It feels like there are two very different charter-school conversations going on. The first is about policy and practice; the other is about philosophy and politics. Both have their place. But a recent collection of events and articles demonstrate why it’s important to understand the difference between the two.
The first presupposes (or, at minimum, concedes) the legitimacy of chartering and then explores how to make it better. These conversations typically focus on statutes and regulations, authorizers and operators, curriculum and instruction; they mostly attract wonky policy types and nuts-and-bolts practitioners.
The second, about philosophy and politics, is essentially about whether chartering is good or bad. Participants are interested in basic questions such as, “Should charters exist?” and “What does chartering mean for public education?” This conversation, which typically emanates from deeply held principles and big ideas, seems to attract the scholarly, the idealistic, and the impassioned—but also the certain and the dismissive.
There are a couple unfortunate upshots of this. The first relates to the charter-related content that gets the most attention. Sadly, the more name calling you do (“privateer,” “hoax, destroy, privatize,” or this doozy: “corporate interests, hedge fund managers and billionaires starve public schools and services of resources and suck up as much profit as they can”), the more press you get.
Similarly, if a charter story has any political angle, it’ll get ink. A Democratic congressman is rebuffed by a union, so he votes in favor of major charter legislation? Big news....