Man, he’s everywhere! If you didn’t get enough Casey below, then at Edwize, per Friday’s op-ed Leo Casey has three questions for me, distilled right here, in their original here. Leo asks: (1) Why no mention of the UFT charter initiative (2) “Why, in a discussion of charter schools and teacher unions, can you not bring yourself to mention the fact that for every teacher unionist who “reflexively opposes” charter schools, there are two charter school advocates who “reflexively oppose” teacher unions? And (3) “Why defend charter schools by making a case for the most questionable of charter schools, “virtual schools,” classroom-free, teacher-free and book-free institutions which have proven to be little more than a conduit to access public funds without providing meaningful education and a means for the paper accreditation of ‘home schooling’?”
Answers: (1) By their form op-eds are short-order writing and one can’t include everything. If the UFT’s charter initiative wasn’t pretty exceptional that would be one thing, but it is. Consequently, not mentioning it doesn’t change the national picture the op-ed was giving readers. And, the piece did clearly note that teachers’ unions can bring a lot to the table here and that the voice of teachers’ needs to be in the conversation.
(2) Because it’s not true and it’s ludicrous that Leo even tries to attach some mathematical precision to it. Has he done a census, a poll? In fact, this fiction may be one of the most self-destructive myths going in teachers’ union circles now.* They seem to think that charter schools are some great right-wing conspiracy, when in fact the evidence, as it exists, is that, if anything, they are perhaps something of a left-wing conspiracy! The teachers’ unions focus on the very small percentage of charters that are run by for-profit outfits or right-wing types and ignore the overall landscape. Those anecdotes will be their undoing because the thousands of young people flocking into charters, who are, while not uniformly, pretty overwhelmingly progressive, are becoming increasingly radicalized toward teachers’ unions. In other words they’re sowing dragons’ teeth. For what it’s worth, my guess of the landscape, which I daresay I’m a little closer to than Leo, would be about 20 percent hostile to teachers’ unions on principle, 20 percent enthusiastic, and 60 percent agnostic and waiting to be won over by one side or the other.
That said, two other points. First, the vocal national leadership for charter schools does now skew right, I’d argue, but that’s changing and not representative of the picture on the ground. Besides, more Democrats would come out on the issue if it were politically safer. Second, the way to marginalize the genuine union-haters is to come to the table because they are only as strong as the teachers’ unions are absent on the reform scene. And, what makes charters exciting as a movement is that they are not ideological, per se. Rather, they’re a pragmatic solution that can be accessed by anyone, and can be and are supported by the left, right and middle. You can’t say that about too many things in education!
(3) Because that’s exactly the point. The piece was not about charters per se but about more customization for kids. As I said virtual charter schools are bit players in this drama and I suspect they will continue to be because they will not appeal to most parents. But they do work for some kids. It’s the resistance to any sort of idea like this that is the point. And as I pointed out they need more accountability but that’s not a reason not to have them it’s a reason to get the policy right. In terms of homeschoolers, who cares? If they’re willing to come into the public system and play by the public rules then isn’t that more people, not fewer, with a stake in publicly financed education? I suspect that most will not. There is a raging debate in the homeschool community about virtual public schools precisely because of the public regulations. But, if even a minority of them want to come into the fold, what’s the sense in keeping them out?
*The myth is sort of Biblical, charters were pure originally but then there was a fall…Along came Checker Finn with an apple…