Recently, The Los Angeles Times broke the story about a plan to put more than half of all Los Angeles children into charter schools in the next few years. This caused a lot of discussion among CES faculty and staff. Monday, October 5, is World Teacher Day, and it seems an appropriate time to share this response to that story written by Professor Emerita Barbara Tye.
I have taught the history and sociology of American education since 1983, and I know that the story of the American public school is an incredible success story. In the mid-19th century, no other country had ever set out to provide education for all its children and by the mid-20th century, no other country had done so as successfully, particularly in a multiethnic, multilingual melting pot such as ours.
Poverty and inequality were side effects of the industrial revolution, and are still with us today in our post-industrial, high tech world. Schools serving poor communities—both urban and rural–face daunting challenges, but the faults lie not with the schools but with the society that turns away from its responsibility to deal with the vast income inequality that holds some communities down. The schools can’t turn that reality around on their own, nor should we ask them to.
We sometimes hear that the rationale for a charter school is to free it from onerous aspects of the state Education Code. If that were truly the reason, powerful people—and the rest of us, as well—should be marshalling our forces to free all schools from those restrictive regulations. And we should be putting all our resources into improving the neediest neighborhood schools and into making their neighborhoods safe, so that any parent would be happy to have his or her child attend, instead of hoping to escape.
What few are saying out loud is that powerful people woke to the money-making potential of public education in the mid-1980s and have been salivating—and planning—ever since. Convincing the American public that its schools are failing was the first step. Ensuring failure through the use of high-stakes testing was the second (and what a money-maker that has turned out to be—for the test publishing industry). Devising a mechanism for private enterprise to take over the educational system–the privately run, for-profit charter school funded with taxpayer dollars–was the third step.
The rhetoric of “choice” is revealing: if this nation had the backbone and the generosity of spirit to put massive resources into guaranteeing that all schools were equally fine, “choice” wouldn’t even be an issue. That’s where I’d like to see the Broad, Gates, Annenberg, and Hewlett Foundations invest the $490 million dollars they appear prepared to pour into further destabilization of one of America’s proudest accomplishments.