Polarizing charters

Charter schools offer choice, not a particular educational or political ideology, writes Samuel Freedman, the New York Times’ first-rate education writer. He’s implicitly rebutting the Times’ editorial on its AFT-inspired charter school story.

The instant polarization that followed the charter school report misrepresented the issue in dangerous ways. Simply because the Bush administration supports charter schools does not make charter schools a Republican cause to be dragged into this divisive, bitter presidential campaign. Democrats as prominent as former President Bill Clinton also promoted charter schools, and so have many black leaders, whose communities are most ill-served by the status quo in public education.

Nor is there even a discernible charter school movement, if by that one means a unifying philosophy. All that binds together the nation’s 3,000 charter schools is their ability to operate free of the existing local bureaucracy. On the ground, charter schools range from ultraprogressive to determinedly back-to-basics, with operators as divergent as private companies, nonprofit social service organizations, and coalitions of parents.

I’m working on a freelance piece on the tendency to make all education policy about politics instead of being about education.

About Joanne


  1. Hunter McDaniel says:

    You describe the tendency to make all education policy about politics. I would use the word “control’ but we probably mean the same thing.

    In our district there was one alternative school which had been in operation for about 5 years when it turned charter for some fairly minor reasons. Afterwards, the school staff were surprised at how much hostility they encountered from district staff they had worked with for years. Nothing in the school’s educational philosophy had changed, just who had ultimate control – and to the district that mattered more than anything else.

  2. I think that what she means is that discussion by people external to the school system falls along political lines. Lots of my friends that know nothing about their local schools vehemently support issues based on their political leanings, and the ones without kids are the most vehement.

    I expect the people in the school district to resent losing control, even if they think that the idea might be good in the next district over. A Republican friend of mine got elected to a school board and is now against vouchers, at least for their district.

  3. I think that charter schools are an attempt to again segregate the schools nationwide. It is nothing more than white-flight disguised as a new-age alternative.

    We have failed our children in allowing the public schools system to fall into disrepair. We should in my opinion, fix what’s broken and not fly to the hills and leave the poor valley dwellers to fend for themselves in the ongoing information tsunami.

    But then, that would be antithetical to this nation’s legacy. The real legacy of this nation is one of pillage, plunder, exclusion and ultimately cultural extinction under the guise of assimilation. The civil rights movement was just a blip on the radar screen. We are more racially divided than ever and the charter school movement will bring that fact into clear focus shortly. Check.

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    So let me get this straight, poet. Taking a black kid out of a failing, chaotic all-black school, and putting him in, say, a KIPP charter school, also all-black, but where he will learn solid academic schools that will give him a real future- this promotes segregation? Even by troll standards your logic is pretty scewy.

  5. Mad Scientist says:

    Reading poet’s posts brings to mind theAmericanist – without the air of the all-knowing, smarter-than-anyone-else-on-the-planet vibe.

    Seems he is as much as a racist as he claims “whitey” is.

    Truly disgusting.

  6. Steve LaBonne says:

    Solid academic “skills” not “schools”- I really must learn that preview is my friend. 😉

  7. Steve LaBonne,

    You fail to mention the obstacles that predominately black or other minority charter schools are ALREADY encountering when trying to secure federal/state funds.

    That’s the catch. The white elitist charter schools will not have problems getting funded, which brings us back to pre-civil rights act school systems, separate and UNEQUAL. The fact that you and others spew vitriolic responses exposes the fact that you feel guilty and further that you know I am telling the truth.

    That white-flight in the schools is taking place is visually and certifiably evident. What confuses me is that what ultra-conservative race separatists think they are running from (e.g. violence, exotic cultures, etc. ) follow them right to the halls of their “lilly white” schools. Case in point, Columbine. Check.

  8. Steve LaBonne says:

    Nice way to change the subject. Well, actually it was a pretty clumsy attempt to change the subject, but I’m trying to be positive here. 😉

    Seriously, ANBODY, left or right, who treats kids as political footballs or meal tickets rather than ends in themselves, makes me sick. I don’t give a damn who gets what money how or where, as long as kids learn what they need to learn. They’re our future.

