A dissenting voice muddies the charter school debate

Pedro Noguera’s departure from the State University of New
York charter board isn’t entirely surprising, but it sends another mixed signal
from a self-professed supporter of charter schools who is straining to contain
their expansion.

Just four months ago, Noguera
embraced the complexity of his position
while enduring the jeers of a protest
movement with whom he sorely wanted to find common ground. “I think we need
ways to change and improve our schools, and if charters become one means to do
that, I support it,” he once said. On Wednesday, he
told The New York Times
that the
SUNY board has harbored a political agenda to increase the number of charter
schools and has ultimately hastened inequities between charter and traditional
schools.

Noguera has muddied a debate painfully in need of clarity.

Noguera didn’t contradict his earlier statements as much as
he deserted the complexity of his convictions all too quickly. In doing so, he
has muddied a debate painfully in need of clarity. His resignation highlights
how support for charter school initiatives can weaken when advocates fail to
agree on why school choice has value to begin with.

Similarly, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, another self-professed charter school supporter,
twisted this knot further by
disparaging a consultant’s report for D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray
that
called for, among other things, investing in seats at higher performing charter
schools with students from low performing traditional schools. “Regular schools
and the people who work in them, with a few exceptions, would become a
permanent education underclass,” Mathews writes.

Really? Besides distorting the recommendations from Gray’s
consultant—who asserted that D.C.’s charter board and school district must work
collaboratively to target ten priority neighborhood clusters—Mathews’ hyperbole
assumes that investing in high-quality charter school seats in Washington would
unravel a traditional neighborhood school system that is, as he writes, “still
woven into the American education system and our culture.”

With friends like these, the growing coalition of support
for charter schools will have a harder time coalescing around a common purpose.
And those who oppose the expansion of charter schools with absolute conviction
will enjoy the ambiguity.

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