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December 1, 1996
Vol. 54
No. 4


      Charter schools was the topic in our “Talk to the EL Authors” online forum, Oct. 28-Nov. 7. Alex Molnar and Joe Nathan, whose articles on the subject appeared in October, fielded questions and comments, while Senior Editor Carolyn Pool moderated. Here are a few much abbreviated excerpts from the spirited give and take.
      Pam Riley: The ASCD charter position statement indicates that charter schools have had only —al success. That is not the experience in California or Minnesota. Would you comment on some “successes.”
      Molnar: Charter school successes are, at this point, largely based on anecdotal reports. Evidence from individual schools does not make the case for the reform any more than the successes of individual public schools make the case for the status quo.
      Nathan: Any research is limited, as the oldest charter schools are in their 4th year, and hundreds are only in their 2nd or 3rd year. However, seven schools in California, Colorado, and Minnesota have had their charters renewed because they had a positive impact on their students.
      Molnar: The charter school movement in the U.S. is diverse. However, the real political juice behind it comes from some of the most reactionary sectors of American political life.
      Nathan: Where is the “political juice” coming from? Let's start with President Clinton and his education secretary, Richard Riley, who advocated increasing taxes to pay more for education.
      Molnar: It matters little that Clinton, Riley, and others favor charters. The reality is that without an enormous increase in funding, charter schools will at best be reform at the —s. Charter schools in the U.S. can never promote equity because the funding for education is perhaps the most inequitable in the developed world.
      Eric Premack(Charter Schools Project, California State University): California and many other states have spent billions to equalize funding. They have found that while more money can help, it's not the silver bullet. Many charter schools have found exceptionally creative solutions that often cost less than the intensive bricks-and-mortar approach.
      Frank Dooling(America Online Charter Schools Forum): I fail to see the “funding inequity.” Charter schools and regular public schools get essentially the same public dollars. In fact, charter schools usually get fewer dollars per pupil. By reducing the administrative bureaucracy and enabling schools to competitively purchase supplies, these districts have proven that direct funding to schools can result in far more bang for the educational buck.
      Some also say that charter schools will cream the best students off the top and leave the rest behind. This simply has not happened. First, admissions policies prohibit charter schools from discriminating in any way; and second, many charters educate troubled students who have had a bad time in other schools.
      Jeff Rose: I am involved in a new public school academy in rural Michigan. Is it possible to inject the free market into education? I think it is. The charter movement is the only way to force equality of education for those whose socioeconomic situation does not allow for choice.
      Nathan: I have been an inner city public school teacher and administrator. My wife is a St. Paul public school teacher. In 1971 I helped start a K–12, 500 student public alternative school that recently celebrated its 25th birthday. School choice is a powerful tool, which, much like electricity, must be used carefully. Used badly, it will create more problems than it solves.
      Molnar: One thing that “strong” charter school legislation enshrines in law is lower standards for teachers. Anyone who can pass a criminal record check can teach at a charter school; almost anyone with a business plan can start one.
      Nathan: No, Alex, anyone can't start a charter school. A person has to have a plan that satisfies a district or state.
      Dale Wallace(Calgary, Alberta): I would hope Alex doesn't want the teachers to be graduates of a college of education. Everyone knows that incoming education students score nearly 100 SAT points below students in other colleges.
      Molnar: Let me broaden my comment. In states with “strong” charter school laws, there are often no requirements that teachers, administrators, or other school staff meet any standard of any kind. Period.
      Nathan: Alex suggests that the charter movement may be trying to reduce teachers salaries: Nope. Some charter schools pay teachers more than the average salary in their district because they spend money more efficiently.
      Jeremy Resnick: In the public schools where I've taught, many teachers leave not because of poor pay, but because the environment stifles innovation and it's painful to be in schools that don't work.
      Deborah Lazarus: I am a parent and a public school teacher. My small, rural New York district offers no choices. A group of us have been pushing for charter legislation. The competition could be the itch needed to bring in innovative programs. Think about it: money following students, and we know how money talks.
      Jude Lynell Hollins: Charter schools are created by teachers and parents, not right wing think tank publishers (who may very well be guiding the discourse around “choice”). To the people doing the real work, it is not a blind faith in some market, but a reconstruction of community....
      All the posts will be archived on the ASCD Web site under Educational Leadership. Visit ASCD's home page on the Web (http://www.ascd.org), and under “Electronic Exchange,” select “Talk to the EL Authors.”

      This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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