A Defense of Charter Schools

Charter schools received much criticism over the last several years–most recently by John Oliver in a viral segment–as the Obama Administration promoted their growth through Race to the Top initiatives.  Former Secretary Arne Duncan penned a defense of charter schools, suggesting that critics in the blogosphere are contributing to the problem.  He calls it “bloodless” at one point.  Here’s a clip:

Yet I absolutely reject the idea that poverty is destiny in the classroom and the self-defeating belief that schools don’t matter much in the face of poverty. Despite challenges at home, despite neighborhood violence, and despite poverty, I know that every child can learn and thrive. It’s the responsibility of schools to teach all children—and to have high expectations for every student, rich and poor. I learned that lesson firsthand in my mother’s after-school tutoring program—and I saw it in action in my visits to many of the gap-closing charter schools featured in this book. High-performing charters are one more proof positive that, as President Obama says, “the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.”

Sadly, much of the current debate in Washington, in education schools, and in the blogosphere about high-performing charter schools is driven by ideology, not by facts on the ground. Far too often, the chief beneficiaries of high-performing charter schools—low-income families and children—are forgotten amid controversies over funding and the hiring of nonunion teachers in charter schools. Too often, the parents and children who are desperately seeking better schools are an afterthought.

I grant that this is a complicated topic.  One key thing to consider, though, is this: How is Duncan defining “great” schools and success?  The answer to this question is, for me, a real problem.  His implied definition relies on high-stakes testing and his own reform movement overly defined education by “academics” rather than also pushing forcefully to reform wrap-around services, the arts, leisure, and nutrition in schools.  Let’s learn from this.

Read the rest @ The Atlantic

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