Thursday, February 07, 2008

Questions for the Candidates: #1 Poverty, and #2 Charter Schools

Since it appears the debates will continue for a while yet, let's try out some new questions.

Question # 1: Poverty

Thank you for taking my question. And this question is for all candidates:

Our poorest children in the public schools face insurmountable challenges that threaten their future, as well as the future of their schools. It is an indisputable fact, for instance, that family income is positively correlated with student achievement, with state and district level test scores showing the correlation without exception, as do SAT and ACT scores: the lower the family income, the lower the test scores, and the higher the family income, the higher the test scores.

At a time when public school households across the nation are, indeed, getting poorer, NCLB demands test scores go higher and higher. While experts agree, without exception, agree that these demands can't be met, and that most public schools will fail by 2014, and while most urban and poor rural schools are being turned into abusive test prep chain gangs, politicians refuse to confront the truth for fear of being accused of the "bigotry of low expectations."

My question is this (and thank you for your patience): Do you see poverty as the problem that has to be addressed in order to raise student achievement? And if you do see poverty as a problem related to the achievement gaps, what will you do to reduce poverty in urban and rural neighborhoods and to help raise family incomes, which would constitute the grandest kind of education reform--one that does more good than harm?

Question #2: Charter Schools

Thank you for taking my question, and yes, this is directed to all candidates:

When Eli Broad and Bill Gates announced last year that they would inject $60,000,000 to "force education to the forefront of the 2008 presidential campaign," their Strong American Schools program was launched. Some prefer to call their effort Strong-Arming American Schools, since their money appears directed toward remaking public education by turning schools into charter schools, which operate as non-profit and for-profit corporate entities funded by public dollars but without local school board oversight and without the benefits and salaries of teachers in the regular public schools. Recently, for instance, Eli Broad gave $12,000,000 to spread charter schools in L.A.

There are huge sums of corporate money, venture capital (with tax credits), and foundation grants going to fund charter school startups acoss the country. Even the U. S. Department of Education has earmarked $273,000,000 for charter schools in next year's budget. What they all have in common is less public oversight and control by locally-elected school boards, fewer benefits and less job security for teachers, fewer services for special needs children, even more focus on test scores, and less adequate facilities for drama, sports, and other school activities.

The one big advantage of charter schools? They are cheaper, about 20 cents on the dollar cheaper.

Now here is my question, and thank you for your patience. Given the fact that charter schools give up so much in return for the promise of corporte efficiency, and given the fact that the research consistently shows their academic achievement based on test scores no better, and sometimes worse, than the regular public schools, is 20 cents on the dollar enough to recommend them for the urban children, urban parents, and urban teachers who already have been shortchanged ever since slavery?

What is your position on charter schools, and what will you do to make sure that public schools in urban and poor areas aren't replaced by this new efficiency model of corporate schools and year-round test preparation? And would you send your own children or grandchildren to one of these schools?


philip said...

These are great questions...the issue is airing them...apparently, there is bipartisan work going on to reauthorize NCLB with sanctions intact. Indeed the Aspen Institute, another benefactor of the Gates foundation, is calling for "better access to school choice" in their recommendations for reauthorization.

See edweek on reauthorization:

And read a short analysis of the new Aspen recommendations here:

Craig A. Cunningham said...

Jim: Yes, great questions. Two points:

Poverty is not limited to "urban and rural" neighborhoods. Increasingly, in the Chicago area, poor families are being pushed out of the city into the collar communities, which are facing huge educational challenges as a result.

I agree that charter schools are primarily a FINANCIAL and not an EDUCATION improvement. However, the "averages" that you use to make the point that they do no better than regular public schools are usually ignored. Instead, parents in poor communities look at their abysmal neighborhood public school, and then at the shiny charter school down the way with uniformed children and sparkling white hallways (at least during recruitment periods)--or goldplate sponsors such as the University of Chicago or, now, University of Illinois at Chicago--and are in awe. All parental educational decisions are local. And as we have seen with restaurants and hardware stores, when all decisions are local, big corporations are the winners.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they are good questions. In fact any question that broaches education is a good one. I would point out a couple of fallacies however. While adequate income almost universally guarantees educational proficiency, the reverse is far less true. The data points have a much wider spread at the low income end of the regression than at the high. Food for thought--as in, perhaps there are some real differences between low-income schools that can be instituted more boradly.

Second, as the charters are accessed by parent/family choice, it would appear that there is at least the perception of some value-add that is not well recognized, in addition to the "efficiencies," which are not likely to hold if the movement gets a toe-hold on gov't funds. Things to consider are climate differences, the opportunity for greater parent involvement. Just knowing that a school actually WANTS your kid to come can be a powerful driving force.