by Max Brantley
Diane Ravitch takes down the myth that charter schools are public schools in any conventional sense of the words. Publicly financed, yes. Governed by the public? No. Sometimes operated for profit? Yes. Sometimes allowed to select student bodies? Yes. Resistant to outside inspection? Yes. Often more segregated? Yes. Anti-union? Most definitely.
Just because some group says its school is a public school doesn't make it one. Just because it gets public tax dollars doesn't make it a public school. We need to think more about what we mean by "public."
What concerns me most is the possibility that policymakers are promoting dual school systems: a privileged group of schools called charters that can select their students and exclude the ones that are hardest to educate; and the remaining schools composed of students who couldn't get into the charters or got kicked out. I wonder also whether it is wise in the long run to create one set of schools that is free from regulation and a competing set of schools that is subject to ever tighter regulation. What is the endgame? Is it our goal to undermine public education so thoroughly that teachers and students alike turn away from it?
It's been almost 60 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Have charters become a quiet way of reversing the Brown decision of 1954? I worry that we are slipping back into deeply ingrained patterns, based sometimes on race, sometimes on class, sometimes on ethnicity. We must think long-term and ask where we are heading.
The money has done its work in Arkansas. The Billionaire Boys Club has won. The next legislature will supercharge the charter movement in Arkansas, particularly in the regions the billionaires deem most in need (starting with union-friendly Pulaski County). In the course of that legislative express train, I do hope some of Ravitch's questions at least get a moment of consideration.