers, had just given an infamous speech to the National Press Club praising the idea of a new concept called “charter schools.”
However, he wasn’t talking about the modern idea of a charter school. Shanker was building off an idea originally proposed by Ray Budde, a little-known professor of education from upstate New York.
It was Budde who actually coined the term “charter school.” He thought school boards could offer “charters” directly to teachers allowing them to create new programs or departments.
Shanker liked this idea because of his own teaching experience in East Harlem where administrators constantly got in the way of educators. “One of the things that discourages people from bringing about change in schools is the experience of having that effort stopped for no good reason,” he said.
Nathan saw in this an opportunity and invited Shanker to speak at the Itasca Seminar. His goal was to hide his side’s privatization aims under the shadow of progressive unionism.
And it worked. In fact, if you look up the history of charter schools, you’ll STILL find people who insist they were invented by Shanker.
With this cover, the Citizen’s League, which was underwritten by the Minneapolis Foundation, was able to pass a bill requiring mandatory statewide standardized testing. The bill, authored by the Minnesota Business Partnership put forth the evaluation system necessary to demonize the public schools and prepare the way for the ultimate goal – privatization.
In 1991, the same forces passed the nation’s first charter school bill.
But let’s be clear on this – the charter schools created in this bill and the “charter schools” talked about by Shanker and Budde are very different concepts.
Nathan and Kolderie wrote the majority of the bill and they stripped out almost everything any educator had ever proposed.
According to Budde’s conception, charters would be authorized by school districts and run by teachers. Central office administrators would step out of the way, but charter schools would still operate within collective bargaining arrangements negotiated between districts and unions.
Instead, Nathan and Kolderie proposed that schools be authorized by statewide agencies that were separate from local districts. The state had the power, not communities or their elected representatives. That meant charters could be run not just by teachers but also by entrepreneurs. And that’s almost always who has been in charge of them ever since – corporations and business interests.
This was the goal Friedman and the deregulators had been fighting for since the 1950s finally realized – almost the same goal, it should be noted, as that behind school vouchers.
From the start, this was a business initiative. Competition between charters and authentic public schools was encouraged. And that included union busting. Thus charters were free of all the constraints of collective bargaining that districts had negotiated with their unions. The needs of workers and students were secondary to those of big business and the profit principle.
Shanker eventually realized this and repudiated what charter schools had become. But by then the damage was done.
Shanker hadn’t created charter schools. He had suggested something very different. And that suggestion was used to help usher in a concept that has haunted our public school system ever since.
Kolderie had been working on it for two decades, and with Nathan’s help it became a reality.
With the backing of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the two men went on to push a version of this same bill from legislature to legislature. Kolderie even boasts of helping 25 other states enact charter school legislation.
Today 43 states are afflicted with charter schools enrolling about 6% of the students in the country. An additional 4% go to private and parochial schools some of which are funded with school vouchers.
This distinction between charter and voucher schools is important to political pundits, but it’s really just hair splitting. It’s like saying vanilla chocolate swirl ice cream is nothing like chocolate vanilla swirl.
Consider: charter schools are privatized schools paid for with taxes. Voucher schools are private schools paid for with money diverted from taxes.
False distinctions like these are another way of managing public perception just like the pettifogging contrast between for-profit and non-profit charter schools. Again they’re pretty much the same thing. They can each cut services to students and pocket the left overs – the only difference is which loopholes they have to jump through and how they designate their tax status.
They are both the flowering of the deregulationist dream of destroying public education and replacing it with business-operated schools. They are attempts to destabilize, defame and destroy public education.
And though the plan has worked for decades, here’s hoping that the current political pause represents the beginning of a change of course.
Kolderie and Nathan’s monster has devoured too many schools and with them too many children’s hopes of an excellent education.
It’s time to pin the monster down with facts and shove a stake through its heart.
Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
104 thoughts on “Charter School’s Two Dads – How a Hatred for Public School Gave Us School Privatization”
Then I place a curse on the souls, if they haven’t already sold their souls, of Ted Kolderie and Joe Nathan. When they leave this coil, may their souls be torn out of the bodies and rot in hell forever.
But what Circle of Dante’s hell will their souls rot in 5, 6, or 8?
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Lloyd, that’s kind of why I wrote the article. I want these guys to get the credit they deserve.
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It seems to me you left out a few things. While I do not know Joe Nathen, I have read a bit about his and his families background. He did teach in inner city public schools for a decade, and his wife recently retired after 35 years of teaching in inner city public schools. His children have been teachers in inner city public schools.
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TE, your information is wrong about Nathan. According to his own resume, he was a teachers aide from 1970-71. Then he taught at an evening high school from ‘71-‘74. After that he was an administrator from’74-‘81. Not exactly a long, illustrious career as a classroom teacher. I can’t comment on his family. I never saw any info about them.
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My knowledge is based on various posts on Dr. Ravitch’s blogs. An internet search did find a link about his spouse being a retired public school teacher. (see https://educationpost.org/network/joe-nathan/) She taught for 33 years in public schools.
Unfortunately WordPress has made site searches in comments difficult. I will do my best to find the posts I recall about his children, but I may not be successful.
TE, I really don’t want to post about his wife and children. It makes me very uncomfortable. The history of school privatization is littered with people with every reason to love and support public schools but who act to destroy them. We don’t need to psychoanalyze the man further. Let his actions in creating the monstrosity of charter schools speak for itself.
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Note that Shawgi Tell, author of Charter School Report Card, was really the first charter school researcher to expose the nefarious role of Shanker and Minnesota ideologues and school privatizers in promoting charter schools. Rachel Cohen borrowed his work. Tell even produced a podcast on this several years ago: https://www.markgarrison.net/archives/3804
Thanks, Dan. I didn’t know that. I’m just glad this information is starting to get out there. Too few people know about it.
A few things left out: our 3 children attended and graduated from SPPS, I was a SPPS teacher anda administrator for 13 years, PTA president at the SPPS elementary school two of our children, site council member at Highland Park Middle School and Saturn (both SPPS district schools; and have written proposals that brought more than $3 million to SPPS.
Those proposals helped support creation of dual credit courses at the following SPPS schools: Open World, Creative Arts, and Gordon Parks, service learning programs at several schools, small learning communities at Johnson, Harding, and Highland Park (and each SPPS high school could have participated.
SPPS board members have asked me to be on the SPPS citizens budget committee for the last 2 years. The St Paul Federation of Teacher and Supt asked me to help create a district policy allowing district teachers to propose and help create new district public schools (as has happened in Boston with the Pilot Schools. And I helped create and co-chairing a district/charter/community task force to reduce youth and family homelessness.
And, along with this, yes, I have helped create the chartering public school idea. That goes back to civil righs hero Kenneth Clark. But that’s another post.
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Hey Joe. Thanks for commenting. You seem to have quite an affection for your public school. It’s too bad your charter school idea is so destructive to so many others. You’re certainly right to invoke civil rights in their creation but I think you’re on the wrong side of that divide. Honestly though do you have any regrets? Did charter schools turn out the way you imagined they would? Is there anything you would change if you could go back and do it again?
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It is wonderful that you have been a long time supporter of public education in St. Paul. The school reform sold by Bill Clinton and George Bush has been a spectacular failure. Testing was used to prove that public schools were failing; they weren’t. Some state and local governments failed public schools and the neighborhoods their students lived in; the schools weren’t the problem. Like Diane Ravitch, you must have bought into standards, testing and accountability theory which has done a lot of damage. I hope like Diane you can fess up to your errors and help us end this billionaire financed drive to privatize public education. It is the great foundation of democracy.
Nation at Risk was a polemic fraud indicating that businessmen new better about how to run public education and it justified school privatization. Vouchers are being used to end the separation of church and state, while achieving diminished academic results. Charter schools are sucking money out of public schools while exacerbating segregation. Taxpayer money is going into charter school management pockets and ever shrinking amounts of it are making it to the classroom.
