“Got school choice?” asks a charter school supporter.
But who exactly is she addressing – families or charter school operators?
Because it is the later group who is offered choice by school privatization – not parents, families or students.
Billionaire investors and charter school managers answer, “Heck yeah – we’ve got school choice! We get to choose to take your tax dollars but not your child!”
As we’ve seen in Part 1 of this article, charter schools unequivocally cherry pick the children who get to enroll there.
These institutions are funded by tax dollars but privately managed – and the private interests who run them get to decide how to spend that money with little oversight or strings attached. As businesses, they can increase their bottom line by letting in only the easiest kids to teach.
This is not opinion. It is fact.
Admittedly, every single charter school in the country is not guilty of this crime. Yet the charter concept explicitly allows such unscrupulous behavior, and it is widespread.
It’s like permitting a bank to work on the honor system – the safe being unlocked, people could just walk in and make withdrawals and deposits on their own. Not everyone would cheat, but that doesn’t make this a good way to safeguard your finances.
And that’s the situation at charter schools. Operators can pick and choose which students to enroll – so many do.
Charter school supporters usually respond to this critique in one of two ways. They either deny it happens or admit the truth while deflecting its importance.
In this article, we will be examining those who relent that charter school do, in fact, cherry pick students but claim there’s nothing wrong with that.
In particular, we will look at their claim that charter schools are doing nothing different than what authentic public schools do.
In sum, they’re claiming that “Everyone’s doing it!”
In truth, everyone is NOT doing it. School privatizers are doing it while the rest of us aren’t allowed to do it and actually try to equitably educate all the children in our neighborhoods.
THE “EVERYONE’S DOING IT!” EXCUSE
Some charter school apologists admit this much.
They see the mountain of evidence that cherry picking exists at their schools and concede the point.
However, they claim that this is a practice at authentic public schools as well. After all, public schools expel students for all sorts of reasons and even have special magnet schools that enroll only certain students.
One of the most frequent criticisms of authentic public schools is that they don’t give students and families enough choice. But that’s exactly what magnet schools are – institutions WITHIN the district that cater to individual choice and needs.
Magnet 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 around specific academic specialties.
Magnet schools are organized around a theme. This could be STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or fine and performing arts. As such, they cater to students with an interest and ability in that theme. This is not true of most charter schools, which have no particular theme or specialty.
The goal in magnet schools is to attract so many applicants that the school can select a racially diverse student body. However, this is exactly the opposite of what we find at charter schools where racial integration is extremely rare. As we’ve seen, many charter schools have students of one-race or ethnicity. Charters increase – not decrease – segregation wherever they are located.
Moreover, though a particular magnet school DOES allow only certain students enrollment, the public district does not. The district accepts everyone at SOME school within its boundaries. By comparison, charter schools are usually just one building and even when they are chains of schools owned and operated by the same people, they generally make no effort to accept all who apply.
There are many other differences between charter schools and magnet schools not the least of which is who runs them. Charters are often managed by appointed bureaucrats. Magnet schools are still run by the elected school board of the district. As such, they are still subject to all the rules and regulations of authentic public school districts. As we’ve seen, this is not true of charters.
In addition, many charter schools are run for-profit. Even those not directly labeled as such often contract with a for-profit management company thereby avoiding the negative connotations of the name while still indulging in the money-making practices. However, no authentic public schools do this. None. That removes the motivation for selective enrollment. Authentic public schools would get no financial benefit from doing so – in fact just the opposite.
One similarity about the two types of school, at least superficially, is enrollment. At both magnets and charters, admission is often determined by the use of a lottery system, due to high demand for limited seats.
In the 2015-16 school year, more than 2.6 million students were enrolled in magnet schools nationwide, compared with more than 2.8 million in charters across 43 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Does this mean that BOTH charter and magnet schools cherry pick students?
No, because of the most distinguishing feature between charters and authentic public schools: transparency.
When a charter school conducts a lottery, it does so behind closed doors. There is no one watching over its shoulder to make sure it is doing so fairly. And as we’ve seen those charter school lotteries result in student bodies that could not come from chance.
