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Update: Stop Pretending Charters Are All Like KIPP

Tumblr_lmvejp8UIz1qhsl72o1_500 Charter supporters slammed me last week for raising quality control issues and raining on their conference week parade even though I'm not ideologically opposed to charters. Today on NPR  ('What Happens When Charter Schools Fail') and a recent series of stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer (here) they're looking into the issue in Philadelphia, where there are just seven people overseeing 74 charters (19 of whom are under investigation of one kind or another).

Some really good charters there, no doubt, but wide variations and limited oversight / quality control as in many other places (even including Chicago, where the district is the authorizer and the caps have been pretty tight).  

What you gonna do about, charter supporters /operators/ authorizers?  Pretend everyone's KIPP and hope people continue to ignore the issue, or take the lead and clean things up before states and Congress come to their senses and do it for you?


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A third option you don't mention (surprising since you once taught in a fine private school) is to depend upon the same market forces that operate in the private education market to ferret out sleazy operators and to shut down inferior schools. As non-profits, charter schools are subject to the same IRS reporting and conflict-of-interest requirements as similar businesses in other fields, including those pertaining to their larger philanthropic contributors. Their boards are similarly held responsible for ordinary fiduciary oversight. Active members of the schools' communities can be expected to attend annual general and other meetings of schools where budgetary matters are discussed, and will ask questions, as in the NPR radio story that led to uncovering some gross mismanagement. The news media will likely pick up particularly egregious practices, as they have in this case. It won't be perfect, but it's not like you don't get mismanagement and conflict-of-interest violations in traditional public schools. We had a major, multi-million dollar fiasco at Locke a few years before you began covering the school, and we were hardly alone.

"Market forces" don't operate when you're marketing on the taxpayers' dime, Bruce. You are looking toward Pakistan for a model of education reform policy?

Mary, governments provide billions of dollars worth of contracts in all kinds of fields, and some of this money gets spent on marketing. The more appropriate model of education reform policy I think we should look at is Singapore. There, although the government maintains a monopoly on education for local primary schools, secondary education provides wide-ranging competition, and every school must compete to draw applications from families. This has, I think, a lot to do with why Singapore has one of the world's most admired and studied school systems. Of course, people who don't study education and other social issues from a comparative (as well as historical) perspective may be confused or alarmed about these matters, but being open-minded and learning about them can easily solve these problems.

"Market forces" and "money spent on marketing" are two different things. Try to focus. You offer a formulaic general dismissal of criticism in this familiar meme:

"Of course, people who didn't study XXX may be confused or alarmed about these matters, but being open-minded and learning about them can easily solve these problems."

Maybe you're adressing an imagined audience or a voice inside your own head when you characterize my discourse as confused, alarmed, and not open-minded. You're unlikely to convince me.

Optimistically, about six other people will ever read these comments, though. If Alexander reads comments on previous days' posts, I would commend him for noticing that "market forces" don't compete for customers when they suckle at the government teat (the biggest, greediest piglet gets the taxpayer's cash). That's why Broad recruits military procurement officers instead of combat soldiers - they have a proven record of making the taxpayers' money flow.

Business ethics holds that any dirty trick that makes money is fair and admirable, in the end. We are looking at a scenario where the for-profit reform industry as a whole is ascendant in regulatory capture, media control, and legislative and executive influence. The public education system of a great people is lying helpless at your feet, guys. You know better than to queer the deal by calling on the attorney general to regulate you in the courts.

The judicial branch still has some punch left. Alexander is very correct that charter operators need a heads up. In today's news, the New York attorney general is moving in on Believe Charters:

And the determined defenders of the "moribund status quo" are breathing, as best we can, a little sigh of triumph.

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