Will Charter Schools Cure America’s Blues? Walter Russell Mead sees the “blue social model” — government knows best — falling apart. Charter schools aren’t the magic bullet for education, he writes. (Nothing is.) He’s looking for “political and social transformation that can take us past the stagnant and dysfunctional world of Big Blue Bureaucracy into something more sustainable and more hopeful,” he writes in The American Interest.
The widening gap . . . between the interests of the consumers of government services and the producers of those services has the potential to split Blue America down the middle.
Historically, African-Americans have been very “invested in the urban public school bureaucracies and the teachers’ unions,” Mead writes. Yet black parents support charter schools. In a recent poll, New Jersey blacks favor the expansion of charter schools by 52 to 43 percent, backing Gov. Christie. That makes blacks more pro-charter — and less “blue” — that the state’s Republicans.
Charter schools will help to produce and promote a more entrepreneurial Black middle class. The leaders and faculty of a charter school have more responsibility than do the faceless employees of a large public school system. If their school doesn’t attract students, it goes out of business. A charter school must attract students who can always go elsewhere; the standard public school without competition can rely on the truancy laws to fill their classrooms. More, the schools have to show results while keeping their eyes on the bottom line. Charter schools can go broke if teachers adopt unrealistic work rules; public schools can stagger on for years delivering declining performance — and, with the support of the politically powerful teachers’ unions, extracting rising revenue from the public.
The proliferation of charter schools will mean the progressive replacement of teachers and principals with secure jobs for life with a new cohort of professional educators who bear the responsibility for the success or failure of their schools — and the survival of their jobs. This will make our educators smarter — and teach them valuable lessons about life in a more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic society that they can pass on to their pupils.
Charter schools don’t necessarily entail the privatization of public education, Mead writes. He sees what he calls “communitization,” power shifts to “community-based educators who organize themselves into small, accountable units to carry out functions once handled by massive bureaucracies.”
Communitization, for-profit or non-profit, in education, health care and other fields will enhance efficiency and shift “the center of gravity of American culture and society further toward entrepreneurial and creative values and institutions,” Mead predicts.
Charter school leaders will become community leaders, he writes.
School choice will make our society more flexible and entrepreneurial — and the biggest immediate beneficiaries will be the poor and those who seek to serve and teach them in creative new ways.
His faith in the power of charter schools to transform society sounds a bit blue sky to me, to use an older sense of “blue.”