Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Charter school movement reaches the every faction for itself phase

Jennifer Berkshire  points us to this article from Chalkbeat:

Has the charter school movement gone awry? A new book says yes, and it’s causing a stir
By Matt Barnum

It's an interesting discussion, but one that arguably tells us more about the debaters than about the nominal topic. Until recently one of the fundamental characteristics of the education reform movement was the way various factions saw it as the coming fulfillment of their often very different and sometimes mutually exclusive desires. It would close the achievement gap, bring back old-fashioned rigor, fix the economy, remove the yoke of excessive government. The optimistic assumption of each group was that, if everything changed, it might just change in their favor.

There were always two dominant factions. The first was technocrats. These were scientific management types whose specific ideas and general worldview owed everything to MBA programs and corporate culture (with a dollop of freshwater economics added.) It was no coincidence that the man who was arguably the founding father of the movement, David Coleman, came from a background not of education but of management consulting.

The second group was antigovernment, anti-regulation, antiunion (in many cases, socially reactionary). A nontrivial segment of this faction had started out in the pro-voucher movement until that had crashed and burned years earlier.

In many ways, the goals of the two factions were diametrically opposed. One was economically focused and socially progressive, looking not just to close the achievement gap but to end poverty through innovation and technology. The other was focused on tradition conservative goals. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), the two groups shared a libertarian tilt and a great faith in market-based solutions. Perhaps more importantly, though, both saw the tremendous buzz and bipartisan support for education reform as the best chance they had to advance their objectives.

Along with entitlement reform and balancing the budget, education reform was the sacred cow of public policy initiatives, one of the very few issues that respectable publications like the New York Times could and would present only the pro side for.

Of course, that was then. Topics like charter school initiatives, standardized testing, and common core have become highly controversial, and the result has been a fraying of alliances within the movement.

Which brings us to this
The book, a collection of essays edited by the Center for Education Reform’s Jeanne Allen and Cara Candal and the Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, makes the case that the charter school movement has gone awry: it’s over-regulated, hyper-focused on tests, and dismissive of families.

They appear to have an ally in U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. In a recent speech to charter school leaders, DeVos criticized lengthy charter applications, warning that “many who call themselves ‘reformers’ have instead become just another breed of bureaucrats.”

What’s needed now, the book’s authors say, is more innovation and less of a focus on test results. That argument prompted Checker Finn, the former president of the Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education think tank, to call the book “idiocy.” In an email exchange among a number of well-known education reformers, Allen shot back, saying Finn was “catching the same disease that befell Diane Ravitch,” the school choice advocate-turned-reform-critic.

Allen and Eden say charter school advocates can be divided into two camps.

In one corner are “system-centered reformers,” who, in the authors’ telling, trust tests to measure school performance and trust themselves to oversee those schools.

In the other are “parent-centered reformers.” They want to see a system “where educational entrepreneurs are freer to open new schools and parents decide which schools should close and which should expand based on whether they want to send their children there.” DeVos — who appeared at a private reception held by Allen’s Center for Education Reform in June — has described her vision in similar terms.

Eden and Allen close the book with recommendations that include expanding the number and type of charter authorizers, ensuring charters are not bound by teacher certification rules, and reducing charter school regulations.

One interesting point here is that neither side is taking a particularly popular stance. Rather they are dividing up the unpopular parts of their once shared platform.

The excessive amount of time spent both directly and indirectly on standardized testing has become highly controversial, as has the use of test scores for the promotion or firing of teachers, the allocating resources, and the closing of schools. The backlash has led to, among the things, an opt-out movement that threatens the entire system. Likewise, the technocrats other favorite policy, Common Core, has reached punchline status.

But the positions on the other side have no great popular support either. The term "deregulation" scores high with fellows at the Cato Institute, but it doesn't have much resonance with the public. What's worse, when you dive down into the specifics, you quickly get to things like the mistreatment of the disabled, corruption/self-dealing and excessive compensation for founders and executives. There is no powerful grassroots movement pushing for kicking LD kids to the curb or giving million-dollar bonuses to the CEOs of charter schools. And, contrary to what the authors may think, it is remarkably difficult to find a parent who wants to see fewer certified teachers in his or her child's school.

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