Thursday, September 13, 2012

Time To End Charter Schools

From the outset, the union that represents Chicago Public School teachers has said that they are not striking for more pay. They are striking for something bigger. They are striking to insure the very existence of public schools.

Plenty of people have given up on public schools and are ready to switch to a system of private schools funded with public money, either in the form of charter schools or vouchered schools. Plenty of corporations are eager to get hold of all the money which is presently spent on public schools. In a lot of places, it is the biggest expenditure that local government makes.

Chicago has been closing public schools and has plans to close more. That isn't what the strike negotiators tell us they are talking about, but it is what is on everyone's minds. The so-called reforms that the mayor and school board are proposing are designed to transform public education into the charter school model. The school board is proposing that principals be allowed to hire and fire teachers, eliminating protections that teachers now have under their union contract. This is the way things are done in charter schools, because there are no unions in charter schools. It's one of the reasons there is more teacher turnover and teachers have less experience in charter schools than in public schools.

The theory behind giving principals discretion in hiring and firing is that principals in charter schools are acting as corporate executives who should be able to have the employees they want. What that theory misunderstands is that public schools are not run for the benefit of shareholders as charter schools are; they are run for the benefit of students and the public. Principals in public schools don't work for bonuses. If they are good, they get a paycheck and the satisfaction of knowing that they have played a role in educating children.

The corporate model assumes that principals are the most important people in schools. Most people who have sent kids to public schools in America recognize that classroom teachers have the most important and direct influence on children and how well they learn and develop, and that principals are merely part of the administrative overhead that is needed to keep things running. In all schools, principals have little to no meaningful interaction with students on a daily basis, other than perhaps greeting them at the door with a smile.

The investors who want to persuade the public to privatize public schools have been blaming teachers for the shortcomings in education, instead of looking at overcrowded classrooms, scarcity of books, materials, and supplies, the effect of poverty and family difficulties on students, and lots of other things that are the real reasons so many students in Chicago don't do better in school. These problems are the reason that charter schools don't do any better than public schools when they run schools in Chicago and other cities. Studies show that often, charter school students perform worse than public school students.

The people who invest in charter schools aren't really concerned about student performance. They are just there to make a buck. So when charter schools fail to live up to the promises they make, the investors close them down, leaving neighborhoods holding the bag and tossing teachers out of jobs. That is what the Chicago teachers' union is worried about. They don't want to end up on the street because some principal, eager to get a bonus, decides to distract the investors by scapegoating teachers. That is why the public should be supporting the teachers. Not just for the sake of the teachers, but for the sake of their students, and all the rest of us who want those students to get an education.

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