Public Schools Beat Charter Schools

We know about how charter schools compare to public schools from a “national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond (the wife of eminent statistician Eric Hanushek). Known as the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent,” reports Diane Ravitch in “The Myth of Charter Schools.”

On the predatory neoliberal claim that micromanaging and firing teachers will enable the remaining, ill-compensated teachers to single-handedly substitute for a missing welfare state and constructive equality:

“Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.”

On the predatory neoliberal comparison of public schools in poor neighborhoods with a couple of massively-funded charter schools, that, it turns out, don’t perform much better than the average, underfunded public schools, especially given these charters’ extremely high cost, and which just kick the students out on the street when the children can’t supply the stats to justify the charter business:

“Geoffrey Canada is justly celebrated for the creation of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which not only runs two charter schools but surrounds children and their families with a broad array of social and medical services. Canada has a board of wealthy philanthropists and a very successful fund-raising apparatus. With assets of more than $200 million, his organization has no shortage of funds. G. Canada himself is currently paid $400,000 annually. For charter-school advocates, including filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, to praise G. Canada while also claiming that public schools don’t need any more money is bizarre. G. Canada’s charter schools get better results than nearby public schools serving impoverished students. If all inner-city schools had the same resources as his, they might get the same good results.

But contrary to the myth that Guggenheim propounds about “amazing results,” even Geoffrey Canada’s schools have many students who are not proficient. On the 2010 state tests, 60 percent of the fourth-grade students in one of his charter schools were not proficient in reading, nor were 50 percent in the other. It should be noted—and Guggenheim didn’t note it—that G. Canada kicked out his entire first class of middle school students when they didn’t get good enough test scores to satisfy his board of trustees. This sad event was documented by Paul Tough in his laudatory account of G. Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, Whatever It Takes (2009). Contrary to Guggenheim’s mythology, even the best-funded charters, with the finest services, can’t completely negate the effects of poverty…

Another highly praised school that is featured in the film is the SEED charter boarding school in Washington, D.C. SEED seems to deserve all the praise that it receives from Guggenheim, CBS’s 60 Minutes, and elsewhere. It has remarkable rates of graduation and college acceptance. But SEED spends $35,000 per student, as compared to average current spending for public schools of about one third that amount. Is our society prepared to open boarding schools for tens of thousands of inner-city students and pay what it costs to copy the SEED model? Those who claim that better education for the neediest students won’t require more money cannot use (these charters) to support their argument.”

On the predatory neoliberal promotion of micromanagey-student testing and proletarianizing teaching:

“Guggenheim ignored other clues that might have gotten in the way of a good story. While blasting the teachers’ unions, he points to Finland as a nation whose educational system the US should emulate, not bothering to explain that it has a completely unionized teaching force. His documentary showers praise on testing and accountability, yet he does not acknowledge that Finland seldom tests its students. Any Finnish educator will say that Finland improved its public education system not by privatizing its schools or constantly testing its students, but by investing in the preparation, support, and retention of excellent teachers. It achieved its present eminence not by systematically firing 5–10 percent of its teachers, but by patiently building for the future. Finland has a national curriculum, which is not restricted to the basic skills of reading and math, but includes the arts, sciences, history, foreign languages, and other subjects that are essential to a good, rounded education. Finland also strengthened its social welfare programs for children and families. Guggenheim simply ignores the realities of the Finnish system…

(N)ations with high-performing school systems—whether Korea, Singapore, Finland, or Japan—have succeeded not by privatizing their schools or closing those with low scores, but by strengthening the education profession. They also have less poverty than we do. Fewer than 5 percent of children in Finland live in poverty, as compared to 20 percent in the United States. “

Do you see a systematic picture yet of what is wrong with the US and its sorry-assed leadership? How can leaders so wealthy be so bankrupt when it comes to ideas and policies?

Perhaps it’s because their lousy ideas keep the elite and the elite alone above the crises they inflict.

Hedge fund managers are the machine behind the US campaign to privatize education. Hedge fund managers don’t do anything for altruistic or public-good reasons. They have an abiding interest in promoting a high-inequality society: Their wealth comes from being able to exclusively control resources, commandeering social wealth (appropriating wealth, for example, currently “locked up” in working class people’s property) to gamble with it. They may liberally seed media, think tanks, and politics with a small percentage of their appropriated wealth, but hedge fund managers’ apotheosis depends on reducing the mass of people to powerlessness and poverty.

We have to keep our eyes on a larger framework: If engaged members of society want to improve the efficiency and performance of institutions, such as education, then we will have to design, innovate and institutionalize policies and practices that contribute to increasing equality and decreasing poverty. Privatization–taking institutions designed to achieve broader goals and converting them to the singular cause of accumulating profit for a few–is socially-irrational, socially-inefficient, expensive, corrupt (encourages graft), unfocused, de-optimizing, and wasteful. Privatization worsens inequality, positional goods inflation, opacity and disinformation, poverty, and the costs of poverty. That is why it is precisely the path to perdition in many areas of goods and services provision.

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