Please join the fight to stop Betsy DeVos, the Walton family, Charles Koch and other like minded billionaires who really don’t want to pay tax money to educate “other people’s children.”
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Tom, you wrote in part, “Like Diane Ravitch, you must have bought into standards, testing and accountability theory which has done a lot of damage. ”
There are lots of differences between Diane Ravitch and me. For example:
1. Our kids went to urban district public schools. Hers went to private schools
2. I worked for almost 15 years as an aide inner city public school teacher and administrator.
3. I helped create and worked for 7 years at an urban K-12 district option. The US Dept of Education, using multiple measures, concluded that the school was a “carefully evaluated, proven innovation worth of national replication. The school continues to operate, grades 6-12 using many of the same principles, that it used in 1971. Sadly, despite many requests to replicate the school, the local district has not asked educators to create a second school similar to it.
4. For 49 years, I’ve promoted use of multiple measures including applied performance measures. Our Center has published a report about the value of multiple measures. We cited examples from district and chartered public schools. The president of the American Education Research Association helped produce this report. http://centerforschoolchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/What-Should-We-Do-Report.pdf
5. I worked with teacher unions in Minnesota to convince the legislature to approve $500,000 to help DISTRICT educators create new district options.
6. For more than 20 years, I’ve written columns encouraging learning from the most effective public schools – district and charter. I’ve written repeatedly that it’s a waste of time to argue which is better – because there are outstanding examples of both.
7. Over the last 20 years, Center for School Change that I founded and direct has carried out a variety of programs where district and charter educators have worked with and learned from each other. These programs have been founded on the belief that both district & charter educators have things to learn and things to share.
8. Since 1989, a number of Mn newspapers regularly have carried columns I’ve written.
9 In the late 1990’s I helped create a national district/charter coalition that successfully challenged the NCAA. The NCAA told every public school in the country which courses were and were not acceptable for college preparation. That story is told here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2015/04/ncaa_challenge_was_a_big_tent_.html
10. I was a PTA president at the urban public (district) elementary school that all 3 of our children attended. I also served on site councils of two urban district middle schools. I also served on the state PTA board, which later made me an honorary life member.
11. I’ve spent more than 40 years actively working at the school, community, state and national policy levels to empower public school educators to create the kinds of schools they think make sense – and to help families – especially low income families – have public school choices.
12. The National Governors Association in 1984, asked me to coordinate a project about what Governors should do to improve public schools. Among other things, our 1985 final report encouraged: 1) Dramatic expansion of early childhood programs; 3) expansion of school/community shared facilities – now called “community schools”, expansion of public school choice programs, 4) expansion of programs allowing high school student to earn free college credits.
Joe, you wrote so much horn blowing, but what is your point here? Diane Ravitch is bad and you’re good? You helped create a policy that has devastated the educational outcomes of millions of children. You enabled unscrupulous villains to steal boat loads of taxpayer money. You made the beast championed by self-serving billionaires like Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. You created this monster. Maybe it’s time to face up to the blood on your hands.
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Joe, I see some similarities between you and Diane. You were both politically connected operators whose connections gave them a media platform. You both worked to advance different aspects of the privatization of public education. One substantive difference is that she realized she was wrong and that the policies she was promoting were harmful. She has spent the last decade working to right that wrong. You on the other hand seem blind to how destructive the “school choice” and charter school policies you advanced have been. You still seem to embrace them. I feel even your concept of using multiple measures to hold schools accountable is a mistake. A superior path would have been using multiple measures and feed back to help schools improve.
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Tom, you suggested that various assessments should be used as “feedback to help schools improve.” Agreed. The second “vital feature” proposed in the “What Should we Do” report is “Assessment is part of an integrated system of instruction, professional development and refinement of a schools’
operations. Assessment is not used only for ranking or sorting. Schools use assessment results to modify instruction and help plan inservice.”
Actually, I’ve spent 49 years working with, learning from, and empowering terrific public school teachers all over the country. That includes, for example helping the CIncinnati district, in cooperation with the Cincy Federation of Teachers, eliminate the high school graduation gap between white and African American students. This was discussed in Education Week.
In this Education Week blog, I described some of the thing that encourage, and frustrate me about chartering:
…here are a few of the things that concern me:
1. Failure to skillfully, successfully monitor how some charters operate. You’re familiar with scandals involving charters. Some people have exploited opportunities. This happens in some traditional schools and teacher unions too. But it is infuriating, wherever it happens. We are learning more about how to monitor schools. But there have been scandals and unacceptable exploitation of opportunities that chartering provides.
2. Abuse of freedom to sometimes make huge profits and pay unseemly salaries.
3. Some over-reliance on traditional standardized measures. You and I have agreed on the importance of multiple measures. Some involved with chartering agree. Others promote their schools primarily on the basis of test scores and/or graduation rates.
4. Unwillingness in some cases to work creatively with students with special needs. Again, I see this in the district sector as well, with creation of district or regional magnet schools with admissions tests that exclude many youngsters with special needs. Public schools, district or chartered, should be open to all.
5. Unwillingness, sometimes, to learn from some district school successes, and previous efforts to improve schools. There are some great district schools and educators. We all need to respect and learn from them. So a big “shout out” to Educators for Excellence-Minnesota. They regularly convene district and charter educators to learn from eachother.
6. Unwillingness by some charters to share information about public funds are spent. Most state laws requre yearly financial audits, made available to the public. But some schools resist providing information about how they are spending public funds.
These are not my only concerns. But any fair assessment of chartering ought to acknowledge strengths and shortcomings.
My apologies, as I’ve gone on too long. But you asked important questions. So I wanted to try to give comprehensive answers.
On balance, I think chartering is a lot like America. Freedom provides great opportunities for creativity, innovation and progress. However, among our biggest challenges are to maximize constructive use of freedom, and minimize abuse.
Joe, I’m sorry I had to edit that comment down a bit. I didn’t change any of your words though.
It sounds like you think there are some ways the charter concept has been misused but you don’t appear to have any real regrets. There’s nothing you’d change if you had it to do all over again? For instance, should charters have to abide by the same regulations as authentic public schools? Should they at least have to provide the same special education services? Should they be able to have selective enrollment? Should they be able to have unelected boards? Should they be able to cut services and make a profit? Should they be held as accountable as authentic public schools? Isn’t it unfair to the taxpayers that their money is spent at charters without their input at open meetings? I’d like to hear answers to some of these questions and not just canned answers from charter-friiendly publications.
…here are a few questions for you and Phil:
1) Are you ok with a number of district “magnet” schools that use admissions tests to screen out students with low test scores or students with special needs? I’m not. I’ve worked with the late US Senator Paul Wellstone to add new regulations to magnet grants, discouraging use of such tests. But there are many that continue to do so. Are you ok with that? I’m not. I think public schools, district & chartered should be open to anyone. No admissions tests.
Have some chartered schools done this too? Yes. I think that’s wrong and have made it clear in columns and speeches all over the country that I oppose this. I’ve also helped write charter legislation that makes this illegal. Are you in favor of state legislation prohibiting use of admissions tests for all public schools? I am.
2. Are you ok with suburban districts that won’t permit inner city, low income kids to attend, even if they have room? I’m not. I helped write cross district public school choice legislation that permits students to transfer from one district to another if the receiving district has room.
3. Are you in favor of giving educators the opportunity to create new district options? I am, and have written grants involving millions of dollars to help district educators do that.
4. Do you agree that there is no single kind of school philosophy or program that is best for all students? Do you agree that it’s a bad idea to require students to attend a Montessori, or a project based, or a Core Knowledge or a school with whatever?
5. Do you agree that teachers should be allowed to help create and or select among public schools or schools within schools with varying philosophies?
6. Do you agree that it can be a great idea to have several schools in the same building – such as the extremely successful Julia Richman, a NYC district building http://www.urbanacademy.org/the-julia-richman-education-complex Do you agree this can be very well, or very badly?
