Thursday, August 20, 2015

Charter Schools fail the "smell test" .... By Bruce Ditata

Character attacks directed against teachers unions are not new, but when the sucker punch is delivered by a candidate for president of the United States, it merits what retired "Daily Show" anchor Jon Stewart called the “smell test.”

Republican Chris Christie, in a potential ploy to inflate his flagging poll numbers, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that teachers’ unions are “ the single most destructive force in public education (and deserving of) a punch in the face.”

Christie’s likely reasoning in his defamation of teachers’ unions is two-fold. First, it’s outrageous enough to potentially wean the news pundits away, at least temporarily, from leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, who has recently made similarly crude remarks against Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and Mexican immigrants.

Second, Christie’s union-bashing is most likely a fundraising strategy to pique the interest of the bloated wallet fraternity — Sam Walton; Bill / Melinda Gates; Eli Broad; the Koch Brothers and their ilk — all of whom would like nothing better than to stash more public education money in their portfolios.

Already, private companies like Pearson, which produce the online courses, textbooks, high stakes testing materials, and Microsoft, which supply schools with computers and technology, are profiting from billions of public education dollars nationwide.

Now, the Billionaire Boys Club has set its sights upon the schools themselves via attempts to privatize, set up corporations to manage “failing schools” and orchestrate legislative battles that pit charters versus traditional schools.

This is where Stewart’s “smell test” applies. When Stewart departed his groundbreaking 16-year run as comedian/political satirist, he left with a warning to viewers about being discriminating and questioning about comments like Christie’s.

In Massachusetts, while the tenor of conversation lacks the rudeness of Gov. Christie, the intent of charter school proponents is similar.

In Sephira Shuttlesworth’s Guest View (“Charter schools represent opportunity," Nov. 10), she stated that failure to lift the cap on charters was because “of entrenched resistance from teachers’ unions and the education establishment.”

And in their diatribe against supporters of traditional public schools, the Pioneer Institute’s Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass in their Guest View (“Vote on charter caps was just wrong,” July 24, 2014) stated that the charter school smackdown by Massachusetts senators were merely “to appease the monied interests of the education establishment” (read: teachers unions).

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service reported that the battle of charters versus public schools still rages, as he wrote in early August, “A group of charter school, business and education advocates on Wednesday filed a petition with the Attorney General's Office to allow the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to authorize up to 12 new public charter schools or existing school expansions each year.”

Murphy further reported, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker ( the former Executive Director of the Pioneer Institute) “voiced support on Wednesday for (this) ballot initiative to expand access to charter schools across Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts Teacher Association President, Barbara Madeloni’s rebuttal stated that the charter ballot initiative would, “effectively obliterate any meaningful caps on charter schools and undermine our public schools … (and) as the NAACP has said, charters are creating ‘separate and unequal’ school systems by using selective enrollment practices to keep out English language learners and special education students and push out those who don’t meet restrictive academic and behavior requirements.”

"Allowing unlimited charters at the expense of truly public schools would be a terrible retreat in a state that has the oldest continuously operating public school in the country and many of the best public schools in the world,” she added.

Chris Anderson, a signer of the charter school petition, said, "The enactment of additional and lasting reforms expanding student access to charter schools is an urgent moral and economic imperative."

What is noteworthy in Anderson’s statement is there was little attempt by proponents to extol the charter school genre. They know that to do so would be to invite the “smell test,” one the charter movement always fails.

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