Flypaper

Congress looks set to grant D.C.'s voucher program a one-year reprieve. (You have to scroll down a bit to see the story.)

As if teachers unions haven't caused enough headaches for charter schools, now labor unions are getting in on the act. An op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, written by a New York charter school president and a representative of the New York Charter Schools Association, talks about the interference of labor unions in one school's quest to expand its facilities. In New York, charter schools are supposed to be exempt from a state law requiring "prevailing wage" (in other words, charter schools don't have to pay union workers at union rates). This exemption saved some organizations, like the Brighter Choice Foundation, millions of dollars when they built a new KIPP middle school ($7 mil for the charter school, while the Albany school district spent $40 mil on a new middle school).

Apparently the labor unions weren't happy, because last fall the state labor commissioner told charter schools that they too had to pay union rates. Not only was the big boss in blatant disregard of state law, but then a state judge upheld the commissioner's decision. Now, thanks to union greed, a school like Buffalo's Tapestry Charter School is looking at inflated construction costs of nearly $1.5 million to accommodate workers' wages.

I'm not sure what's more absurd: yet another union caring about its own interests before that of children, or a judge legislating from the bench. Neither entity has any business overruling state law, but both are seriously hindering the progress and autonomy of charter...

Check out this Education Week article for a preview of Charles Murray's latest book, Real Education. Want a glimpse? Referring to college-level textbooks, Murray argues that "We're talking about material that only about 10 percent of high school graduates can understand."

He calls that speaking "truth." We call it fatalism. Yes, Dr. Murray, asking schools to achieve universal proficiency in reading and math is stupid, but so is settling for the results our education system is currently attaining. As a wise philosopher once said, there must be a middle way.

Liam Julian

I'm with the union on this one. Let my weekends go!

Liam Julian

Diane Ravitch, Fordham board member and peerless education commenter, writes:

I find myself getting really annoyed when people rage against the teachers' unions, because they are the organized voice of most of the people who work in schools. The same people who vilify the teachers' unions never complain about the influence of businesses or foundations, both of which try to steer the public schools by the power of the purse.

It all comes down to whether schools??should serve adults or children. Business??interests are aligned with producing schools that serve children--they want well-educated students who will eventually become well-educated workers. (It's true, though, that business-minded school reformers??sometimes forget about the importance of curriculum and instruction.) On the other hand, the interests of teachers' unions directly compete in oh-so-many obvious ways with the interests of students. Furthermore,??unions may technically be "the organized voices of most of the people who work in schools," but they hardly represent the interests of all teachers--especially disadvantaged by union policies are young teachers and good teachers.

What business mostly wants: results-based education,??standards, accountability, innovative management, choice, educational markets. What unions mostly want: more money, more teachers (smaller classes), less testing, less focus on educational outcomes. Oversimplification? Slightly (it is a blog post, after all). But mostly true....

The long-anticipated conversion of seven inner-city District of Columbia Catholic schools to charter schools is finally official . No, it's not a perfect solution to the schools' financial ills, but kinda like democracy, it's the least worst option available. Kudos to the D.C. Charter School Board for granting its unanimous approval. Now let this fascinating social experiment begin.

Liam Julian

Diane Roberts--author and NPR commentator--is a fine, fun writer. She's an eighth-generation Floridian, descended from some of the state's foundational families, and often insightful when commenting on occurrences odd and ostentatious, which are quite at home in Florida's past and present. But on education...boy, she's got it wrong.

Liam Julian

The Wall Street Journal's Bill McGurn (and lots of others) wonders: What will Obama do on school choice? Now we know (via The Corner):

TAPPER: You talked about the need to change the status quo in education today.

OBAMA: Right.

TAPPER: But one of the ways that proponents of school choice say that the best way to change the status quo is to give parents, inner-city parents a choice. Why not?

OBAMA: Well, the problem is, is that, you know, although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom. We don't have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.

So what I've said is let's foster competition within the public school system. Let's make sure that charter schools are up and running. Let's make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.

But what I don't want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools. That's going to make things worse, and we're going to lose the commitment to public schools that

...
Liam Julian

Quick and the Ed writes about the recently released study of D.C. vouchers' effectiveness:

Those who'd like to end the program can point out that the results were, all-in-all, underwhelming, but supporters of the voucher program can point to the positive results among certain subgroups. Most notably, students from the first cohort who used the voucher scored significantly higher in reading - supporters might use this to convince lawmakers to hold out for another year or two in order to see if the effects continue for subsequent cohorts. But will a few positive results be enough to save D.C. vouchers?

In fact, it is possible to support D.C. vouchers without referencing the above-mentioned study at all. Private school choice, in itself, has plenty of powerful arguments to support it, especially when it occurs in a district such as Washington, D.C., where the public schools are less than satisfactory and filled with poor and minority children who haven't the means to leave them. The stat-happy crowd scoffs, but about this statistical evaluation (in which, of course, both sides will find nuggets of support for their positions) I think: Who cares? Certainly parents whose children are enrolled in the schools don't--for one reason or another, rational or not, they like their new private schools. Perhaps they're safer, perhaps they're in better neighborhoods, perhaps they have nicer smelling hallways. But does it matter? The real question should be: Is the small number of D.C. voucher students worse off educationally than they...

It's a good thing the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, because otherwise the Motor City would have absolutely nothing to celebrate. With an economy battered by the ills of the automotive industry and??its population shrinking rapidly, it's no surprise that the city's school system is now $400 million in the hole .

But here's a wrinkle. Under Michigan law, if DPS's enrollment dips below 100,000, it will no longer be a "Class A" district. What's special about "Class A" districts (of which Detroit has to date been the only one in the state)? Under the state's protectionist charter school law, new charters aren't allowed to be started in those districts. So come fall, with enrollment expected to plunge further, Detroit will be open for new charter business. (Note to legislators: this is what you get for being cute and not just naming "Detroit" when writing legislation aimed at Detroit. The same thing happens in other states, too.)

With the public school system in disarray, the expansion of charter schools should be seen as a boon. But several local politicians don't see it that way.

"I just think it's a terrible time to introduce competition that does not have a track record," school board President Carla Scott said Monday. "It would financially cripple the district."

Hmm. If we were to make an analogy to the auto industry , by that...

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