  9. Steve I just think that we should not encourage segregated schools. All schools in the United States (public schools) should have EQUAL funding from state and federal sources. We must not have rundown schools in one city and palaces in the next. Charter schools promote that same separate and unequal structure.

    I know what it’s like to be discriminated against as a school-age child. During the early sixties, (our white school STILL had not obeyed the order to integrate) our school received SECOND HAND books from the white school with pages missing, dirty grimey exteriors. We NEVER once had new books or supplies. Not ONCE. The danger of charter schools is that many of them will wind up the same way, BEING DISCRIMINATED against by racist people at the controls of the funds disbursement. Thats ALWAYS the problem. If you don’t know that, then you are ignorant. And I mean that in a respectful way. But truth is truth. Ignorance is not an insult, it just means you are maybe blissfully unaware of some nasty people in this society who are in HIGH places. The racists are still entrenched. Until the die out or inter-racial marriage removes the color line, they will be a problem.

    Hooray for the “browning of America”.

  10. Steve LaBonne says:

    Priority 1: EFFECTIVE schools. Everything else can wait. Many evil consequences have flowed from the misuse of schools by BOTH left and right for attempts at social engineering.

    If all black kids had access to a first-rate education, there would be real hope of vanquishing the economic and social forces that prolong segregation. Without that, there is none. And that, in my considered opinion, is the only way in which schools can effectively contribute to ending segregation.

  11. Thanks to Steve for caling poet out on that nonsense. If our first priority isn’t educating our children the way all kids deserve to be educated, what will follow? Oh, that’s right…purple ink.

  12. I agree with Steve on this. I also strongly disagree that the primary issue in education quality is ALWAYS money (I’d be surprised if it’s never money, though). Most California schools get the same amount of money per student, but the results vary wildly. And even districts that spend substantially more than the state-provided minimum (and there are very few that have more than that — I think that it’s something like 14 in the entire state) sometimes get much worse than average results.

    I think that looking at education issues through the “standard lenses” of politics (e.g., race, free markets, public vs. private funding) doesn’t work well. It’s not an illusion that public education is generally worse than it was 40 years ago, and while the student population is far different, there hasn’t been any intrinsic change in the kids during that time.

  13. mike from oregon says:

    Poet –

    Are you on crack or what??? Put down the pipe and read some facts. One charter schools exist to help ALL children, black and white that the public schools have failed to help.

    Look at the story that Joanne posted 5 postings down from this one. It’s about KIPP schools, its about a new one that opened up in East San Jose, a real refuge for ‘whitey’ (yea, sure). READ the story, 80% of the students qualify for federal lunch subsidies, yup, all them ‘rich whitey’ familes qualify for that. Do some research, the charter schools are getting as good or better resutlts using less money and they are taking (the majority) minority kids who were left for ignorant by the public schools.

    As for this article, schools should be a place to go to learn the basics, reading, writing and math. Not necessarily photography, not necessarily that ‘gay marriage’ is good/bad. Not that republicans are bad and democrats are good. Keep your politics and your opinions to yourself, give the kids the tools that they need to make it in this world and hold them accountable. All items that many public schools just can’t seem to get a handle on.

  14. Mike in Texas says:

    It is a shame to see Poet being raked over the coals, and being accused of being a crackhead, for voicing his opinion about this topic.

    Last time I checked he had the same first amendment rights as anyone else

  15. Steve LaBonne says:

    I too wish Mike from Oregon had omitted the “crack” comment; on the other hand, the First Amendment protects vigorous (but preferably civil) disagreement with others’ opinions just as strongly as it protects the expression of those opinions.

  16. Poet will always be a victim, by choice. She wants to victimize all other black americans so they can share her miserable self chosen victimhood.

    That is my first amendment comment, just as it is allowable by the first amendment to suggest that an incoherent individual may be smoking crack.

  17. To all who responded to my post(s).

    All of you skirt the issues I posed, hiding behind clever name-calling, misdirection, obfuscation, etc.

