Opponents’ Arguments Against I-1240 Don’t Pass the Straight Face Test

Oct 14, 2012 | Featured, News, Opinion

I was not surprised by the arguments against charter schools following the Seattle Times editorial board’s endorsement of Initiative 1240, a proposal to create 40 charter schools over five years.

But I was surprised by how little the arguments have evolved over time. Here’s the top 10 arguments against charters and my counter argument.

1) Charter schools are not a silver bullet. Altogether now, there is no magic potion. We are not waiting for Superman. Research proves charters can be an effective part of reforming a public education system that still has not made good on promises of equal education opportunities laid out in Brown vs. Board of Education.

2) Charters will cost money. Yes. Just as investments in gifted education, arts education and science, technology, engineering and math curricula will cost money. By the way, none of these investments will cost as much as the 14,000 high school drop outs last year will cost in lost potential, including wage-earnings as well as use of taxpayer-funded social services. This Frontline documentary was a poignant reminder of the perils of not investing boldly and substantially in front-end services like early learning and K-12 education. The result is much higher spending in the juvenile justice system.

3) We cannot afford charters when we’re underfunding traditional public schools. Washington state has reduced the portion of state revenue that goes to the K-12 system to the point where we’re ranked near the bottom. The state Supreme Court’s McCleary education funding decision will drive anywhere from $1 billion to $4 billion more into education. What is rarely talked about is how the state will spend the extra dollars, on top of the $13.6 billion allocated to the K-12 for the 2013-15 biennium. Has spending evolved over time to take advantage of changes in education and technology? Moreover, how can we not be able to afford public charters but yet have the money for public innovation schools?

4) The 22 innovation schools approved by the state Legislature is change enough. No, it isn’t. A student’s chances of getting into one of the innovation schools is as small as their chances of getting into one of Seattle’s North End schools if they don’t already live in the North End. In the public system, a quality education too often depends on zip code.

5) Charter schools are being promoted by a bunch of rich, white guys. Sorry, but the paucity of diversity is visible on both sides of this argument. Check out this I-1240 debate or look at who’s clogging the blogosphere and you’ll find Seattle’s white, middle-class establishment comfortably in the driver’s seat.

That does not mean others do not care, only that communities of color often do not have the money or political clout to wage political campaigns. But they show up. When Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, introduced a series of tough education reforms, including charter schools, he was flanked at the press conference by parents and minority education advocates, including Kevin Washington from the Black Education Strategy Roundtable.

6) Charters are the first step to privatizing public education. Charters cannot replace traditional public schools. But they can serve as models for what does, or does not, work. I learned that from Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, supporter of charters. Lincoln Center modeled on the Kipp charter schools.

7) A study from the prestigious Stanford University debunked charters. Actually, Macke Raymond, author of the oft-cited Stanford study of charter schools operating in 15 states was quoted in a recent Times story as saying that of the 41 states with charters, “you can find, in every single location, a substantial amount of charter schools that are doing really, really well, but the results are always mixed.”

If my child cannot attend a good traditional public school, I want him or her in the charter school doing “really, really well.” And my moral compass says I have to want the same for your kid and your neighbor’s children.

Moreover A meta-analysis of charter school studies offered further insight into how charters can work. Done by the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education

8) Charters are union busters. I’m not persuaded they have to be. Yes, only 12 percent of charter schools are unionized, but in four states – Maryland, Alaska, Hawaii and Iowa – charters are 100 percent unionized.

9) There is nothing a charter can do that a really innovative traditional school cannot do. Theoretically true, but in practice the historical narrative of K-12 public education is of a system reluctant to change unless slapped with a court order. Hard-fought improvements in the way we teach special education children, those who are gifted and those who struggle mightily have come at a glacial pace.

10) The Washington Education Association will do anything to avoid charters even acquiesce to some reforms. Great! But let’s go back to the Times story I linked to earlier about Federal Way’s TAF Academy. The school was started by Trish Millines Dziko to ground bright, minority students in STEM education. I recall Millines trying in vain to work with the Seattle Public Schools before moving to south King County. Now everyone wants to herald her success.

But let’s not forget, Dziko said that if charter schools had been allowed in Washington state when she started TAF Academy, the school would have been a charter school. Dziko says that’s because when she was looking for models of what she wanted to do, they were all charters.

Imagine that.