The Charter School Myth
Taxpayers in Philadelphia are justified in questioning the tremendous amount of money spent by the SDP on outsourcing, including but not limited to outsourcing to companies such as Cambridge tasked with evaluating the quality of Philadelphia schools and companies charged with turning failing schools around. I have a suggestion for much less expensive, but probably much more enlightening techniques, if the goal is truly to uncover the secret to creating a successful school. (Note that the money saved could then be used to further enhance educational programs!)
First, and most importantly, we need to recognize——and publicize—- that there are highly successful non-charter public schools in Philadelphia where students are challenged to achieve at high levels, where the climate is secure and welcoming to families, and where a true learning community has been created by talented teachers, administrators, and community helpers. I have never understood why we don’t use these thriving schools——and the creative leaders that run them—— as the models for remaking schools that are struggling, without having to turn schools over to for-profit education “corporations.” Or why don’t we officially expand these top-notch neighborhood schools to accommodate students who have been underserved? ….Unless the goal of SDP administrators is to move ever closer to total privatization…
Second, SRC testimony by parents, students, staff and community members from Philadelphia charter schools——including schools that are threatened with closure because of underperformance—— reveals precisely the qualities that these stakeholders value in a school. It is inspiring to hear stories of how students once poorly served by their failing neighborhood school have been transformed into high achievers and leaders, how parents have been welcomed as partners in these schools, and how the corporate CEOs have succeeded in creating a secure climate (even when we as community members know that this climate may look more like a military operation than a school). But wait: These are precisely the qualities that we see in our many successful neighborhood schools already. Make use of valuable internal resources for once? Great idea, but rarely done in Philadelphia.
Speakers from charter schools are adamant that their schools are successful only because the charter company has ridden in on a white horse——or a luxury SUV from the suburbs—- to save them. I admire the marketing and frankly, brainwashing, that have been used by these charter companies to create and propagate this MYTH: Neighborhood school=bad, charter school=our savior. The speakers are undeterred by disappointing test scores, apparent financial hanky-panky, or whiplash-inducing teacher turnover. These schools promise hopeful parents a bright future for their children, and no amount of evidence will destroy their fervent beliefs. Further, I am troubled by unethical marketing by charter corporations to immigrant families, where students are “accepted” or “offered a slot” at a charter school, as if the charter school is Harvard University. For these families who may not understand their various options and the history behind charters, this amounts to educational skulduggery that—-where there is limited support for language learners——results in years of slowed progress.
In too many cases, this charter school myth is a cruel fallacy and a promise unfulfilled.