    AGAIN, I am trying to get you to understand that the end-game of charter schools is a racially polarized school system with the poor minority area schools being shafted in the end. I already stated to you that there is a groundswell of complaints from minority charters getting the shaft when going through the funding process. NOT ONE of you addressed that, except to mention ONE possible exception in east San Jose I believe. I want ALL of them to get the funding they QUALIFY for.

    AGAIN I pose the question: Why do 99% of “black” women in USA use chemical relaxer to make their nappy hair straight? Answer: slavery end-game. cultural brainwashing to believe that nappy hair is “ugly”, when in fact it is beautiful. I CHALLENGE you to ask any black woman why she does it and you will be confronted with an individual who is hurt, afraid, and culturally oppressed. THAT is at the heart of the disparity between black and white in this country. Check.

  18. Steve LaBonne says:

    “AGAIN, I am trying to get you to understand that the end-game of charter schools is a racially polarized school system with the poor minority area schools being shafted in the end.” Which differs how, exactly, from what we have now? Not to mention that repeated assertion of a claim, without providing any evidence, does nothing to strengthen the claim.

  19. I think you can debate the educational efficacy of charters versus conventional until the cows come home but that’s not the core of this debate.

    The real issue is who should have the power to make educational decisions for individual children, parent or educrat? Ask that question and it becomes pretty difficult to ignore the obvious, and correct, answer

  20. Allen,

    Excellent point. I strongly believe in home-schooling where possible. Something is grossly wrong with our system where two parents must work to make ends meet. No time for the children. That may in fact be the problem. If we could find a way to have one parent at home and one parent working outside and still be able to afford a decent home with a back yard, I think that would help tremendously.

    As far as my culture, Afr-Am, we have been working both parents far too long, from days of slavery when the children were left to fend for themselves (age 1 and up to 6 or 7). Only infants received semblance of care during the day. Now the end-game of that is a lost people, stuck in poverty, believing that being an NBA player is better than being a doctor.

  21. superdestroyer says:


    It is hard for the schools systems in such towns as DC, Baltimore, Detroit, etc, for failing due to “whitey” when blacks have been in charge of them since before the kids who are seniors were born. In addition, those school districts also receive more funds per student than most school district.

    If you compare schools districts in rural Utah to school districts in Urban Centers. The rural school district in Utah put out better educated students at about 40% of the cost of the lower performing students in urban centers.

    You should also look at the public schools in Prince Georges County, Maryland. It has the highest concentration of college educated, white collar blacks in the US yet underperforms compared to the rural counties in Western Maryland. Why? Because the parents of the black children just do not seem to care about academic success.

  22. I still have to take umbrage with poet’s declaration , and I quote:

    “AGAIN, I am trying to get you to understand that the end-game of charter schools is a racially polarized school system with the poor minority area schools being shafted in the end. I already stated to you that there is a groundswell of complaints from minority charters getting the shaft when going through the funding process. NOT ONE of you addressed that, except to mention ONE possible exception in east San Jose I believe. I want ALL of them to get the funding they QUALIFY for.

    AGAIN I pose the question: Why do 99% of “black” women in USA use chemical relaxer to make their nappy hair straight? Answer: slavery end-game. cultural brainwashing to believe that nappy hair is “ugly”, when in fact it is beautiful. I CHALLENGE you to ask any black woman why she does it and you will be confronted with an individual who is hurt, afraid, and culturally oppressed. THAT is at the heart of the disparity between black and white in this country. Check.”

    This declaration has some serious problems, at least from my perspective.

