Learning From NYC

It’s a die-hard liberal Chicagoan’s fantasy: liberal mayor elected to office with a mandate to make preschool universal and rein in charter schools.  (Elected school board? Not so much.)

But then it turns out that some of the charter schools are doing really well, and parents without better options really don’t care what the schools are called as long as they’re better than the other alternatives, and reformers run a very smart (and very expensive) media and parent mobilizing campaign against the anti-charter campaign (and find powerful centrist Democrats who disagree).

In the end, the liberal mayor has to give a speech in which he admits that the public system remains broken despite all efforts, and that charters aren’t the city’s main problem but are in many cases an example of how district schools could do better for kids.

Can we just skip the NYC theatrics and get to the end? Probably not.


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  • Thanks for posting the video of Mayor de Blasio speaking on PreK-12 education. The Mayor works from the assumption we will "save every child," that is really standard rhetoric. What politician or leader of a big city school system is going to publicly admit that public education in the history of our nation has never "saved" every child and likely in our life time will not do so. Mayor de Blasio in this speech perpetuates the myth of public education as the great equalizer between rich and poor.

    Public education since the development of the common school movement in the 1800s has been part of a societal sorting process for working class children and those from families where simply no one is working. It has brought into the economy enough competent workers and college graduates to for the most part fill available jobs in the economy not taken by children from higher income families. When there are shortages in a particular field our economy can import additional skilled workers or college graduates with advanced educations.

    The idea that charter schools need to return to their original vision as innovators and laboratories of change that could be brought back to traditional schools is in my opinion profoundly delusional. It is delusional because the original idea of charter schools always assumed some type of free education market place where losing schools would be abandoned and better schools would strive. But that is not what has happened, there are excellent charter schools across the nation and there are weak ones. The weak ones are not necessarily weak for every child, but rather for the statical majority of students in that charter in a manner similar to weak traditional schools.

    The biggest losers in both traditional and charter schools are students with disabilities that are not so significant that they will absolutely require societal support for their lifetimes, but even those students are not coming near reaching their potential. Why is this the case? It relatively simple the US Supreme Court was profoundly honest in its Rowley decision and declared public schools have no legal obligation to educate students with either moderate or more profound disabilities to any where near their full potential, only to a lower level called "appropriate." Why? Because the costs are enormous and governments will not tax to a level to make it possible, in good part because these disabled children are not in their mass needed in the work force of our nation.

    In truth the same principal applies to the poor students Mayor de Blasio referenced indirectly in his speech. If one starts from the realities of the American public education system and it's limited funding base we have accept that currently not every child can be saved, but a lot more can be. In particular many students who will drift into criminal modes of survival can be diverted from that path.

    Charter schools can be part of the solution to the extent that they are prohibited from pre-sorting students and forcing out losers, pre-school helps but it's positive impact dissipates with time, and keeping good teachers helps but one needs to recognize not every teacher wants to be a missionary to the poor. On a philosophical level I found the Mayor's speech to simply perpetuate our national myth about public education.

    Rod Estvan

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    Very insightful, though somewhat depressing, Rod.

    I am a little perturbed that charter advoactes are acting like DeBlasio is somehow declaring all out war on charters. Of the 17 that applied, he approved 14. He is just one of the few political leaders anywhere who is not singing out of the corporate/charter hymnbook. And for that reason the charter advocates have decided he is public enemy #1.

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    BTW, I wonder who is paying for that "very expensive" media campaign that Mr. Russo cites? Must be just regular old parents, somehow finding millions of dollars to do a New York city ad blitz.

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