7. Do you agree that the shared facilities/ aka community school idea is terrific and should be widely promoted? Our Center has promoted this idea for more than 25 years. As you may know, a number of teacher unions have endorsed and promoted it. (Examples of district & chartered shared facilities found here: http://centerforschoolchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/saneschools.pdf
8. Do you agree that states should put substantially more $ into the education of students from low income families than affluent students – since wealthy, exclusive suburban districts will find ways to get lots of $ into their schools? My answer is yes.
9 Are you ok with exclusive suburbs that are 90% or more white, and have virtually no low income students?
My goodness, Joe, you do write a lot of nonsense without addressing the point. Divert from the point again and again.
But okay. I’ll bite.
1) Magnet schools have their pros and cons. If you have a school that focuses on the performing arts, for example, I can understand why there might be prerequisites to get in. Can that system be gamed? Certainly. But as part of an authentic public school system it is way more accountable and transparent than charter schools. Magnet schools are run by elected school boards, which have open meetings and transparency. Charter schools can circumvent all of that and thus are much more inequitable.
2) You don’t seem to understand the way things work at authentic public schools today. Anyone who lives in a district may attend – they don’t even need to live there! We serve homeless and transient students. I have seen this myself. You’re talking about transferring from district to district. This is a bad idea. Make every district great. Don’t destabilize districts with this tomfoolery.
3) Educators should have opportunities to innovate and create new programs but we don’t need to privatize to do this. And in fact teacher-led programs hardly ever happens at charter or voucher schools. A celebrity chef may come into McDonalds one day and make the burgers and fries but almost always they are made by your standard fry chefs. Stop pretending charter schools are something they aren’t.
4) There are many different educational philosophies at work in your neighborhood public school. Having a school board and accountability doesn’t prevent this. You mentioned magnet schools, for instance. Did you forget about them?
5) I’m not even sure what you mean here. Are you saying teachers should be able to transfer between districts?
6) No, I do not think having separate schools in the same building is a good idea. It can work if they’re both part of the same district. Where I teach, the middle and high school are in the same building. However, when you have schools from different districts or charter and authentic public schools in the same building, you have problems. They compete for space and have conflicting policies and uses.
8) Yes, the state and federal government should increase education funding for all students but especially poor and minority children. This is one of the reasons I think we need to get rid of charter schools. They are wasteful to offer a duplication of services. When you don’t have two schools competing for the funding, there’s more to go around. Charter schools make this problem worse not better.
9) I am in favor of integrating our public schools. I think the only way to overcome racism and prejudice is for all of our children to be educated together. However, charter schools make segregation worse. Yes, I know we have a problem at authentic public schools, but charters make it much, much worse. In my own district, there is a charter school with almost 100% minority children. It’s like pre-Brown V. Board. If you truly want to integrate schools, you need to get rid of charters that strive to be “separate but equal.” It’s a terrible ideal.
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Steven, you do know that Joe is not going to stop. He will keep coming back to wear you down until you quit. Then because you quit, he will think and/or claim he made his point.
Honestly, I don’t care a hoot about all the experience he listed because he is the one tooting his own horn.
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I hear you, Lloyd. I did start all this by writing about him. It’s only fair I give him a chance to have his say.
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No. My patience has limits.
A few years ago, I also had patience to stick with the ignorant and/or greedy charterites and worshipers of high stakes rank and punish tests. But over the years, my patience had worn thin. I have reached the point where my time is too valuable to keep repeating the same arguments with “fools” that never budge.
Steve, I’d certainly describe the 6 things listed above as regrets.
But you offer nothing you would change to stop them. They are just acceptable consequence of the peachy keen charter concept. That’s not good enough. If I punch you in the face and say I regret it but would do it again, it’s not a regret. It’s gaslighting.
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I too am interested to hear your thoughts and regrets about charter schools.
I just attended a Nevada State Public Charter Authority Meeting last week. The majority of the meeting was spent discussing problems – receivership, financing issues, litigation, and amendments to enrollment caps due to “mistaken” over enrollment (in violation of the law) and lack of subpopulation enrollment. The NV SPCA had also recently appointed a new member, Don Soifer, a DC transplant and founder of the Lexington Institute and Aspen-Pahara Institute fellow.
Joe, how do you feel about far-right think tanks driving charter school leadership? Also, how do you feel about the abundance of financial issues and scandals in the charter world?
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Phil – I’m glad that the Nevada State Public Charter Authority spent time discussing problems. Sometime local boards and other governing organizations ignore or gloss over problems. Did you feel that the discussion in Nevada was constructive and will lead to improvements?
As I’ve explained several time, I am concerned, as are many working in public education, with financial issues and scandals – in both district and chartered public schools. Many of us have taken action to modify rules, regulations and laws that have made this more difficult. But in many places, there is still work to do – which is why I said so in the Ed Week Blog and in a speech this summer at the national charter conference this summer (and in an article that will be coming out this coming week.). In that speech I insisted,
“Sixth, we need to call out, challenge and urge action be taken against those within chartering who misuse public funds, and violate the public trust. Laws in some state have been revised to provide more transparency and accountability – but more work is needed on this. ”
The speech is found here:
Finally, about “think tanks.” Whether it’s a district or a chartered public school, most educators have little to no contact with these people. The real leadership in schools is just that – in schools.
Joe, this is just lip service. It’s a way to appear to be concerned to shut up your critics. If you really thought there was a problem with charter school scandals and oversight, you’d support the NAACP and Black Lives Matter in their proposed moratorium. Imagine if one of the fathers of charter schools took that kind of stand. You could do a lot of good if you backed up your words with action. Will you do it, Joe? I can get you in touch with people at those organizations if you want. It would upset your backers at the Center for School Change. The Waltons who gave you tons of donations would not be happy, but what do you say?
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“The real leadership in schools is just that – in schools.”
That is an interesting, but wrong thought. From my thirty years of experience as a teacher, the real leadership in education was with the person with the most money like Bill Gates who hands out money at the federal or state level, at the top, so they would tell the next level down what to tell the teachers.
Then those administrators at the district level would do what the school board told them to do and pass on the orders to us teachers in the classrooms. You will use this material and teach that this way.
Only once early in my teaching career did I work at a school where the teachers were in charge and that ended in the early 1970s when that middle school principal had a stroke and retired early. Those few years were the best of the thirty. When the teachers are in charge, we see real progress just like what has been happening in Finland for the last several decades.
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You said, “Finally, about “think tanks.” Whether it’s a district or a chartered public school, most educators have little to no contact with these people. The real leadership in schools is just that – in schools.”
This doesn’t answer my question. Are you or are you not OK with right-wing think tanks such as the Lexington Institute driving decision making at local or state levels? Don Soifer was one of the most vocal board members in the meeting I attended last week. His comments were instrumental in allowing charter schools to take away students and their accompanying funding from the traditional public schools through the approval of charter contract amendments. This is an example of a think tank founder directly affecting the students and teachers at both charter and traditional public schools at the same time.
Previously you have taken issue with vouchers which you view as conservative policy being grouped together with charters which you view as liberal policy. If you believe charters are liberal policy manifestations, I will ask again, how do you feel about charters being directed by right-wing think tanks?
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I want to express my appreciation for engaging with one of the creators, promoters, and defenders of charter schools, Joe Nathan. With the sharp interventions of Tom and Phil, you provided an invaluable insight on the ideologically driven dogmatism of the charter schools advocates.
The exchanges made clear that:
Charter schools were allegedly created to provide choice or alternatives to failing public schools. In reality, evidence shows that that selling point was just the excuse to enter the sphere of public schools in order to start an inside job of dismantling public school systems.
The original charter school policy, far from being an adequate option that could be evaluated and improved over time, came with a myriad of problems –logistic, financial, legal, and social—that far from being acknowledged, corrected, or avoided, have continued to the benefit to the charter schools’ benefit to this day. This intentional lack of regulation of the charter school establishment indeed exposes the charter schools advocates’ anti-public schools and the opportunistic agendas.
