Why Sending Your Child to a Charter School Hurts Other Children
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A market economy thrives on consumerism, itself a type of churn. Possibly the best example of the foundational churn in the free market is the version labeling of all things technology. OS 10.7.5, for example, lets the consumer know that something has been updated, thus improved, but that something even better is on the way.
The great irony of the market economy is that consumerism works regardless of the expertise of the consumer: What the consumer wants drives the products, but the quality of that product is essentially “good” if it conforms to that demand and capital is generated as a result.
However in a democracy, as Thomas Jefferson and other founders realized, the expertise of the public is essential to the quality of the democracy. Well-educated voters are likely to create a thriving and equitable democracy.
As noted above, charter schools represent a new and hybrid version of school choice, one that combines the market ideals of choice and competition with commitments to public institutions, public schools. For parents legitimately unsatisfied with their community schools, charter schools present both choice and the appearance of attending public schools. Therein lies the larger problem that creates the dilemma faced when critics of charter schools clash with those parents seeking better schools for their children.
Although not a simple explanation, parental choice may often (especially in the case of enthusiasm for “no excuses” schools) reflect an idealized faith in choice and competition that is not in the best democratic and equitable interests of the public or any individual family exercising choice.
Instead of seeking yet another type of school choice, educators and parents would likely benefit from committing to reforming public education so that no family needs a choice.
As blogger Jersey Jazzman explains, choosing a charter school for your child is in some ways a submissive act that weakens parental choice and voice:
So you may have made a "choice" when you pulled your kids out of a public school that was run by a local school board responsive to your political will. But that "choice" did not include you having any say in what happens to your children's school when the rich and powerful decide to make an example of it. You have no choice in whether a charter stays open -- so you don't really have a "choice," do you?
While parents should not be marginalized for seeking what is best for their own children, the competition model of consumerism must be challenged so that the public comes to see that what is best for any parents’ child is what is in the best interest of all children. If any parents’ choices secure quality for their child, but other people’s children remain underserved, all children are mis-served.
Educators such as Alfie Kohn and Ravitch represent a democratic tradition that stands in stark contrast to the market ideology driving the enduring faith in parental choice as a central part of education reform, reflecting John Dewey in School and Society: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.”
Ultimately, charter schools can appear successful in individual cases or in the short term, notably when outlier data are presented as typical results in charter schools or when comparisons between charter and traditional schools disregard external and additional funding. But charter schools are not desirable for democracy, or for the goals of civil rights and social justice.