I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Charters = Wal-Mart

Laura Waters - a local school board president herself - does not want to give local boards veto power over charter schools expanding into their districts. To make her case, she badly mangles a metaphor:
Education Sector notes that school boards “are often hostile to charter schools, which compete with them for students, funds, and prestige,” adding that “state charter laws that allow only local school boards to authorize charters,” with no appeals process, “can result in very few charter schools in that state.” A cynic would say that this is Assemblyman Diegnan’s intention. After all, giving school boards sole authority to grant approval for new local charters is like giving Wal-Mart sole authority to grant approval for new local merchandisers. Taking it one step further -- consigning such approval to a local referendum -- is a political calculus, not an educational one. [emphasis mine]
Let's take a moment to appreciate how Waters has actually flipped the Wal-Mart analogy on its head. Because it's not local school boards that are most like the big box retailer; it's the charter schools.

There's a lot of controversy about the actual effect of Wal-Mart on a local economy, but there's little debate that an effect actually exists. You simply can't put a huge national retailer into a community and not expect changes, good or bad, to happen.

It's the same with charters. Their cheerleaders will try to convince you that charters have no impact on local public schools because education funds are "dedicated to children, not districts." But charters are, in fact, funded by their sending districts. And because those districts have fixed costs, and because charters tend to not take the children who are most expensive to educate - ESL students, special education students, children in poverty, etc. - the revenues that local districts must give to charters have an impact on the feeding schools. It's foolish to pretend otherwise.

Given that, who else beside the local schools authority should have the final say about charters? Who else has the responsibility to protect the interests of the children in their schools? And why should local school boards have to sit by and dish out money to support schools over which they have no say?

The notion that Wal-Mart makes local businesses better through competition is simply silly; same with the effect of charters on public schools, which, unlike charters, must take all comers. Waters has this totally backwards; yet she seems to think the policy allowing charters to be granted without consent of local school boards is grounded in research:
Critics of our 14-year-old charter school law are buttressed by various national research organizations that evaluate state charter school legislation and find ours lacking. The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), for example, ranks New Jersey 31st out of 42 states with charter school laws.
We lose points on funding inequities between traditional (district) and independent (charter) public schools and a certain lack of transparency. Most critically, New Jersey relies on a single entity to authorize new charters (the education commissioner), despite mounds of data that proves that effective laws invest “multiple authorizers” with approval authority. [emphasis mine]
"Mounds of data"? From whom? From NAPCS, which is basically a charter industry shill? Hunt around the website for a while and see if you can find "mounds of data" that confirm a positive benefit for multiple authorizers of charter schools. The best I could find was in the charter school "model law" created by NAPCS; however, it contains no research backing up the contention that multiple authorizers lead to better educational outcomes.

Now, I suppose we could debate what makes a charter law "effective." It seems to me an "effective" law would be one that produces better academic results, for charters and for the total public school population. The NAPCS "model law" report cites Alexander RussoNelson SmithThe Fordham InstituteLouann Bierlein Palmer, and others: but none show any positive outcomes that come from denying local school districts the authority to have veto power over charters. (In fact, glancing at these policy briefs, I get the sense that the case they make for charter expansion is rather weak.)

In truth, the NAPCS Model Law Database is like so many other think-tanky education policy "report cards": the rankings are based on what the think tank wants, but not on what they can show actually works with research. So let's not pretend for a second that there are "mounds of data" that show authorizer expansion will be great for New Jersey; those mounds are a figment of Waters' imagination. That includes her citation of the Center for Education Reform: they make the case that multiple authorizers lead to more charters, but they don't show that the charters - or all of the schools - do any better.

Which is the entire point of giving local school boards veto power over charters: they are best positioned to understand whether a charter is needed in their school district. As I've said many times, I am not against all charters: I started my career at a charter. But no one should expect a school district to allow a charter to come into their community to the detriment of the students who will not be attending the school.

And if you think your school board is too anti-charter, there's a simple solution: run yourself. Why, you could even run in Lawrence, NJ - where Laura Waters serves - and explain to your constituents the many benefits of having a charter in your community...

Coming soon to Lawrence, NJ?

1 comment:

Deb said...

I am grateful that you took the time to respond to the ill informed, illogical posts of Ms. Waters. I remain stunned that her community voted to have her on a school board when I read her posts.