Tuesday, December 18, 2012
During the recent “Impact of Charter Schools in Chicago” panel discussion presented by Catalyst Chicago, proponents and opponents of charter schools came together for a brawl that ended in every side (including the moderates) only further entrenched in their viewpoints. Though no one “won” the debate, there were two clear losers: evidence and reality. While every side presented evidence in support of their argument, no one was willing to acknowledge evidence that was not ideologically aligned with their own viewpoints. Charles Payne, University of Chicago Professor, mentioned some research though he explicitly cited CREDO’s 2009 study of charter school performance. Though, Dr. Payne’s more reserved assessment of charter schools in Chicago included the CREDO study due to the mixed results from the study. Andrew Broy, President of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, cited Caroline Hoxby, a free-market economist who has studied competition in education in great detail. Hoxby’s findings typically support free-market reforms, but are also contested. Broy also mentioned certain findings from CREDO’s study of charter school performance, though ignoring some of the larger findings to focus on those favorable to charter schools. Jackson Potter, a representative of the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU), also blatantly ignored any studies with inconvenient findings, only to mention Diane Ravitch (not any particular study, just mentioned the historian’s opposition to charter school expansion). Though the debate was chocked full of claims, there was little evidence to support the claims being made by either Mr. Broy or Mr. Potter.
Another loser of the debate was the acknowledgment of the systemic inequities facing our nation’s schools, especially those in cities like Chicago. For the proponents of charter schools, in this case Andrew Broy (Teach For America alumni turned law student, turned lawyer, then finally self-actualizing as an education expert), market competition that pits individuals (students, teachers, schools, and districts) against each other in the spirit of neoliberalism is the best approach to solving inequality. Fundamentally, this approach negates the obvious realities of competition – there are winners and losers. In fact, it is this very type of competition that has created a society where we have, and largely tolerate, systemic inequality of winners and losers (haves and have not’s). For Broy, and the likes, what is missing in our society is school “choice.” That is, our schools are not performing well because they have no market incentives to “outperform” some other school (and their students) – and in lacking that, these schools reproduce a stratified economy. For Broy, injecting market competition into what has traditionally been public and democratic (well, at least in theory) is the best way to fight for what he, and the other neoliberals, deem the “civil rights” issue of our time.
Juxtaposed to Broy’s insistence that market ideology is the best route for reform, was Jackson Potter (Chicago Teacher’s Union). While Potter did not make it a pivotal point of his argument, he did mention twice (once in the beginning and then again at the end – if you watched that long) that the greatest decrease in the so-called “achievement gap” occurred during President Johnson’s Great Society. For those who point out that the achievement gap is nothing other than an opportunity gap, this is the quintessential argument. That is, schools are not the source of inequality; rather, it is society that creates and perpetuates inequalities that predetermine the types of education that students have access to and ultimately realize. For Broy, this point is understood in that poor students have access to bad schools – so, what they need are “better” schools. For Potter, and most educational researchers, what matters most are not the brick and mortar schools that students attend; rather, the homes that they come from and go back to after school. If they followed the research, the panelists – and even venture philanthropists at the Walton Foundation – would put less stock and money into school “choice” and more into ensuring that parents had access to a livable wage, affordable housing, access to healthcare, etc. Dr. Payne, Mr. Broy, and Mr. Potter used little evidence in their assertion there is an achievement gap while ignoring the larger opportunity gap.