They honored former President Bill Clinton, and heard from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker — all pretty measured, mainstream folks. But attendees at this week’s National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta were also subjected to some ugly and inflammatory rhetoric from people trying to cast traditional public schools in the worst possible light.
Commenting on the Georgia Supreme Court’s recent 4-3 ruling that the state was unconstitutionally commissioning charter schools that should, by law, be authorized by local school boards, Tony Roberts, president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, offered this assessment:
“The majority of the Georgia Supreme Court has just found 16,000 innocent children guilty of choosing a better education,” Roberts said. “And even worse, the justices have sentenced them, in many cases, to failing or inadequate schools.”
“Innocent children.” Guilty.” “Sentenced.” If that kind of talk sounds a bit over the top, well, it is. But it’s all too common today in the national debate over – to use a term that has seemingly lost much of its meaning or usefulness – school reform.
Of course, school board members should not respond in kind, yet they ignore such attacks at their peril. And, unfortunately, the rhetoric will only get worse as the election season heats up. (For more on how to counter the naysayers and build trust, see Nora Carr’s Communications column in the June issue of American School Board Journal.)
When engaging the public in these kinds of discussions, it’s always good to know the facts. And a great place to start is at NSBA’s Center for Public Education, which has a section devoted to the latest research on charter schools. Among the more recent findings is a survey of 15 states and the District of Columbia by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). It found that while 17 percent of the charters performed significantly better than the regular public schools, a larger number – 37 percent – performed significantly worse. The rest scored about the same.
Still need some inspiration? Then read the Washington City Paper’s excellent profile of education historian and public school advocate Diane Ravitch. (Yes, it’s been awhile since she spoke at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network conference in Washington, but her words are still timely.)
Ready for something lighter? We know the political landscape seems slightly confusing as far as education policy is concerned. We’ve got Democrats Bill Clinton and Cory Booker attending conferences that include some of the more radical members of the Georgia charter school crowd, and Ravitch, a former education official in the George H.W. Bush administration, emerging as arguably the nation’s premier champion of the public schools.
So how about Chester Finn and his left-leaning Fordham Foundation? That’s right — they’ve gone all liberal on us, said Redstate.com after Finn had the temerity to question some of the education ideas of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential presidential candidate.
You can’t make this stuff up. But thanks to Eduwonk for digging it up.
“It’s really getting to be French Revolution time over there on the right,” the Ed wonks say.