During the exchange, it was interesting how there was never a definite answer to the important and relevant questions posed to Mr. Nathan. I expected that Mr. Nathan would stick to the neoliberal stance. I was not disappointed. No mentioned of common good, improvement, fairness, or justice, only a list of the positions held.
I do not know if you agree with me, but I consider that the participants in this thread provided a more important perspective on the issue of charter schools than your well-designed piece. Your content was excellent, but the exchange was exceptional. By reading Mr. Nathan’s irrelevant and diverting comments, I validated my opposition to charter schools. If one of the original architects cannot come up with valid points for charter schools, then the case is closed.
I thank you and those who asked relevant questions and expressed valid opinions. In particular, I agree with Lloyd Lofthouse’s view in considering hopeless to expect an honest debate with ideologues. After all, it is practically impossible to expect an opponents to reconsider their positions, when those positions come with profits.
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Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Sergio. I’m glad my article and the subsequent discussion it inspired provided clarity for you. It is quite something to have your suspicions confirmed by seeing the conduct of these folks first hand. It’s a little sad that Mr. Nathan can’t or won’t give an honest appraisal of his legacy. He still appears to be on the stump engaged in politics and not reflection.
This thread is brilliant! Thank you Steven!!
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Thanks Kimzee. Much appreciated.
[…] Source: Charter School’s Two Dads – How a Hatred for Public School Gave Us School Privatization | gadfly… […]
[…] real fathers of this first big step towards privatization, he writes, were Ted Kolderie and Joe Nathan of Minnesota, who wrote the nation’s first […]
The Minneapolis Fed is part of this puzzle. You shouldn’t look at charters outside the context of outcomes-based government contracting developed and promulgated by Stephen Rothschild. https://wrenchinthegears.com/2018/06/01/making-childhood-pay-arthur-rolnick-steven-rothschild-and-readynation/
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Thanks for commenting, Wrench. You’re right about how the federal government destabilizes and otherwise interferes with authentic public schools. In many states that has included pushing to increase charter schools. I appreciate your input in Minneapolis. My article was never meant to focus there but paint a broader picture.
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Correct me if I’m wrong, … but when federal government agencies get involved in anything like education, it was legislation through Congress and/or a Presidential Executive Order that survived court challenges that becomes the driving force for what each federal agency does. Sometimes, maybe often, the legislation is murky due to legal language in the legislation and then the federal agency has to interpret what they are mandated to do.
The departments of the federal government exist because Congress created them to carry out specific jobs due to legislation, and the White Houe administration (for any president) is supposed to make sure those agencies to the job Congressional legislation dictates they do.
Congress and/or the President are the management. The federal agencies are the workers that do what the managment tells them to do.
Charter schools, from the original concept, were public schools, run by the district, staffed by certified teachers just like all teachers in the district, but given the freedom to serve a smaller section of the overall student body. The schools were separate buildings with their own staff. The schools were meant to be administered by the teachers in the building and were afforded a degree of pedagogical freedom.
I know. I have been teaching in one for 19 years. We call ourselves an alternative high school, but we started with a charter. My school has been serving the local community since 1977. Somehow we have survived the last two decades of school reform, mostly because of the support from the local community and the history we have of serving failing students who become high school graduates and healthy members of the community.
The original charter school concept has been abandoned and corrupted and now shamefully hurts, segregates, and miseducated thousands of students. The schools were never meant to control and manipulate students. They were meant to free and empower students.
The idea of having smaller stand alone schools is a good one. There is nothing else in the current charter school reality that is good. These schools need to be turned over to local public school districts and run as individual learning communities, much like the original schools like mine.
I am more than happy to support you, Steven, and Diane in exposing the truth, the misunderstandings, and the way to fix this before even more children and teachers are destroyed.
Poetic Justice, thanks for commenting. The school where you teach seems to be more like what Budde was proposing originally. But this is NOT what Nathan and Kolderie wrote up in the first charter school law in 1991. Nor is it what has spread through the nation with their help, the Waltons and ALEC. As you say, we can probably reconcile your kind of alternative school with authentic public schools if we keep an elected school board, open meetings, transparency, and accountability. You may call your school a “charter” but that would be a misnomer. We need to get rid of school privatization in all its forms.
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I don’t really call it a charter but I have a copy of the original charter written in 1977. It a pretty amazing piece of education history.
As a blogger with a predominantly white audience instead of citing NAACP general policies maybe you/we could/should listen to the voices of black leaders, teachers & parents when it comes to their thoughts on charter schools.
Oh my God, Peter! You are hilarious! So I should not listen to what the NAACP and Black Lives Matter says but I should listen to that one black charter school president who wrote an article you posted!? Listen to yourself. Listening to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter IS listening to black people. Now obviously there are black people who disagree. Like any other group of people, they are not a monolith. But these organizations represent the majority. You would do well to take your own advice. When you claim that black people don’t deserve elected school boards or schools that can’t make a profit off of their children, you show the school privatization movement for how ridiculous it is.
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Steven, I’m curious why you don’t include the links I shared? Afraid to have your readers exposed to other points of view?
Why don’t I post your link to an article by a black charter school president saying he speaks for all black people? Because it’s bull crap propaganda. There’s plenty of that out there paid for by billionaires like the Walton’s, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Betsy DeVos and her family, etc. I try not to let that crap into my blog. It’s one space I have control over. Keep it to yourself. You aren’t making a dime off of this space. Stick to the facts. Not propaganda.
Steve gives Ted and me way too much credit.
In the 1960’s, we called the kind of thing we’ve worked on “power to the people.” The “power to the people” theme is part of what led Kenneth Clark to insist that in 1968 that “It will be necessary” that new public schools should be created outside the control of local school boards. He recommended that unions, social service agencies and others be allowed to do this.
As to polls about how African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and whites, feel, there are a variety of results. [NATHAN INCLUDED TWO POLLS CONDUCTED BY THE BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION AND DEMOCRATS FOR EDUCATION REFORM. I REMOVED THE LINKS – STEVE] …the Gates Foundation and DFER favor chartering. We can toss polls back and forth.
When people began working for African American and Hispanic voting and housing rights or began working for equal pay for women and men, the majority of Americans probably were not in favor. But these expansions of opportunity, within limits were, imho, great ideas. The same is true in public education.
Joe, you’re right that Kenneth Clark wrote about alternative schools before you got involved. I wrote about this in my article, “Charter Schools Were Never a Good Idea. They Were a Corporate Plot All Along” :
“In the late 1960s after helping provide justification for school desegregation, sociologist Kenneth Clark advocated for alternative school systems that could be run by groups as diverse as universities to the Department of Defense.”
However, what you and Kolderie actually wrote into law in 1991 has next to nothing in common with Clark. You’re too modest. You two deserve the credit for the modern charter school – institutions that can do without elected school boards, that can run for profit, that can have selective enrollment, etc.
As to your polls, you’ll see I included your statement but removed the propaganda. When someone holds a poll paying big money to get a certain result AND THEY GET IT, that’s not a poll. It’s disinformation.
At the end of your comment, you seem to be conceding the point. So if the majority is against charter schools, that puts it in the company of other good ideas that the majority was against back in the day. True but it doesn’t mean charters are a good idea. It’s shocking that you would equate taking away elected school boards for black people to voting and housing rights. That you would equate corporations cutting services for children of color and pocketing the profit to civil rights – for the corporations!
What happened to those “regrets” you mentioned above? What happened to doing something to make charter schools more accountable and less open to fraud? My offer still stands to get you on the right side of history. You can still do so much good by endorsing the NAACP and Black Lives Matter’s moratorium on charter schools. I know it’s hard to admit you were wrong, but you have time. You can still help millions of children and their families by saving them from the monster you and Kolderie created.
Sorry you chose to dis-enfranchise thousands of African American, Hispanic and Asian Americans as well as whites who were polled.
