Charter Schools

Rock the Schools: A Much-Needed Blast

We here at Education Post know you visit our site because you want to read a more reasonable take on the education debates you see in the blogosphere and on social media, which often makes backyard wrestling seem civil by comparison. But while we strive to be measured, we don’t shy away from tough talk—and our resident provocateur, Chris Stewart, has a particular talent for writing about issues many are too afraid to tackle. Now, you can enjoy Chris’s sharp, no-nonsense commentary on another platform aside from his posts for this site and his Citizen Stewart blog—his new weekly podcast, Rock the Schools. This week’s installation challenges an article written in AlterNet by Christopher Bonastia, associate professor of sociology at Lehman College, titled  The Racist History of the Charter School Movement. Bonastia alleges that charter schools reinforce segregation, don’t enroll enough low-income students, and have expanded too quickly before their efficacy has been proven. The episode features two longtime education activists, Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change who helped write the nation’s first charter public school law, and Bill Wilson, founder and executive director of Higher Ground Academy, a high school that has twice been recognized as one of the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. As two people who have been intimately involved in launching charter schools, Joe and Bill explain the reasoning behind their creation and how they’ve improved the educational landscape. Here are some highlights from the podcast (you can listen to the whole thing below): Joe on why, despite similar political leanings, charter opponents differ so much from those who support charter schools:
I wouldn’t call them liberals, I’d call them “pseudo liberal we know what’s best for y’all people” because they really don’t want poor people to make choices. I’ve looked through this professor’s research. I don’t see anything that criticizes white people for going to suburbs. I don’t see anything that criticizes the New York City School District for having a whole series of magnet schools that screen out low-income kids, that screen out kids who can’t pass tests.
Chris on the premise that traditional schools level the playing field for low-income children and children of color:
American public education has always been about education for some and for others, none.
Bill on the push to close charter schools, the first of which opened in 1991, while allowing traditional public schools to fail for decades:
How should we expect all the change that should have happened, but hasn’t happened, in 150 years to happen over 25 years?....The public school system has been a huge monopoly. People had no choice. If you lived in a certain place, you had to go to school in the place. Public schools were operated unfortunately like plantations, if this is the plantation you’re on, this is the plantation you have to stay on. We broke that chain once and charter schools are breaking it again.
Joe on painting charter schools with a broad brush:
There’s an awful lot of self-criticism within the charter movement, and I think that’s healthy. There’s a constant effort to ask how we can do better, and there’s also an acknowledgement that charters don’t have all the answers. It’s so outrageous to lump in “charters this” and “charters that” because the only thing that is common to charters all across the country is that they have a contract where they’re supposed to show they have improved student achievement measured in various ways over a period of three to ten years.
The podcast lasts an hour and debunks the contentions made in Professor Bonastia’s piece, emphasizing the creation of charters as a solution to the discrimination faced by children of color in traditional schools. Chris’s podcast is a welcome addition to the better conversation we hope to have.  
Caroline Bermudez
Caroline Bermudez is chief storyteller at the Charter School Growth Fund and former senior writer at Education Post. Bermudez has been a journalist for almost 10 years. She was staff editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the nonprofit world, with a particular focus on foundations and high net-worth giving. She has interviewed prominent business, political and philanthropic leaders ...

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