The charter school movement in Washington jumped through another political hula hoop last week when the State Supreme Court confirmed (again) that they are (still) legal and constitutional.
This is familiar territory at this point, so I took this as an opportunity to look more deeply into the anti-charter arguments. Where are they (still) so fervently coming from? I've found that this strange position of being passionately pro-public education and vehemently against charter schools only makes sense when one critical piece of information is considered: regardless of what they say about equity and our opportunity gaps, the charter opponents believe, deep down, that the status quo is acceptable in our schools.
Then, in response to publishing that opinion, I got this response on Twitter that perfectly reinforced my theory:
“This argument is so misguided. The reason we don’t like charter schools is much more simple: they take public resources that should go to ALL students and give them to SOME students. This creates even more inequity and doesn’t address or solve any problems.”
This person voiced an opinion that many seem to share. What I hear them strongly implying, of course, is that our public school system takes public resources that should go to ALL students and distributes them that way: equally among all students.
But here’s the thing: that’s not real. That’s exactly the false original premise I’m describing when I say that charter school opponents are actually fine with our schools the way they are.
For one, equality is different than equity. Equality means giving everyone the same thing regardless of need. Equity is about addressing needs, even when that doesn’t mean “equal” treatment.
For another, our public school system is a mess of inequity, opportunity gaps, disproportionate discipline and inconsistent expectations. We all know those terms, but take a moment to think about that: Washington State’s schools have opportunity gaps, which means students are systemically being granted and denied opportunities.
In other words, every district in the state of Washington is literally “taking public resources that should go to ALL students and giving them to SOME students.” They’re not doing it transparently, of course. The money is supposed to be distributed equitably and with fidelity, and yet the opportunity gaps remain.
I’m not saying charter schools are The Answer. I’ve written repeatedly, in fact, that charter schools are not some sort of panacea. If charters don’t live up to their potential, then they’ll lose my support. But they are a doorway out of the unacceptably discriminatory system that doesn’t require paying for private school, and they are a pathway to proof points, the possible beginnings of upsetting a monolithic status quo.
Before you start naysaying on charters, complaining about what they are or aren’t, please consider a couple questions: What are you doing to urgently pull the legs out from under the opportunity gap? What are you doing to disrupt the status quo in education? I don’t want to know what you oppose. What are you doing?
Last year, only 2,400 students attended 10 charter public schools Washington State, and things went very well. For me, the far greater worry than these 10 schools is the 295 districts that are home currently, right now, to unforgivable discrimination. The far greater concern is that Seattle Public Schools, which has been acknowledging its opportunity gaps for 70 years, be allowed to continue paying lip service to students and families without being held accountable to changing its ways.
Charter schools will proliferate if they are successful in serving traditionally vulnerable populations and continue to make headway in close opportunity gaps. If they fail in this mission, then public school traditionalists have nothing to worry about. It’s that simple.
We’ll fail the students who need us most only if we keep focusing on dogma and artificial differences instead of doggedly pursuing every possible pathway to a different present (not future) for all students.