For decades thousands of progressive educators have created new public school options within and since 1992, both inside and outside district public schools. They’ve held meetings and conferences all over the country. The #1 challenge they cite are other educators who do not want options.
The arguments here were presented by traditional educators going back decades – don’t offer option – invest in neighborhood schools instead (It doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be both)
By refusing to share info about the polls, you help illustrate why millions of low income and people of color are sending their children to alternative district and chartered public schools.
In many cases they don’t feel heard or respected.
Joe, the polls you posted are already everywhere. You think a poll conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can’t get seen by the public unless it’s posted on my rinky dink blog? You think Democrats for Education Reform can’t get the word out without help from a blog by a public school teacher writing on the weekends and in his spare time?
And when it comes to disenfranchisement, let’s look at these polls you think so highly of. I’m saying they are inherently biased. They disenfranchised large numbers of people of color by selecting which ones to include and which to ignore.
The polls you mention are like a poll by the American Pear Lovers Society saying that 99% of people hate apples. It’s nonsense. It doesn’t add anything to the conversation.
Finally, if even you admit we can provide options WITHIN the authentic public school system (and I agree) then we don’t need charter or voucher schools. There’s a better way. Let’s do that instead of doing away with democratic rule, transparency and accountability.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” (attributed to Voltaire)
…But this is your blog so you get to make the rules.
We agree about the value of options within districts. But many progressive educators have experienced exactly what Shanker described in the late 1980’s: People trying to create new district option are treated like “Traitors or outlaws for daring to move outside the lockstep. If they somehow succeed, they are treated like traitors or outlaws for daring to move outside the lockstep.” This has happened all over the country.
Shanker opposed the idea of new schools outside district/union control. He was, of course, a teacher union leader. No surprise that he did not want new schools outside the control of local boards and unions.
Also for decades there have been programs like Running Start in Washington State and Post Secondary Options in Minnesota. These are state laws permitting high school students to take free courses on college campuses (and in Mn’s case, free college courses via the internet).
The colleges/universities are not run by local boards, and local boards don’t get to tell students whether they can or cannot participate…
Joe, it’s nice to find at least one area where we can agree. We differ on the solution.
Colleges are a different subject. They are organized and governed much differently than public schools.
Steve, Also I apologize for not beginning the discussion a day or so ago by thanking you for being a public school teacher.
As noted earlier, I’ve been an urban district public school teacher, my wife was one for 33 years, and on our 3 youngsters has been one for more than 15 years. Very important job, often very challenging
My point re Running Start and PSEO is that those are examples of state laws/programs where $ follow students to institutions not controlled by local school boards.
Furthermore, a number of states have statewide schools not controlled by local boards. Many states have schools serving students who are blind or have some form of hearing disability. Some states have schools serving students especially interested in the arts, or math or science, that are not controlled by locally elected boards.
There’s a lot more to public education than what’s offered by local boards.
Joe, thanks for the recognition. Being a teacher is a hard job, but I love it. had a string of other jobs including professional journalist before becoming an educator. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve done but also the most rewarding.
That’s why I am so passionate about fighting charter schools. The policy you helped create has hurt my profession, my community, my daughter and my students. Our funding was already imperiled by the state and having to rely on local taxes in a community that doesn’t have the local wealth to provide everything children need. But charter parasites gobble up even more with a sweetheart funding formula and provide little to no value to students. I can’t tell you how many times a student has left my district to try it at the local charter only to return a short time later with huge academic and social deficits. This is a personal struggle to me and I am committed to ending the charter school experiment.
When it comes to Alternative programs in the public school system, you are misrepresenting them. Yes, there are industrial schools and performing arts schools, and schools for people with disabilities. But to be part of the authentic public system, they are run by consortiums made up of members of the local school boards where their students come from. In short, they ARE run by elected officials from the districts they represent. The public has a voice in how they are governed. Certainly there are schools that don’t do this that are run by appointed bureaucrats, but they are charter schools.
I think it is fundamentally unfair to run a school with public money and deny the public a say in its operation. That’s a founding principle of our nation and I will fight for it.
Joe Nathan revealed his bias and his deliberate blind ignorance with this comment here: “When people began working for African American and Hispanic voting and housing rights or began working for equal pay for women and men, the majority of Americans probably were not in favor.”
“Nearly four in 10 Americans say equal pay is the top issue facing working women in the United States today, a sentiment shared by roughly the same proportions of men, women, and working women. About twice as many Americans mention equal pay as cite the second-ranked issue — equal opportunity for advancement. No other issue is cited by more than 10% of Americans.”
I think that the ratio of Trump’s supporters will probably match or come close to matching the number of Americans that think women are 2nd class citizens that do not think women should earn the same income men earn for the same job, and minorities should not be allowed to buy housing in a white community.
Then we come to Joe Nathan using flawed logic to compare this sentiment to
“But these expansions of opportunity, within limits were, imho, great ideas. The same is true in public education.”
“But what about” is one of the most popular extreme right talking points to divert the attention away from a debate you are losing.
This is an ill-founded generalization based on insufficient evidence.
Failed try, Joe Nathan.
“Afraid to have your readers exposed to other points of view?”
Peter, that bait above that you left here is pure BS!
Peter, if you shared the link or links you refer to in one of your comments that was published in this blog thread and your comment/s are still here, then those links are “shared”.
Since you already posted the links, why are you bating Steven to post them again, repeating what you already shared? If the links you refer to are still here, that, I think, is a sign of typical Troll bating behavior.
But if Steven decided to block and/or delete them because they led to propaganda sites, that is his prerogative since this is his Blog. Why held a corrupt vampire spread his propaganda.
However, if you want to hop over to my “Crazy Normal” blog and post a comment under “ABOUT” with those links, I will check them out, and if I suspect what they are, I will share them with all my 19,517 readers for that one blog.
The most recent exchange reaffirms the notion that it is imperative to educate public school teachers about neoliberalism and its dogmatic impositions. Despite acknowledging the problems and abuses of charter school providers, there are no regrets. The unwarranted value of “option” or “choice” is brought up to “defend” an already indefensible point. In short, a man who started the charter school movement cannot come with valid arguments to defend them. Instead, chooses to engage in incidental topics in an attempt to create an image of popular support. At no moment one reads anything related to common good, improvement, or correction. Teachers associations should educate teachers so they start a real opposition, capable of distinguish the arguments from the fallacies. Debate was over long ago. Right now, we have a charter school industry that is dedicated to dismantle public education.
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“12. The National Governors Association in 1984, asked me to coordinate a project about what Governors should do to improve public schools. Among other things, our 1985 final report encouraged: 1) Dramatic expansion of early childhood programs; 3) expansion of school/community shared facilities – now called “community schools”, expansion of public school choice programs, 4) expansion of programs allowing high school student to earn free college credits.”
^^^ And that, folks, is Ed Reform 2.0 human capital impact investing. It all goes back to Mr. Rolnick (and Mr. Rothschild). https://wrenchinthegears.com/2019/01/26/could-community-schools-be-todays-sugar-refineries/
Charters are really just the tip of the iceberg. Wait until they usher in digital identity, learning ecosystems, and digital vouchers.
[…] schools came into existence in the late 1960s – long before the first charter school law was passed in 1991. They were a method of encouraging voluntary desegregation by attracting diverse groups to enroll […]
[…] Despite a lack of adequate funding and an abundance of high needs students, authentic public schools provide the best academic outcomes possible given their limitations. […]
[…] policy is usually made by billionaires who tell their think tanks what to write up and then give it to legislators to vote it into […]
[…] we invent charter schools – institutions funded with tax dollars but not necessarily subjected to any other regulations […]
[…] Joe Nathan, one of the authors of the first charter school law, still likes to troll readers of this blog by bringing that factoid up in the comments. […]
[…] If enacted such reforms would save $280 million a year and go a long way to fixing many of the problems with charter school finances. […]
[…] is one of the oldest charter schools in the city, having started as a tutoring program in 1968 and becoming a full fledged charter school in […]
[…] these schools weren’t solely supported by taxes – if at all. These Common Schools were more like private or parochial schools of today. Parents paid tuition, provided housing for the teacher, or contributed other commodities in […]
[…] I’ve watched my students learn and grow as the resources available to them withered and died. Privatization expanded like a new frontier as constraints upon what counts as learning became more rigid and […]
[…] can legally cut services and pocket the […]
Privately manage charter schools in most states only have to follow a limited
number of a state’s education code regulations. However, public schools are
regulated by all of a state’s education code. Public school supporters complain
charter school laws are unfair to public schools because privately managed
charter schools under charter law are not required to follow the same
regulations. Some public school supporters call for deregulating their state’s
education code so that public schools and charter schools are following the same
regulations in their competition for enrollment.
