Bernie Sanders Launches a Deeply Misguided Attack on Charter SchoolsNational ReviewURL: https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/05/ ... r-schools/Category:
May 20, 2019Description:
The Vermont senator’s message to parents is clear, and repugnant: I and my teachers’ union allies know better than you what schools are best for your kids.
One of the great benefits of living life well outside the Beltway is that it’s easy to take my eyes off the swamp, look to the states surrounding me, and see places where politics actually function as they’re supposed to. I can even, occasionally, see those issues on which Democrats and Republicans might work together, united in common purpose, for the common good. Exhibit A: the charter-school movement. It’s granted an invaluable degree of educational choice to families who long lacked the flexibility that prosperous suburban and upper-middle-class parents take for granted, and its extraordinary growth is a bipartisan achievement. There are times when it seems like everyone likes charter schools. The Trump Department of Education has issued hundreds of millions of dollars in charter-school grants. The Obama administration invested in charter schools. As Newark mayor, Democrat Cory Booker “bet big” on charter schools, and athletes such as Jalen Rose and LeBron James have personally invested in them. Here’s how the New York Times described the atmosphere and results at James’s I Promise School:
Every day, [the students] are celebrated for walking through the door. This time last year, the students at the school — Mr. James’s biggest foray into educational philanthropy — were identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools and branded with behavioral problems. Some as young as 8 were considered at risk of not graduating. Now, they are helping close the achievement gap in Akron.
Of course, not every charter school is good. Not every charter school is a success. But if there has ever existed anything like a broad point of left–right agreement in the American education debate, it’s that charters represent a vital piece of the educational puzzle, an option that can and does transform students’ lives. So why did Bernie Sanders announce last week that, if elected president, he would declare war on charter schools? His poorly named Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education (after all, urban, nonwhite students are among the prime beneficiaries of charter-school choice) would “ban for-profit charter schools,” and “halt the use of public funds to underwrite new charter schools” until they complied with a series of federal conditions that would change their governance and facilitate their unionization (many charter-school faculties aren’t unionized). In so doing, it would remove many of the distinctive qualities that helped make charter schools truly competitive with conventional public schools. It’s tempting to explain the plan as little more than coalition politics, Sanders’s effort to cozy up to the teachers’ unions at the expense of student welfare. But that’s unfair. I know enough people in the greater Bernie orbit to know that they sincerely believe a unionized public-school monopoly in K–12 education represents the best chance for new generations of kids. They believe that, properly funded and led, such a system would facilitate academic achievement and social cohesion. But here’s the core problem: The interest in a collective solution to a series of individual educational challenges understates the reality that choice, by itself, is a vital value in a child’s education. And the power of choice cannot be measured by test scores alone, even though the best charter schools yield spectacular results. I think about my own parenting experience. Like many millions of American families who take their power over their kids’ education for granted, we enjoy multiple privileges a poor family doesn’t. We have the job flexibility to live in any number of places, and we can afford housing in a good school district. If we lived in a county or town with a struggling school district, we could afford modest private-school tuition. And back when we lived in Center City, Philadelphia — at a time when we couldn’t easily move and couldn’t afford private school — we were fortunate enough to win a lottery to put our oldest child in an outstanding charter elementary school. With each of the choices we’ve made for our kids’ education over the years, test scores were among the least important factors we considered. We wanted to know the culture of the school and the character of the teachers. We wondered about athletic opportunities. We were concerned with peer and parental influence. The school was going to play a part in raising our children, and a slight percentage change in a math or language test score was meaningless compared to our concern with the growth and development of their personal characters. The Sanders approach wouldn’t take away choice from parents like us. We could still find private schools. We could still move to better school districts. We could still home school. Charter schools exist in the suburbs and in rural America, but they haven’t had the same impact there that they’ve had in American cities. We’d barely feel the effects of the Sanders policy; its brunt would instead be borne by America’s most vulnerable families. Sanders’s plan tells those families that he knows what’s best for them, that his partners in the unions know how to build the schools they need better than they do. This is anything but equity. It’s anything but fairness. One of the enduring challenges of American public life is the sad reality that children face fundamentally different educational opportunities through the accident of birth. The existence of choice itself is a luxury. It’s a thing of immense value, and many millions of parents can’t even comprehend a life where they don’t have the true, final word over their child’s education. I’m writing these words as I fly to give a series of speeches in Texas sponsored by the Texas Charter Schools Association and the National Review Institute. I’ve been writing and speaking about school choice for much of my adult life. I’ve been litigating on its behalf for just as long. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the desire to choose what’s best for one’s own child crosses racial, religious, and partisan lines. It’s a broadly felt human need. Bernie Sanders makes his intentions crystal clear. In his plan, he writes, “We do not need two schools systems; we need to invest in our public schools system.” This is exactly wrong. One size does not fit all. Sanders looks at parents and declares that he knows best. Parents should look back at him and respond, quite simply: I know my child, and I want to shape his destiny. Your collective solutions cannot meet my family’s needs.
