April 20, 2005
I finally got around to glancing through The Charter School Dust-Up: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement, by Martin Carnoy, Rebecca Jacobsen, Lawrence Mishel, and Richard Rothstein. These people sure have nerve, pretending to analyze in scholarly fashion the now-famous contretemps over the American Federation of Teachers' so-called "study" of charter school performance using NAEP data. (Anyone whose memory of that episode is dimming can begin a refresher course athttp://www.edexcellence.net/gadfly/issue.cfm?issue=159#1941.)
The crucial thing to know about the authors of this 186-pager is that they intensely dislike charter schools and all other threats to the public-school monopoly. Jacobsen is a research assistant but the other three all have lengthy track records on the subject. Indeed, taking shots at choice-style education reforms is their vocation and possibly their greatest source of pleasure.
The crucial thing to know about the Economic Policy Institute, which sponsored the volume, is that it's tightly tied to, and supported by, labor unions. Check out its self-description (http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/about) and the composition of its board (http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/board), a veritable who's who of organized labor?including former AFT head Sandy Feldman?and the Democratic left. Are we surprised that the nation's most ardent anti-charter lobby is behind this piece of work?
Even the publisher is an ed school!
In short, EVERYBODY affiliated with this project yearns to dance on the grave of charter schools. Just like the AFT, which authored the original "study" that led to the "dust-up."
And they have the chutzpah to use the word "zealots" to describe the charter supporters who shed doubt on the AFT's product? Shame on the handful of gullible journalists that took this screed seriously.
Protectionism in the Education Industry
The Education Industry Association (EIA) is the Washington voice of for-profit education providers of every sort. It has 800+ members and claims to play "an increasingly important role in supporting public education by meeting the demand for products and services that both complement and supplement basic education services." It can be counted upon to defend the legitimacy of for-profit education and the companies that provide it when, as often happens, the profit motive comes under challenge by education ideologues, teacher unions, and other public-sector interest groups.
Well and good. You might think, therefore, that EIA would embrace the principle of free trade as well as capitalism. After all, the Association's members include foreign-based companies (e.g., Kumon) that work in the U.S. and U.S.-based firms that do lots of work overseas (e.g., Kaplan).
But profitability can be counted upon to trump principle. EIA recently denounced the practice of using "offshore" tutors to supply supplemental education services (SES) to struggling pupils in the United States.
Nobody knows just how much such "outsourcing" of SES services is underway, but NPR says it's happening so it's probably occurring, at least on a small scale. And why not? If a Bangalore call center can help you troubleshoot your computer or toaster oven, why can't an English-speaking, Bangalore-based tutor help your child learn the parts of speech or principles of multiplication? Why wouldn't American capitalists want to make the most of this opportunity?
Not the EIA. Executive Director Steve Pines asserts that "U.S. taxpayers should not be supporting off-shore educational staff."
In this matter, there's no discernible difference between EIA's position and that of the American Federation of Teachers (which would, of course, welcome bankruptcy for all EIA members): http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/closer_look/022505.htm.
More Kids or Fewer
Is this schizophrenia visible in your state, too? Ohio's public educators, politicians, and policymakers apparently cannot decide whether they're more troubled by growing public-school enrollments (and the State Education Department's periodic failure to project the numbers accurately) or the hemorrhage of children from district schools into charter schools. If you read the Ohio press these past two weeks, you would not be able to tell whether they find the more worrisome prospect to be more or fewer pupils in their classrooms. As usual, the answer depends mostly on money. More pupils are welcome so long as the state correctly forecasts them and appropriates all the money to cover them. Reduced budgets consequent to burgeoning charter enrollments make them apoplectic. It's not about the kids, after all. It's about dollars. (For examples, see http://www.ljworld.com/section/stateregional/story/201609,http://www.ohio.com/mld/beaconjournal/11184982.htm, and http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050408/NEWS01/504080400/1056.)
American public universities are reinventing themselves in ways that smell like charter schools: becoming more entrepreneurial, entering into unprecedented partnerships with business, lightening their historic dependence on formula-based state subsidies, raising more private dollars?and in return demanding greater autonomy. Virginia universities, for example, will now have the option of entering into "management agreements" with the state, rather than operating as bureaucratic arms of the Commonwealth. Though the legislature shunned the word "charter," in fact what lawmakers did is point the Old Dominion's public campuses toward charter-like status. The head of the Association of American Universities, Nils Hasselmo, says such an evolution can be seen across the land. "They're looking for greater freedom to take their own fate into their own hands by, for example, setting their own tuition, entering into strategic relationships with other institutions and business and industry." And of course the next set of issues to arise, familiar to veterans of the charter school wars, are such messy ones as whether existing state personnel protections and pension programs will remain intact for employees of these newly liberated institutions. Still, what's sauce for the goose. . . .
"Va. colleges seek financial flexibility," by Susan Kinzie, Washington Post, April 6, 2005