Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Dose of Democracy

Charter schools could use a good dose of democracy. If one thinks about it, charters have a "get out of democracy free" card. The boards that oversee charters are not elected, but rather chosen by the people who founded/operate the school. Unions are strongly discouraged, so teachers are not empowered. Parental involvement varies from school to school. The Department of Education has no real policing powers over charters. Finally, charters have avoided, at least to date, further legislative oversight.

None of this makes for better education. In the recent past, charters were able to justify such actions as anti-unionism on their unique program that produced significant education outcomes. Research now shows that when students with similar demographics are compared charters do not out perform traditional public schools. So what will be the excuse to continue to operate charters like fiefdoms?

There is a place for charters in education just as there is a place for private schools. However, charters have less justification than private schools for insisting on complete autonomy. Charters take taxpayers' money. That should make them accountable. Public dollars should make them open to public scrutiny. That should make them have elected, not chosen boards. Charter construction funding should face referendum. Finally, public money should mean that charters cannot thwart the efforts of their employees to form unions. Education in general and charters in particular need more democracy, not less.

1 comment:

  1. I think that most charters are not currently, but could be breeding grounds for innovation. Let's face it, time and time again, the traditional school district model has failed teachers and students. Districts are top-heavy, slow to react and are not flexible enough to provide teachers with the oppurtunity to make individualized decisions about how to best serve students.

    If charter schools could be held accountable by a strong teacher association and increased oversight, I see two benefits. Teachers would be afforded a setting in which they could try out new ideas without having to work for substandard wages and the traditional public schools would be forced to adapt as to not fall behind.

    The trick is figuring out how to organize charters in such a way that teachers, not charter school operators are making decisions about students. Duncan and Obama love charters and plan on expanding them, so NEA and AFT had better start getting a plan together if they want to remain the leading advocates of whats best for students and teachers.