Bernie Sanders’s Backward Charter-School ProposalNational ReviewURL: https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/05/ ... -backward/Category:
May 20, 2019Description:
It really is something: The 2020 Democratic presidential primary already has grown so zany that Bernie Sanders has proposed . . . a reduction in federal support for public education. Strange days, indeed. Some background: Charter schools are a class of public schools operated with some degree of independence from the school bureaucracy and, in some cases, from the public-sector unions. They are the product of a Clinton-era compromise between conservatives pressing for genuine school choice (including vouchers to support families of modest means who, like the Clintons and the Obamas, prefer private schools for their children — but who cannot afford the tuition at Sidwell Friends) and progressives who for political and ideological reasons defend the monopolistic character of the public school systems, no matter how deeply or comprehensively those schools are failing their students, particularly the poor and the nonwhite. The public-sector unions have soured on that compromise, and so have the most left-leaning Democrats. And so Senator Sanders, the Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate and who currently is seeking the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong, has proposed to eliminate federal funding for charter schools operated by for-profit enterprises (about 15 percent of charters) and to prohibit federal funding for all new charter schools, including nonprofits, indefinitely. Here, Senator Sanders is displaying his comradeship with another Brooklyn socialist, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who also is seeking the Democratic nomination and who also has made every effort to gut certain public schools that are very popular in low-income minority communities. We can appreciate the allure for these ascendant socialists: The public schools are, after all, one of the few critical enterprises in American life in which the state does in fact own the means of production. Those familiar with the history of this kind of system will not be surprised to learn that it works relatively well for the politically connected — and works barely at all for the least powerful. Which is to say, the charter-school issue exposes a rift in the Democratic coalition. Black urban Democrats such as former Newark mayor Cory Booker have in the past been energetic advocates of charter schools, but the Democratic party increasingly is the party of relatively affluent white suburbanites who can afford to turn up their noses at school reform because their communities are better served by their public schools. Rich white progressives in the suburbs have the luxury of privileging ideology over reality, since few if any of their children will ever set foot in a public school in Philadelphia or Milwaukee. It is to these voters that Senator Sanders’s proposal — cynically framed as a civil-rights issue — is in fact addressed. Charter schools have a mixed record — which is to be expected. Some of them perform very well for students in low-income areas and those with particular needs not well-served by the conventional schools to which they have access; some of them perform poorly; a few of them have been managed with active corruption. Which is to say, they have many things in common with the conventional public schools. Charter schools are not the answer to every educational problem, nor the solution for every family or community. They work well for some students and families — and that is enough. This is one of the reasons for keeping control of education local: because conditions and outcome vary from community to community, and a one-size-fits-all, remote-control policy from Washington cannot account for the genuine diversity of American life. The idea that there is a single model of education that will serve all students, families, and communities is pure nonsense, a product of the society-as-factory mentality that dominates the thinking of old-school socialists such as Senator Sanders. And what’s the future of a few poor kids in dying cities when there’s ideological fanaticism to be serviced and a primary to be won? The reality is that almost every family in these United States with access to excellent K–12 schools is paying tuition. Some of them write big checks to Phillips Exeter; others have the expense rolled into their mortgages, paying a very high price for “free” public schools. But many families do not have the means to enjoy the choices available to the Clintons, the Obamas, the Pelosis, the Feinsteins — or the Sanders family, for that matter: Mrs. Sanders attended private schools. Charter schools are one way to open up the monopolies and provide some alternatives to those desperate for them. Senator Sanders is proposing to foreclose those opportunities, and is doing so for reasons that are as indefensible as they are transparent.
