by Max Brantley
Last Sunday, the New York Times magazine carried an article by Stephen Brill making the case for charter schools on the strength of a school in Harlem divided into a charter school and a regular public school. The charter got better results for less money, Brill wrote. I expect to see the piece in the Sunday DOG before long.
Should it be republished, I don't expect to see any links to this Media Matters article on the piece. It draws on reporting by a Washiington Post article that outlines a significant flaw in Brill's thesis. The writer at the Post (generally friendly to charter schools) notes that the schools' student bodies are by no means similar. The conventional public school has more poor students, more severly disabled students, more special ed students and more students whose original language is not English,. Plus, one in every 10 students is homeless (versus a total of three homeless students in the charter school). Brill compared apples to watermelons, in other words.
These bogus comparisons are a familiar tactic of charter school advocates. The Washington Post writer included a paragraph you're not likely to find in the Democrat-Gazette, where publisher Walter Hussman is one of the state's biggest backers of charter schools, particularly where they damage the Little Rock School District.:
Traditional public schools have to educate every student who is eligible to enroll. They can't counsel students out, as many charters do, or select who they want. This is not an excuse for bad schools. But it is part of the reason that the job of the traditional public school system, which still educates about 95 percent of all schoolkids, is far more complicated than many reformers today would have you believe.