    First, where is the evidence that the purpose of charter schools is to discriminate against and marginalize minorities (here, I gather that poet means ‘black’). Is this a case of ‘well, of course, EVERYONE KNOWS that’, sort of like Hillary’s Vast Right Wing Conspiracy? Please. And I do agree that many charters are complaining about ‘getting the shaft’ from school districts. But I disagree as to the reason. It’s not because the charters are mostly black and other minorities (which is not always the case – go do some research on charter schools); it’s because charters are seen as a threat to the status quo, by teachers’ unions, administrators, school boards, and other groups currently in power. There are white charter schools in all-white districts that face the same problem; skin pigmentation is not the issue. I CAN see where it’s likely that charters with poorer students have more of a problem. In the game of political power, economic status is usually highly correlated to educational level of parents, which in turn correlates highly with effective advocacy. I.e., where the parents have college degrees and tend work in white collar jobs and careers, therefore earning more money, they usually have greater knowledge of available recourses. A doctor, an engineer, a CPA – these people are used to working with and within systems and organizations. They know or can find out about support groups, legal aid, publicity avenues, etc. that can make their advocacy more effective and likely to succeed. Therefore, they can get money and support for charter schools for their children. Poor, low income families, whether black, white, hispanic, or asian, not only do not have the resources, but their likely-lower educational levels often mean that they are not even aware of options, alternatives, and resources that could allow them greater success in supporting charter schools for their children.

    Second, I don’t see where young black women using hair straightener has anything to do with either discrimination, poor self-image, or racial discrimination. This is what is commonly called a ‘non sequitir’, meaning it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, and is often thrown into an argument as a gratuitous argument, a diversion, or an ad hominem attack. And finally, if you really believe that using hair straighteners is racially motivated and wrong, why do you keep doing it?

    I’m sure you have experienced genuine discrimination in your life. I challenge your assumption that it is always racially motivated, however. People are more prone to discriminate against people who 1) put forth little or no effort to improve or succeed, 2) constantly look for reasons or excuses to be offended, 3) may be rude, argumentative, or irrational. All people tend to reach badly when someone makes accusations, unfounded or valid. This may or may not describe you; since I don’t know you, I really couldn’t say.

    But I challenge you to be willing to question your assumptions. And as for discrimination, if you truly experience it or truly believe it controls your life, then you are allowing it to limit and shape you. And if you do that, then discrimination, real or imagined, has won.

  23. Mad Scientist says:

    I still believe that “poet” is just theAmericanist reincarnated.

  24. Hey Poet, do me a favor and don’t patronize me, OK?

    We don’t have anything in common. Under all that tired, 70s, da-man-done-keepin’-me-down rap is the same old message: there’s nothing wrong with the current system that more money and more authority won’t cure.

    The problem for you is that your message isn’t selling anymore. Or at least it’s not selling to the audience you claim to represent. Support for charters, and indeed all educational alternatives, is sky-high among poor, urban blacks.

    They’re the ones who’ve been most thuroughly screwed over by the educational system, that would be the conventional, district-based public education system, and now they’re sending their children into the same meat grinder.

    You want to set your self a tough goal, Poet? Try telling some black parent who’s working a lousy job because of their lousy education that they have to subject their kids to the same system that consigned them to their current existance.

  25. mike from oregon says:

    Poet –
    First, I apologize for my ‘name calling’, it’s just that I was aghast at the line you are trying to get folks to believe. I see your later postings and you don’t address the question/challenge put before you.

    Allow me to put it before you again. What is the main race of the majority of charter schools? I really want you to look it up on your own, but to continue this posting, I will give you the answer, the majority of students attending charter schools are minorities. So at this point you can either back down and realize/admit that the charter schools are indeed serving and doing a better job than the public schools for people of color. Or, you can try to believe the New York Times story about a testing that was done on less than 1% of the charter schools that showed they were doing a worse job than public schools. 1% is NOT a valid sampling – take a look at the REAL studies, while a few charter schools don’t do a good job, they usually go under rather rapidly. When public schools don’t do a good job, they just keep on, keeping on.

    Did you bother to look at the other article that I mentioned on this page? The one refering to the KIPP charter school? Do a google search for Arthur Academy, it is a private group that has come into my area to run charter schools here. The results put the public schools to shame, and guess what, the majority of the students are of color (usually brown or black – hispanic or african-american).

    I’m not sure where you are getting your ideas and opinions from, I just know that the facts don’t back you up. I do agree with some of the other posters, you do seem to have the old ‘the man is holding me down’ chip on your shoulder.