Comrade Sanders Targets Charter SchoolsNational ReviewURL: https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/05/ ... r-schools/Category:
May 21, 2019Description:
Sanders seeks to kneecap what has been an astonishingly successful experiment in education.
Few things offend Bernie Sanders as much as people escaping from command-and-control government systems, even minority students whose parents are desperate to get their kids a decent education. The socialist wants to turn George Wallace on his head and not block black children from attending traditional public schools, but block them from exiting those schools for something better. The New York Times wrote a long, devastating report the other day on the then-Burlington, Vt., mayor’s love affair with the Sandinistas in the 1980s. So many decades later, his reflex is the same: If the Sandinistas wouldn’t favor it, he’s not inclined to like it much either. That goes for charter schools that, yes, are publicly funded, but still too flexible and unregulated for refined socialist tastes. Over the weekend, Sanders unveiled his education plan. He wants to end for-profit charter schools (about 15 percent of all charters) and impose a moratorium on new public funding of charters, while taking steps to impose a one-size-fits-all regulatory regime on existing charters. Sanders thus seeks to kneecap what has been an astonishingly successful experiment in urban education because it doesn’t fit nicely within his ideological preconceptions. That Sanders says he wants to do this to advance the principle that “every human being has the fundamental right to a good education” is hilariously perverse. The comrades will have a good chuckle over that one. Charter schools aren’t the product of a libertarian conspiracy. They fall short of the vouchers favored by conservatives to allow parents to get access to private schools. Charters receive public money but have more leeway to develop policies outside the regulatory and union straitjacket of traditional public schools. Charters had bipartisan support before a Vermont socialist became one of the party’s thought leaders. Bill Clinton won the first-ever lifetime achievement award from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Promoting charters was a hallmark of Barack Obama’s education agenda and a signature of Cory Booker’s mayoralty in Newark, N.J. Not all charters are created equal. Some don’t serve their students well, especially online charter schools, and the performance of suburban and rural charter schools hasn’t been very impressive. It’s the charter schools in urban areas with the worst traditional public schools that have excelled. According to a well-regarded 2015 study by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, students in urban charter schools got the equivalent of 40 additional days of math instruction and 28 additional days of reading annually. The numbers for African-American students in poverty were even better. Charters in Newark and Boston have seen enormous academic gains. In New York City, the Success Academy founded by Eva Moskowitz — one of the foremost education reformers of our time — has eliminated racial and economic achievement gaps. It’s amazing what schools can do when they impose discipline, have the highest expectations, and focus with a laser intensity on instruction. Anyone interested in the education of minority students should seek to build on these oases of excellence, rather than cut them off. But the teachers unions hate charters, and they are a much more powerful potential cadre in the Sanders “revolution” than poor black kids. Sanders suggests that charter schools somehow increase segregation. This is nonsense, as Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine points out. Urban charter schools reflect the segregation of their neighborhoods where they are located — just like traditional public schools do. The polling shows that minority parents get what Sanders (and white progressives) refuses to understand. A solid majority of black and Hispanic Democrats have a favorable view of charters, while white Democrats have an unfavorable view by a 2-1 margin. It is doubtful how much of his anti-charter agenda Sanders would be able to enact if elected, since much of the action is at the state and local level. That he’s hostile to these schools should, regardless, redound to his shame.