Sunday Sermon: Collins on Charter Schools

Curse you Gail Collins and your evidence! Last week, Gail Collins wrote a good op-ed about education 'reform.' While it's probably not anything too new for regular readers, it's good to see that the Rockefeller Republican/neo-liberal educational propaganda isn't being swallowed hook, line, and sinker. First, on charter schools (italics mine):

But plot-wise, the movie seems to suggest that what's needed is more charter schools, which get taxpayer dollars but are run outside the regular system, unencumbered by central bureaucracy or, in most cases, unions. However, about halfway through, the narrator casually mentions that only about a fifth of American charter schools "produce amazing results."

In fact, a study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that only 17 percent did a better job than the comparable local public school, while more than a third did "significantly worse." I'm still haunted by a debate I stumbled across in the Texas Legislature a decade ago in which conservatives repelled any attempt to impose accountability standards on the state's charter schools, even after only 37 percent of the charter students passed state academic achievement tests, compared with 80 percent of the public schoolchildren. There's something about an unfettered school that lifts the hearts of the Born Free crowd.

And on unions:

That's unarguable, and the Obama administration's Race to the Top program has turned out to be a terrific engine for forcing politicians and unions and education experts to create better ways to get rid of inept or lazy teachers. But there's no evidence that teachers' unions are holding our schools back. Finland, which is currently cleaning our clock in education scores, has teachers who are almost totally unionized. The states with the best student performance on standardized tests tend to be the ones with the strongest teachers' unions.

I couldn't agree more. I'll simply note that, nationally, African-American students have made tremendous gains over the last three decades, propaganda notwithstanding. During that time, our teachers were heavily unionized. If 'reformers' are to blame teachers for students' failures--and I think they place too much blame and credit on teachers regarding outcomes--then they also have to recognize the spectacular job U.S. teachers have done. Admittedly, the gap hasn't closed (white students have made gains too, although not as impressive during that time), but I wouldn't describe it as a failure.

'Reformers' can't have it both ways: either teachers get the blame and the credit, or the faults lie primarily elsewhere.

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I have been in the midst of the Texas reform movement. The study cited is severely skewed, in that one of the requirements for being awarded a charter is that they will service a population that is not being served, or served well by the public system. As a result, the charter schools in Texas are FILLED with at-risk, low S-E-S, and LD students.

There are also studies I can cite that demonstrate an inverse relationship to union strength measures to student performance. Studies are only as good as the objectivity of those doing the study.

As a professional educator (OK, science teacher), I can assure you here in the upper midwest, it is not the union that is at issue. The union here does not support teachers who are not doing their jobs. The true issue is administration who is unwilling to do their jobs. They are not willing/able to monitor, provide assistance/professional development, nor to follow through on firing of teachers who are lacking in the classroom (because of the previous two issues).

@Bob Bryant: Can you provide links to any of those studies demonstrating an inverse relationship between union strength and student performance? You're absolutely right that results are only as reliable as the motives of those who conduct the studies (at best), and every example I've ever seen of the kind of study you mention was sponsored by union-busters.

mericans as a nation are dumb. Really fucking dumb. The Pew [religious knowledge] survey, the Tea Party, or the afternoon baseball call-in show on WFAN underscore the point that Americans will fail a quiz about any topic you can throw at them. Americans will make crappy, emotional, illogical arguments about whatever subject holds their interest, from the Supreme Court to the World Cup. We have systematically devalued and dismantled education in this country to the point that the Japanese, Europeans, and so on aren't just beating us at math and science. They can beat us at essentially anything, be

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