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David Hornbeck: I Was Wrong About Charters

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David Hornbeck was superintendent of schools in Philadelphia from 1994 to 2000. During that time, he approved 30 charter schools, hoping they would improve education for the city’s students. Twenty years later, he admits he was wrong.

Now he realizes that charters are not education reform. They are a change of governance. They get mixed results.
“In some evaluations, charter schools overall actually underperform regular public schools.”

Charter funding has a negative effect on public schools. Funding and unequal opportunity: Charter funding is also negatively affecting regular public schools. “Costs in schools sending students to charters cannot shift as fast as students and revenue leave. The costs for the principal, heating, lights, building debt and many other things remain; thus, the remaining children face the prospect of larger class sizes and cuts to core academic programming, music, art and other inequities.” As charters increase, the resources for public schools decrease, “without a commensurate performance improvement by charter school students.”

Charters don’t choose to serve students with severe disabilities, “leaving traditional schools to disproportionately bear this cost at the expense of all students.”

“Advocates say we need a “stronger” charter law [in Maryland], noting that Maryland ranks near the bottom. Pennsylvania’s law is ranked much higher, yet its charter growth is contributing significantly to a funding crisis that includes draconian cuts to teachers, nurses, arts, music and counselors in Philadelphia.”

The charter law proposed in Maryland “undermines collective bargaining that protects teachers from politics and favoritism and has been crucial to improvement in compensation and benefits. It would create a two-tiered system in which charter teachers would have to organize and bargain separately with each charter opting out of the larger system’s contract. Unionization is not the problem. There are no unions in many of the nation’s worst educational performing states. All schools, charter or traditional, must pay competitive salaries and benefits to attract experienced, skilled teachers who can succeed with all children.”

Hornbeck writes:

“Charters are not substitutes for broader proven reforms. We know from research and experience what works to build schools with thriving students:

•High standards;

•Quality teachers;

•Prekindergarten for 3 year olds;

•Lower class sizes through the third grade;

•Attacking concentrated poverty through community schools; after school programs; more instruction time for students who struggle; home visitation programs; and high quality child care.

“Let’s do what we know works.”

Hornbeck says what seems obvious: do what we know works. Will anyone listen? Are will they continue to demand “reforms” that have been proven not to work?

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