In California’s education code, parents under the State’s education code are
entitled to know in writing the basis for their child’s promotion or retention.
California Education Code Sections 48070-4870.5 requires California school
districts to establish 2nd through 12 grade promotion policy.
However, privately managed charter schools are not mentioned in the law. My
argument is the California Education Code on promotion therefore does not apply
to charter schools. Privately managed charter school parents therefore do not
have the same California Education Code protected right to learn the standard
that will be used to promote or retain their child enrolled in a privately managed
30-years ago California, and other state legislatures drafting charter laws
deregulating their education codes by requiring privately managed charter
schools to only have to follow a few of a state’s education code laws. Advocates
for deregulation of states’ large education code, at the time were focused
legislators on complaints of how large education codes frustrates education
reform. Education Code deregulation seemed a simple solution to the
frustrations over state education codes.
However, that simple solution was flawed. The solution did not consider that
state education codes laws protected the rights of both charter and public school
parents. Charter school deregulation has meant creating inequality between
public school parents and charter school parents.
By state legislatures declaring most sections of a state’s education code only
applies to public schools, the deregulation of states’ education codes denied
charter school groups equal rights with public school groups under law.
Signing on to a privately managed charter school should not mean that rights
protected by a state’s education code should apply to only public schools and not
also to charter school groups equally. But historically, state legislatures
deregulated their education code without concern for deregulation harming the
rights of those making the privately managed charter school choice.
I am a teacher supporter of defending public schools and an opponent of privately
managed charter schools displacing public schools. Yet, I want privately managed
charter school groups provided the same rights under law as public school groups.
I want my teacher unions to take up the defense of charter school parents equal rights under
law while opposing charter schools as an idea that has reduced union jobs.
Steven Singer offers a much necessary factual reporting of the obscure origins of charter school movement, and the conveniently fabricated confusion created by corporate reformers about them. For public schools defenders, advocates, administrators, teachers, and citizens, Steven Singer’s piece is a must to understand and clarify the frustration of having even teachers associations –NEA and AFT—defending and even promoting charter schools despite their intrinsically public school system dismantling trait.
After reading this concise piece, anyone can infer that charter schools are not public schools, and that there is a need to acknowledge the neoliberal origins of the charter schools’ argument or reasons for their creation and multiplication.
The information has been served. Are teachers associations’ leaders going to use it?
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One of the multiple sources of the chartering idea was the 1968 essay by African American civil rights legend, psychologist Kenneth Clark. He was one a co-author of the “Doll Test” used in the US Supreme Court case Brown v. Board.
By 1968, Clark was so frustrated with local school boards that he proposed creation of new public schools outside the control of local school boards. He urged that unions and other organizations be allowed to create new public schools open to all, independent of local boards.
Here’s a link to the article, which I read as a college student in 1968 and found inspiring.
That plus experiences in a local district alternative and other experience of fellow district alternative public schools helped lead to the first chartering legislation here in Minnesota.
A related development here is creation here in Minnesota by 3 former teacher union presidents of the Guild Schools, which is a charter public school authorizer. Two of the founders of this group are former Minneapolis Federation of Teachers presidents They were so frustrated by how innovative teachers were treated by Minneapolis and other districts that they decided to create opportunities for educators to create new public chartered schools. More info here:
If you have a chance to read the Kenneth Clark article and information about the Guild, I’d be interested in your reactions. Incidentally, our 3 children all attended urban district public schools, K-12. Our older daughter currently teaches in the urban district from which she graduated.
Thanks for commenting again, Mr. Nathan. I have to admit it’s somewhat gratifying to write about a historical figure such as yourself and have you comment on my writing. However, your comment misses the point. Sure there were lots of people frustrated with the way public schools are run and the way school boards and administrators work. That’s as true today as it was when you helped author the first charter school law. However, the law you helped write doesn’t address these concerns. It opens the way for corporations to take over public schools. It is about corporate interests not public interests. As bad as some school directors are, I think the probability that they will do what’s right for the kids in their community is higher than those motivated solely by the profit principle. Better to have a Democratic system that enshrines the possibility of change than one that solidifies corporate power above all else. We need better school directors and administrators. That’s a temporal problem not solved by abolishing their very existence.
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Thanks for your thoughtful note, Steve.
Chartering does not abolish district public schools or district public school boards. It gives them a reason to be more responsive to innovative educators. Sometimes this happens.
For example, In Boston, the local teachers union has proposed allowing district teachers to create new options. The school board refused.
Then the charter law passed. The school board returned to the teachers union and said it wanted to move ahead with the union’s idea. The result: Pilot (district) public schools, which in many cases are terrific schools. District teachers were empowered.
Similar things have happened in other places.
in terms of corporate interests I have advocated strongly (and in many cases sucessfully) for strong authorizers that close down chartered public schools that are not transparent, are breaking state laws, and or are failing to improve student achievement.
We agree on the critical need for transparency in public funds. I think we agree on the importance of empowering educators (including district educators) to create the kinds of public schools, open to all, that they think make sense – so long as they are willing to be responsible for improving student achievement, measured in various ways.
Oh come on, Mr. Nathan. A lot of time has passed since you helped write the first charter school bill. It’s getting a little late to still be peddling the story that your intentions weren’t anti-public education. It’s well documented in this very article that you and Mr. Kolderie were coming from a fervent belief in the warped economics of Milton Friedman.
Sure, sometimes charter schools turn out okay. But that doesn’t mean the project isn’t demented. Sometimes you get good dictators, too, but the idea is a bad one. Stop pointing toward Caesar Augustus and pretend like that’s going to distract us from all the Caligula’s and Nero’s.
In point of fact, after all these decades, most charter schools are monsters devouring public funding and providing little return on that investment. They increase segregation, decrease accountability and hurt way more children than they help. Could we make a law that actually did all the thinks Shanker and others wanted? Maybe. But your charter school law isn’t it.
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Fortunately millions of American youngsters, families – especially low income and BIPOC families and educators are now empowered as they were not before.
Our intentions then and now are to expand opportunity and help more youngsters succeed – those mentioned above. In many places, that’s what happened.
Have you read what Kenneth Clark wrote? If so, what’s your reaction?
Have you talked with the 3 former teacher union presidents who are empowering Mn educators and families? If so, what’s your reaction to their efforts? Do you equate them with dictators?
Mr. Nathan, you’re describing an alternative reality that does not exist. After Donald Trump and Betsy Devos, this is plainly visible to everyone. Charter schools don’t empower people of color. They exploit them, and I detail it here: “Charter Schools Exploit Children of Color” https://gadflyonthewallblog.com/2019/12/09/charter-schools-exploit-children-of-color/
That’s why the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for moratoriums of new charter schools. You can’t ignore that. These are huge civil rights organizations representing the majority of black and brown people. You might be able to find a few true believers who still clutch to their chains, but the overwhelming majority has turned against your charter concept.
There’s no going back to your decades old cover story about charter schools. The curtain has been lifted. We all see the men and women behind it. It’s Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. It’s Milton Friedman and ALEC. And it’s you and Mr. Holderie.
