By Larry Sand
January 9, 2018

We have barely unwrapped 2018, and the charter school haters are still partying like its 1992.

Last week an article appeared in The Nation – the crusty old-world progressive rag that has been with us since Mr. Lincoln was shot – that blasted charter schools and dredged up the same tired old talking points the regressive establishmentarians have been using since charter schools first appeared in 1992. 

Charter Schools Are Reshaping America’s Education System for the Worse” is a mishmash of easily debunked nonsense. Using information gleaned from a report by the Network for Public Education, a union-friendly outfit that believes in zip code-mandated government schools über alles, author Michelle Chen quotes NPE President Carol Burris who asserts that charter schools “want the funding and the privilege of public schools but they don’t want the rules that go along with them.” (Emphasis added.)

Well, duh! If charters were to use all the antiquated “rules” that strangle traditional public schools, they wouldn’t be charters. The article then suggests that charters are evil because they promote segregation (lie), cherry pick their students – e.g. avoiding special needs kids or English language learners (very rarely) – and, worst of all, may be resistant to unionization (because they understand the world of problems that accompany Big Labor.)

Needless to say, there is a wealth of solid information that the article conveniently omits. First, charters are schools of choice and parents are choosing to send their kids there in ever increasing numbers. Nationally, there are now about 3 million students enrolled in charters – 6 percent of all public school students – up from 1.8 million students just five years ago. And a new study reveals that those kids who attend a large network charter graduate from college at three to five times the national average.

In New York City, home of The Nation, a group of schools not included in the study do a pretty good job too. Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy chain outscored every district in New York State on the 2017 English and math exams. There are 48,000 kids on charter waitlists in New York City awaiting a lottery, whose lucky winners will gain admission to a charter. Not exactly cherry picking. Also, the reason that charters tend to be “segregated,” or more accurately have a majority minority population, is because their local schools are the ones that parents are most eager to escape from.

Also worth noting is that charters in New York City do what they do with only 80 percent of the funding that district-run schools get.

Of course not all charters are fabulous, but if they fail to achieve, they close. For example, the United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s teachers union, once led by Albert Shanker and later, Randi Weingarten, tried its hand at running a charter school. But it was shuttered because in 2014, a decade after opening, just 1.2 percent of seventh-graders at the school scored proficiently on state reading tests, while 2 percent of eighth-graders reached proficiency in math. Current UFT boss Michael Mulgrew refused to accept any responsibility for the students’ abysmal showing, blaming the state tests instead.

A second school run by UFT is also in trouble now as it appears that it really does cherry pick its students, despite the fact that Mulgrew has long pushed for state legislation that would impose penalties on charters that don’t accept as many hard-to-teach kids as traditional public schools. According to the Wall Street Journal, only 3 percent of students at the UFT Charter School in Brooklyn were English-language learners in the last school year, far less than the 12 percent share in the traditional public schools in the area. Only 8 percent of the charter’s students had disabilities, compared with 22 percent in the nearby district schools.

Ms. Chen could have used the UFT schools as examples of charter school problems…but conveniently she chose not to spotlight them.

Detroit, which ranks ninth in per-student spending nationally, owns the nation’s worst reading scores for low-income children. But charters in Motown are superior. In fact, a 2015 study found that for each year a student attends a Detroit charter school, he or she receives the equivalent of a few weeks to as much as several months of additional learning in reading and math compared to peers at Detroit’s district schools. Yet even with charter superiority (or because of it), the Detroit Public Schools Community District makes it very difficult for charters to flourish by imposing hideous “fees” on schools that wish to expand. The establishment doesn’t take kindly to the upstarts showing them up.

In San Francisco, just 19 percent of black students are proficient in English, compared to 31 percent of black students statewide. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which voted in 2016 for a resolution that called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools in the U.S., is sticking to its guns – with support from local NAACP leader Amos Brown. The NAACP’s talking points and verbiage came directly from the National Education Association playbook with all the inherent lies, half-truths and exaggerations intact. The NAACP’s venom can be explained by the fact that NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the organization over the past decade.

And finally, we look to Philadelphia, where, in an attempt to escape their zip code-mandated government school and get a superior education, some kids endure a 2.5 hour bus ride – each way – to go to a charter school in distant Chester. And yet, The Nation will not give the story in Philly any ink. Or Detroit. Or San Francisco. Or New York. Or countless other cities across the U.S.

Talk about cherry picking. Sheesh.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own