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This article unintentionally explains where charter schools went wrong. When Shanker proposed the idea of charter schools in 1988, he thought of them as “schools within schools,” created by teachers and subject to both union rules and the school district. But it all changed when Minnesota passed the first charter law in 1992.
The article was written by Paul Peterson, the Harvard professor who supports charters, vouchers, and all kinds of choice. He is editor of Education Next. I have known Paul for many years (though I have not seen him for nearly a decade). I got to know him during my time as a member of the Koretz Task Force at the Hoover Institution from 1998-2008. He is a very genial man. I recall one night after a meeting at Hoover when David Packard (of Hewlett Packard) invited Paul and me to see the old-time movie theater that he purchased in Palo Alto. It was closed that evening, and he had the projectionist run a classic film for us. Then, as a treat, he had the old-fashioned organ rise from beneath the stage. Paul went onstage and played the organ, a talent he had developed many years earlier in church in Minnesota.
Paul writes in this article about the origins of the charter school. The article is titled, “No, Albert Shanker Did Not Invent the Charter School.” I was frankly happy to read it because I get tired of right-wingers pretending to be progressives and insisting that they are doing exactly what that esteemed labor leader recommended, and that charters are run by progressives and teachers.
Paul makes clear that Shanker’s vision of what a charter school should be was replaced by a very different vision in 1992.
Paul adds an interesting twist to the origins of the contemporary charter school idea. Shanker wanted charters to be authorized by schools and/or districts and subject to collective bargaining. But the first charter law was passed in Minnesota and its proponents were Joe Nathan (who often comments here) and Ted Kolderie. They wanted charter schools to be authorized by state entities, not limited to teachers or subject to collective bargaining, and to compete with public schools. Nathan and Kolderie won, and their model is the one that is dominant today. So now, instead of charter schools that are subject to school district’s needs and collective bargaining, we have corporate charter chains and charters opened by entrepreneurs.
Shanker wanted charters to serve as R&D for the public schools; he did not want them to undermine public schools. Nathan and Kolderie wanted them to compete with the public schools, according to Petersen. And now we have the most rightwing figures in American society–the DeVos family, the Koch brothers, and ALEC–fully embracing charter schools. They would never have tolerated or supported Shanker’s model. They want to use charters to smash public education as a public good.