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Let’s talk facts
1. Yes NAACP and the other organization you mentioned have called for a moratorium.
2. During the 1960’s there were massive disagreements agreements between African Americans about how to proceed. NAACP, SNCC, and other groups strongly disagreed. They pursued different strategies.
3. In total, Millions of African American, American Indian, Hispanic and Native Americans have left district public schools – voluntarily to enroll kids in charters.
4. I’m delighted to stand with among others, Kenneth Clark, Rosa Parks and a new generation of BIPOC leaders.
Mr. Nathan, only about 6% of all public school students attend charter schools. An additional 4% attend private and voucher schools. The overwhelming majority of American children – both children of color and others – attend authentic public schools. This is not a critical mass for charter schools. It does not represent a mass exodus or the desire by any majority to abandon public education for your tainted model. As shown by these sheer numbers and countless public opinion polls, most people are satisfied with the public school system. They don’t want the chance to maybe get a better option through privatized education that you’re advocating. They want the promise of an excellent school no matter where it is located. That’s a problem that can be fixed by strengthening the public school system, not by fragmenting it into disparate markets as you have enabled.
Moreover, it is highly dubious to include Rosa Parks as a charter school supporter as I explain here: “Did Rosa Parks Really Support Charter Schools?” https://gadflyonthewallblog.com/2020/01/29/did-rosa-parks-really-support-charter-schools/
You also forget that standing with you are such civil rights champions as Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. I am happy to stand with the Rev. William Barber II, Jitu Brown, Ibram X. Kendi, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Yohuru Williams, Denisha Jones, and countless other BIPOC leaders opposing the charter concept.
Fortunately a fundamental principle of America has been steady expansion of opportunity.
Every year the number and percentage of youngsters in charters grows – especially youngsters from low income and BIPOC families.
Fortunately – though not represented here, some district educators are working closely with charter educators on key issues such as reducing the # of youth and families experiencing homelessness, successfully challenged deeply flawed NCAA policies and other issues.
Once again that has nothing to do with your charter school law. Some school leaders go above and beyond, many do not. But the issue here is that your charter school law empowers those who want to profit off of children and families and not those who want to help. That is what we actually see in the overwhelming majority of cases – money wasted, districts further segregated, student services cut and charter operators laughing all the way to the bank.
The charter school movement in the past twenty years has been arguably the most potent and effective means to dismantle the public school system. Since President Bush No Child Left Behind education policy decisively support charter school, the corporate reformers use them, not coincidentally profiting in the process, and creating confusion, intimidation, and havoc on public school districts. Innovations or improvements to public education through competition have not materialized. What public schools advocates have endured is an unjustified invasion of charter schools achieved by means other than purely educational.
In the summary of the suggested reading the expression “realistic, aggressive, and viable competitors” to public schools evidence the real intention of the charter school proponents. The author wanted competition because it is the neoliberal ideology that supports that proposal. As educational policy foundation, competition was as invalid as a premise then as it is now. I argue that neither the inefficacy of the schools then and now, nor the “failure’ to provide quality education to minorities or underprivileged groups can have a long term solution simply by adding the variable of competition.
It is obvious by the state of public education now that improving the public school system was not a corporate reformers’ goal then. A look of the past thirty years can make anyone suspect that the corporate reformers’ unstated intention was dismantling the public school system, and eventually substituting it with a more accepted privatized form of education.
Shanker detected serious potential problems with charter schools and wrote in the NYT warning about it. Now, aside from the common cases of charter schools managers being accused of fraud, mishandling of money, or mismanagement, more and more public school districts face new and more complicated problems: the fracturing communities, the deserting of public schools, the funneling of even more public school funds toward charter schools, the challenging logistics created by charter school inside schools facilities, becoming a brand in order to compete in a market, and the imposition of neoliberal mantras.
Who wins, who loses, who cares?
American history shows a steady expansion of opportunity.
It also shows defenders of the establishment, regardless of race, ethnicity, etc, work very hard to prevent that from happening.
Mr. Nathan, didn’t your first charter school law pass in 1991? It’s kind of surprising that you’d describe a policy three decades old as a “steady expansion of opportunity,” especially in light of the mountains of evidence to the contrary that have piled up in all these years since. At some point you have to acknowledge that your policy has been an abject failure. At least, you’ll have to do that if you aren’t talking to the likes of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. On the other hand, they would welcome your “innovations” as thorough successes. You’re simply talking to the wrong people – those living in a fact based universe.
“Mr. Nathan, didn’t your first charter school law pass in 1991? It’s kind of surprising that you’d describe a policy three decades old as a ‘steady expansion of opportunity,'”
I do not think Mr. Nathan thinks of “opportunity” the same as most teachers do.
To Mr. Nathan, I suspect he sees “a steady expansion of opportunity” the way Milton Freedom would see it based on “Greed is Good,” a thought process that has nothing to do with educating children to become viable citizens of a representative Constitutional Republic.
No, I suspect Mr. Nathan sees “a steady expansion of opportunity” as more ways for the few to become rich, richer, and more powerful.
The US system of cutthroat capitalism eschewed by Miltion Freedom and forced on the country under President Ronald Reagan’s piss-on-the-working-class economy (they called it trickle-down back then – the selfish liars) has nothing to do with opportunities for everyone to improve their lifestyles through education but for the few to be able to get their dirty hand on the public’s money to enrich themselves and the hell with everyone else.
Nope, as a Paul Wellstone Democrat I see expanding opportunity as something that should open new options for low income youngsters and families – and educators willing to create new options or refine existing options.
As mentioned, our 3 children all attended and graduated from urban district public schools.
Over the last 50 years I’ve worked with district educators all over the country who often have faced the kind of vigorous opposition from school boards, central office administrators and fellow educators – as Al Shanker reported in the 1980’s – district educators who tried to create something new often were “treated like traitors or outlaws for moving outside the lockstep.”….in they somehow managed to create a new district option, they could look forward to insecurity, obscurity and outright hostility.”
Yes, true then, true now. I salute districts that truly do empower educators with great ideas willing to be held accountable. I salute charter educators that create new options helping youngsters with whom traditional districts are not doing well.
Expanding opportunity is not the same as new options – it is not more choice. It is excellence. No one wants more choice. They want an excellent education. There are too many choices already and most of them are terrible. And if we had fewer choices we could make sure those that are available were all excellent. It’s like TV – there are hundreds of channels but nothing good is on.
Also, you really need to stop invoking the name of Al Shanker because he turned against your idea of charter schools and the law you helped author. You’re pretending that decades of actual events didn’t happen. You’re trying to reset the story but it’s way too late. If you really want to salvage your legacy, you need to help stop the monster you let loose on the world.
Steve wrote in part “No one wants more choice. They want an excellent education.”
Actually, millions of low income families want more choices than the local board offers. That’s why they’ve enrolled their kids in charters. I agree they want a better education that is currently available.
“You’re pretending that decades of actual events didn’t happen.”
Actually, as an urban district educator, researcher, coordinator of a program for the National Governors association who has worked with educators, parents, students and legislators in more than 40 states, I am very aware of what’s happened all over the country over the last 50 years.
In many places, There’s massive resistance to educators who want to create new options; there’s massive resistance to families that want something more than districts offer, there’s massive frustration among innovative educators.
There also are scoundrels – some of whom operate in districts, some of whom operate in charters – who have ripped people off.
Educators, parents and families in many places have been treated badly by a deeply flawed, inequitable system.
Choice is not excellence. People like you have been trying to equate the two for decades. It’s false and most parents see that after all the charter school scandals. Once again, the percentage of kids attending charter schools is relatively small and would be even smaller if the authentic public school system weren’t systematically under-funded often because of unfair competition from charter schools. Next, you talk as if innovation and charter schools are synonymous. They’re not. In fact, most charter schools are data driven nightmares where standardized testing drives all instruction. They are more often than not regressive institutions that ironically get similar or worse academics than the neighborhood authentic public school. Do we need more innovation? Only if it leads to an excellent education. Innovation is not a good in itself, either. Are Families frustrated with the public school system? According to yearly PDQ polls, most are happy with their neighborhood schools. But, yes, we certainly need to improve things for students. It’s just that after three decades of charter school failures, your policy is not the way to do that. In fact, removing charters would lead to better results.
