Chait On Charters

Jon Chait in New York:

…The achievement gap between poor Black and Latino students in cities and rich white students in suburbs represents a sickening waste of human ability and is a rebuke to the American credo of equal opportunity. Its stubborn persistence has tormented generations of educators and social reformers. The rapid progress in producing dramatic learning gains for poor children, and the discovery of models that have proved reliable in their ability to reproduce them, is one of the most exciting breakthroughs in American social policy. For many education specialists, the left’s near abandonment of charter schools has been a bleak spectacle of unlearning — the equivalent of Lincoln promising to rip out municipal water systems or Eisenhower pledging to ban the polio vaccine. Just as the dream is becoming real, the party that helped bring it to life is on the verge of snuffing it out.

In college, I had a brief experience tutoring bright students who’d been taught depressingly little by the public schools of Detroit, which impressed upon me the cruelty of a system that denied so many kids any chance to develop their talent. But it wasn’t until I met my wife that I got interested in charter schools. Robin has devoted her career to education policy: She studied it in graduate school, taught at a low-income school, worked in local and federal education departments, researched for a liberal think tank, did executive-level work for a charter-school network. Her current role is with a nonprofit organization, consulting for and providing technical assistance to schools and state education bodies. Because of Robin, I’ve gained a window into a siloed world of experts who grasp both the state of research on charter schools and its staggering moral implications. Once you have scrutinized a machine that systematically squanders the intellect of an entire caste of citizens before they have reached adulthood, then glimpsed an alternative that reliably does the opposite, it is hard to stop thinking about it…