However, magnets are fully authentic public schools, which means that everything has to happen out in the open and in the light of day. Not only that but all nonsensitive public school documents are a matter of public record. Anyone can see that these lotteries are being conducted fairly, and the results of these lotteries produce much more equitable student distributions than we find at charter schools.
Magnet schools are like first class restaurants where the health inspector comes in and writes a glowing report of the kitchens. Charter schools are shady dives where the health inspector is not allowed where the food is prepared – ever.
Where would you take your family for dinner?
DISCIPLINE AND EXPULSIONS
Putting aside the issue of magnet schools, some critics of authentic public schools claim that they still engage in selective enrollment through discipline and expulsion policies.
But there are big differences in the ways both types of school engage in disciplinary actions.
Charter schools are known for excessive discipline policies that encourage difficult children to go elsewhere. They also kick out kids with behavior problems.
Do authentic public schools do the same?
Yes and no.
It has been documented that all school types suspend and expel black students at a higher rate than white students. However, the most draconian discipline policies – such as those designated zero tolerance – are to be found at charter schools.
Authentic public schools are restrained by state and federal law in this regard coupled with increased transparency. There’s less they’re legally allowed to do and a greater chance they’d get caught if they tried to do it anyway.
However, the biggest difference is one of motivation.
Think about it.
Charter schools only gain by getting rid of difficult children. It costs them less money to educate more well-behaved students and increases academic outcomes that they can use as marketing materials to entice greater enrollment.
Authentic public school districts lose out when students go elsewhere because they still are responsible for those students.
Authentic public school districts must ensure that all children living in their communities get a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This is true whether a child attends the district or not.
If a child goes to a neighborhood charter school, the public school district has to pay that charter school to educate him or her. If the child has such special needs that make it necessary for him or her to attend a school outside of the district that specializes in ways to meet those needs, the district is responsible for paying. And in this case the cost will almost definitely be greater than the district receives in tax revenue – by orders of magnitude.
It costs authentic public school districts much more money to expel or outsource services for a child than to keep him or her in the district. Public schools are encouraged to find ways to meet student needs WITHIN the district and to send them elsewhere only as a last resort.
Even a child who attacked classmates in school with a weapon and ended up in jail would be the district’s responsibility. The district would still have to pay to educate that child at an alternative sight – probably in the prison system.
Authentic public schools are even responsible for homeless students and undocumented children.
But it’s not present in charter schools.
Charter schools are there to make a buck. If administrators don’t see how to do that with a given child, it makes economic sense to get rid of that child.
Not so at your local, neighborhood authentic public school.
So we’ve seen that charter schools really do cherry pick which students to enroll.
It’s all about the Benjamins.
Families with the easiest kids to educate are encouraged to enroll and all others are dissuaded away. Charters pick and choose between applicants often relying on test scores and academic records. And they kick out or otherwise encourage difficult students to find an education elsewhere – usually the local neighborhood authentic public school.
Moreover, these practices are radically different than what you find at authentic public schools.
It’s true that public districts sometimes include magnet schools organized around a theme that use lotteries to determine which kids get enrolled there. However, the standards of transparency are so much higher at public schools and the results so much more equitable that any charge of unfairness is much harder to support.
In addition, it’s true that public schools also discipline and sometimes expel students. But the discipline policies at public schools are never as extreme as the zero tolerance policies you’ll find at many charter schools.
Finally, expelling a difficult student is all gain for a charter school and all cost at authentic public districts. No matter which school a student attends, the district where that child resides is still responsible for FAPE, and the cost of educating that child outside the district is nearly always greater than inside the district.
These are just some of the reasons why the charter school experiment should end.
No reform in the world can make equity out of schools that are by definition “separate but equal.”
Schools paid for with tax dollars need to be accountable and transparent. And the only way to do that is to rip up every bogus charter contract in the country and make them all abide by the same rules and regulations that ensure every child gets the high quality education he or she deserves.
In other words, reverse the privatization. Public-ize them all.
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