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I disagree with what you say and it is what you don’t say that reveals that you do not care about change unless someone profits from it.
If you really supported change, then publicly funded, private sector Charter schools would all have to play by the same rules K-12 public schools do just like private schools in Finland.
And, you’d be advocating that all schools be managed from the bottom up instead of the top down. Teachers would be the major decision marks when it comes to how to teach and what to teach and the materials they use. Nothing would be forced on them.
No high stakes rank and punish tests.
You would also support only teacher-made tests used by those same teachers to determine what works so they may adjust their lessons and material. That’s the way they do it in Finland and it works.
That is what I did for thirty years, and it worked in my classroom. I ignored the administrators forcing top-down crap on teachers, and did it my way. My kids still had to take those damned annual rank and punish tests but their gains were so high, no one questioned what I was doing.
No one cared to find out why Lloyd’s students were increasing their reading and writing skills so much faster and higher than the rest of the students their age in that district year after year. Not once. All the top was ever interested in was those Effeing test scores.
What this country has been doing to public education since Ronald Reagan’s lies in “A Nation at Risk” does not work. Top-down never works when it comes to education. Teachers must be the major decision-makers like in Finland and in Finland, all teachers, even in the private school, must be allowed to belong to labor unions.
America”s recent history has been written in neoliberal terms. The real establishment has taken effective steps towards privatization of public services, of which public education represents the jewels of the crown. The resistance was actually controlled so well that it has consisted of discrete voices from academia and activists. Even the teachers associations were helping in selling the free-market policies imported to public education.
I was a public school teacher for thirty years (1975-2005), and as I understood it for most of my career in teaching, charter schools were originally an alternative schools concept where these schools were still part of public school districts, but at this public schools (not the publicly funded, private sector Charter Schools we see today) teachers had more autonomy in how they teach and what they taught.
In fact, when I started teaching in 1975, the public school district where I taught had an alternative high school modeled on that theory. The teachers had much more autonomy than the teachers in the rest of that school district. A few months ago, I checked and that alternative high school was still in that school district.
That alternative school was still part of the same public school district. Those teachers belonged to the same teacher union that represents all of the other teachers in the same district.
That alternative high school’s mandate was to work with students that might not succeed in school and graduate from high school without a different environment that met their individual needs.
Yes, I agree that there are district schools of the kind you describe. In Minnesota and many other stats, alternative schools are found both as part of traditional and charter public school portions of public education. There’s some wonderful collaboration going on among these educators.
And, the only place this alternative theory of collaboration in K-12 public education should be taking place is inside real public school districts with elected school boards that answer to voters and parents.
Publicly funded, private sector charter schools are often if not always anchored on profit and not what’s best for teachers, parents, and children. CEOs that answer to billionaires and/or shareholders don’t care what’s in the best interest of children, parents, and teachers when they are under pressure to make the wealthy, richer while padding their own bank accounts. With them, profit comes first. That means cutting the cost of educating children to the bone explaining why the turnover of teachers is so high in private sector charter schools.
The bedrock and foundation of public edcucat6ion are professional, dedicated teachers that stay in the profession for 20 or more years.
“The odds of a charter school teacher leaving the profession versus staying in the same school were 130 percent greater than those of a traditional public school teacher. … EMO-managed charter schools did not have significantly different turnover rates than their non-EMO counterparts.”
Most if not all corporate-managed charter schools are more interested in the money and utilize bully tactics on children, parents, and teachers to make them easier to manage with no real interest in teaching children to become future citizens of the participatory Constitutional Republic we inherited from our Founding Fathers.
“Two of our greatest Founding Fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were fierce political adversaries. But in the first years of our nation, these rivals — with vastly different backgrounds and disparate political views — shared common ground. They both believed in the importance of funding public education.
“Rather than squabbling, Adams and Jefferson knew that public education was at the heart of democracy. “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,” wrote Adams. “There should not be a district of one-mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
For the character school concept to work within the public school system, public school teachers must be trusted and treated as professionals. That’s how Finland treats its teachers. In Finland, the public school teachers decide what’s going to be taught and how to teach it. No CEOs, office managers, and distant billionaires and stockholders are making any of the decisions in Finland’s public schools.
What’s even more interesting is that Finland allows publicly funded private K-12 schools but with one very large difference from the U.S. In Finland, the publicly-funded private schools must follow all the same rules/laws that the public schools must follow.
The original US charter school concept also did not include the idea of schools with no transparency that didn’t have to follow any rules. The original US charter school concept envisioned teachers in charge, not distant autocrats with only one goal, to make as much money as possible.
The K-12 public schools systems in the US, and it is arguably college at least for the first four or five years, should not be run as a profit-driven business.
Those students are the future of this country, and should not be treated like they are in some sort of military boot camp school where discipline and profit and the two major forces of all decisions from the top down.
Public schools should be managed from the bottom up and teachers should be major stakeholders in all decisions. Office managers should have one job only, to make sure the teachers get the classrooms and supplies they want to do their jobs as they see fit.
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It seems clear after reading the comments that the suspicion about charter schools being a corporate reformers’ privatizing tool is confirmed. The original selling points of being loyal and needed competition to public schools, or even places where creative teachers working free of constraints could come up with innovations are not even mentioned anymore.
What we see is the territorial dispute. Public schools losing population to charter schools is a positive sign and something corporate reformers enjoy as victories. Parents abandoning their public schools was their goal and they have achieve.
I for one advocate for all public school advocates –teachers, administrators, PTAs, and teachers unions, among others– to unite in a common message and campaign to restore the damaged image of public schools.
Arguing with those who profit and gain from the dismantling of public education is necessary and educational, but as long as they are in control of the narrative, the fate of public education is bleak.
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Joe Nathan wrote, “There also are scoundrels – some of whom operate in districts, some of whom operate in charters – who have ripped people off.”
Again, I repeat, what you don’t say reveals a lot about who you are. Ignoring my comments about Finland turning its schools into an incredible success story that Charter School supporters and public school critics in the US ignore and refuse to acknowledge is one example supporting what I think about you.
RE: scoundrels. I think the old saying, “It takes one to know one” applies here.
From the research I did on my own a few years ago I discovered that the majority of “scounderls” in education are involved with publicly funded, private sector Charter Schools, and those “scoundrels” do a lot more damage than an alleged scoundrel in a public school.
During my 30 years teaching in three schools in one public school district, I knew some scoundrels (a better term would be incompetent tyrants as in Traitor Trump) and most of them were administrators at the district level. There were a few teachers that crossed a line, but none of them were stealing millions and billions of public dollars. The few teachers I knew were not doing the job they should have but that was because they were burned out and were afraid to leave education after investing decades of their lives in that profession.
To survive physically and mentally, they stopped working as hard as they should have but stayed in the classroom.
There was a small study in Texas that revealed a third of the teachers in one tough public school had PTSD from teaching because of the stress and challenges that come with the job. I know all about PTSD. I joined the Marines after graduating from high school and ended up fighting in Vietnam in 1966. Living with PTSD is traumatic not only on the VICTIM, but his/her lovers, family, and friends. There are a lot more people living with PTSD in this world than combat vets with PTSD.
Since public schools are transparent in just about every way, including how the money is spent, and most if not all Charter Schools are as opaque and secretive as possible, the opportunities to rip off the public are overwhelming. That makes publicly funded, private sector charter schools a magnet for Trumpish scoundrels that would steal your false teeth if they could profit from it.
What you allege are scoundrels in public schools are not in the same league as the scoundrels in charter schools. The opportunities to rip the public off in public schools are risky ending with longer terms in jail for much lesser gain if money was involved.
The opportunities to rip the public off in the charter school sector are easy and many, and when caught, the punishment seldom fits the crime for the amount stolen.
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