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Peter Greene: Public Schools Should Not Collaborate in Their Own Destruction

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Peter Greene read a report published by the Center for the Reinention of Public Education at the University of Washington, a leading advocate for charters, choice, and the portfolio model. The report offers advice to district leaders about how public schools can deal with declining enrollments by working with charter schools and putting them on an equal footing as partners, not competitors.

Maybe I am being a Pollyanna, but I see this report as a sign of weakness, a recognition by privatizers that they must develop strategies to get embedded because the tide of public opinion is turning against them. The opinion poll in the conservative journal EdNext recently reported that public support for charters dropped from 51% to 39% in one year. The NAACP statement criticizing charters undermined their claims about being leaders of the civil rights movement. The almost daily reports of charter scandals in many states is undermining their credibility. Betsy DeVos’s enthusiastic embrace hurts their carefully cultivated public image. Watch for more statements aimed at normalizing charters. They are worried.

Peter reviews the CPRE list of problems and remedies and he is not impressed.

So how do we fix all of these things? CRPE has some thoughts.

Districts need to close schools and negotiate contracts that don’t spend so much money. The closing school solution seems to run up against the “don’t take on long-term debts and costs” solution, as schools frequently manage consolidation of schools by taking on construction projects.

They would like to see more partnership, but their example is “if charters find a way to give cheap retirement plans might encourage public systems to adopt similar systems.” So, yeah, charters that want to pay teachers less could, I suppose, try to convince public schools not to outbid them. That’s cooperation, sort of.

And there would need to be city-level strategy sessions. Which should be a hoot as long as nobody ever addresses the underlying zero-sum game that is charter vs. public schools. But that’s not going to happen, since one proposed solution is that districts “publicly identify” their legacy costs in exchange for a charter funding formula that more closely resembles public per-pupil costs:

For example, charter schools might receive less per-pupil funding under such an agreement but would be able to tell the public, with confidence, that charter and district students received the same classroom funding and that charter schools weren’t contributing to a district’s impending insolvency.

Yeah, that doesn’t even make sense. “Getting same classroom funding” doesn’t equal “not sucking public school dry.” So maybe the suggestion here is that charter’s get their funding and public schools admit that they’re insolvent because their buildings and pensions and teacher pay are all just way expensive. In other words, charters agree to get paid public tax dollars, and public schools agree to publicly say it’s their own damn fault they’re having financial problems. Why would public schools want to enter into this deal, exactly? And would the funding formula include all the “philanthropic” contributions to charters?

CRPE also suggests that public schools be given some limited extra funding to be used only as a means of down-sizing. Or if districts can prove they’re shrinking as fast as possible, charters would agree to a voluntary growth slow down. Or some other grand bargain that basically involves charters conducting business as usual while public schools agree to work harder at dying, already.

CRPE also has a list of Things To Discuss and Research Further. Gather more data about how much financial vampirage charters are really committing, and how much is just, you know, other reasons for districts to lose money. More data about “fixed costs” and just generally how teachers are draining money by wanting to be paid. Figure out the greatest number of students the charters could handle, because that’s the ideal, apparently– as many students taken out of public school as possible. More power for superintendents. They don’t say which power, exactly, but context suggests that old favorite– hire, fire and set salaries without stupid rules and unions. Learning from other sectors like energy and healthcare, because they’re just like schools.

Bottom Line

CRPE is correct in one thing– we do have to look at how charters affect the whole local educational eco-system. But their belief in the inevitable supremacy of charters gets in the way of a useful conversation.

The report seems to boil down basically to “Charters and public schools should work together to make employment conditions worse for teachers. Also, they should team up to help charters thrive and to help public schools die more efficiently and without making charters look bad. For The Children.”

Maybe this is supposed to be an innovative approach to the Socratic method, and public schools are just supposed to take a hemlock bath because it would make life easier for charters. But I don’t imagine many takers will line up to take CRPE’s offer. Not even for the children.

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