And here I thought I was going to get a day off.
Well, not a “day off”, so much as a day of behind-the-scenes stuff. I’m getting hold of charter school representatives and getting their responses to specific allegations in the MN2020 report.
But MN2020 came out with a response to the response that their report has gotten.
And I gotta tell you – it’s as rhetorically target-rich an environment as the original report.
The piece – by John Van Hecke – ends with an invocation of early-20th-century Brit poet Rupert Brooke:
The English poet Rupert Brooke wonderfully expressed Great Britain’s romantic embrace of the unfolding 1913 European war. “If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England…Brooke, despite his poet’s skill, did not write from firsthand combat experience. He served, joining the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve shortly after hostilities commenced. He died in 1915, off Gallipoli, of a septic infection caused by a mosquito bite.
“The Soldier” is a marvelous sonnet. It carries a haunting quality precisely because of Brooke’s wartime death. His contemporaries, the “war poets,” however, quickly abandoned their early romanticism, writing, instead, somber themes of frustration, loss and absurdity.
Like Brooke and an increasingly war weary United Kingdom during WWI, early charter school romanticism is yielding to a larger educational reality. Charter schools are neither as great as their champions suggest nor as horrible as their critics insist.
Right – and I’m not aware of any charter school proponents claiming that charter schools are a panacaea. They are an effort to bring some level of parental and educational choice to a segement of the population that couldn’t afford the traditional route to such choice, private or parochial schools.
And the fact that they are needed – desperately – in that role is proved by their success in the “market”, especially in the city.
But we’ll get back to that. Because Van Hecke betrays an essential myopia and conceit next:
The difficult, rewarding business of teaching children must be improved by the charter school movement. If charter schools can’t deliver on their promises, they don’t merit public funds and, most critically, they don’t merit parents’ investment of their children’s futures.
Conceit: So does MN2020 in its infinite (and self-declared) wisdom think we charter parents haven’t thoroughly considered what merits our investment? Moreso than the imponderably vast majority of other parents?
Myopia: And if we need to make that decision, cutting loose public funds from institutions that don’t deliver on their promise, then why not take that same standard to public schools?
Let’s take Van Hecke’s piece from the top:
In the week and a half following Minnesota 2020’s report, Checking in on Charter Schools, conservative educational policy advocates attacking us barely paused between breaths.
Didja catch that? “Conservative educational policy advocates”?
I don’t know who he’s referring to; besides myself, I know charter school advocate Al Fan has spoken out on the MN2020 report (and I’m in the process of interviewing Mr. Fan as I write this).
But does MN2020 believe that supporting charter schools is a “conservative” issue?
Tell it to the parents at Avalon, which both of my kids have attended; I can count maybe one other Republican among the parents there; you could wallpaper the classrooms with the Obama stickers in the parking lot with a few left over.
Is he referring to the parents at Skills for Tomorrow charter, or City Academy, whose parents are largely Afro-American and, if they care about politics at all, statistically vote 90+% DFL?
What exactly is the point to trying to polarize the charter school issue into a conservative vs. liberal issue?
I was about to write something like “…other than to placate MN2020’s political masters, who want to see charters shown as an inferior product compared to public schools to further their Teachers-Union-driven agenda”, but I thought that might be inflammatory, so I’ll change it to “I’d really like to know, given that the political label doesn’t really match the constituency”.
But OK. Politicization is one thing. Trying to drop things down the memory hole is quite another:
Our rather limited financial accountability research scope, examining Minnesota charter school’s public audits, has drawn greater ire than I thought possible. We clearly swatted a hornet’s nest.
We totted auditor flags and concluded that, with four of five charter schools reporting at least one financial irregularity, greater financial oversight and accountability was overdue.
Well, no. In John Fitzgerald’s original piece, after “totting” the auditor “flags” (of which much, much more next week), he concluded:
The state should reconsider its agreements with the 121 charter schools that cannot successfully pass a financial audit. Further, taxpayers should not continue to fund the 50 percent of charter schools that do not resolve financial problems…Schools with finances that have been stunningly mismanaged for years should be cut off from public funds and closed.If charter schools can’t run their schools in a financially competent manner, Minnesota should reconsider whether charter schools are worthy of public funding at all
That was a clear call to shut down the 50% of schools that have had sequential problems with audits (of which much more next week), and to consider abandoning the entire charter school experiement, after declaring these audits to be a dispositive indicator of a school’s financial ethicality.
Read the paragraphs above – the italicized ones – and show me a different interpretation of MN2020’s original conclusion?
Now, if John Van Hecke is saying MN2020 is rolling back from its original point, that’d be fine, but it’d be even better if they were clear about it one way or the other.
We didn’t examine graduation rates, standardized test performance or curriculum.
True. But in the same series of audits that jump-started MN2020’s “investigation”, the Minnesota Legislative Auditor did. Oddly, that part of the Auditor’s report didn’t make it into John Fitzgerald’s report.
We’ll touch on that next week, too.
Van Hecke, with emphasis added by me:
We purposefully engaged a touchy public policy issue. While our report raises important questions, the harsh conservative attacks against us, mostly ad hominem, suggest that we’re examining public investments that some conservatives don’t wish examined.
I have to presume Van Hecke is referring to someone else; I have kept my reporting pretty scrupulously factual. I do know that Van Hecke referred to a series of “ad-homina” in an op-ed by Al Fan in the Winona newspaper this past week.
Again – we’ll examine that next week as well.
I would rather engage strident advocates than indifferent citizens. That being said, let me suggest to anyone contemplating entering this debate, finish your second cup of coffee first. This experience is not for the faint of heart.
Parents? Especially charter school parents? All together now:
Either is raising children. I think we’re up to it.
Conservatives may raise legitimate traditional school system concerns but underfunding public schools only to prove their shortcomings is wrong.
Maybe, maybe not. It’s not really at issue in this discussion – although inasmuch as charter schools spend less public money per student (counting district levies and bonding) than public schools do, and MN2020 seems not to have deigned to have examined their fiscal accountability, perhaps it should be.
A public school district must serve every enrolled child, sometimes at great expense. Pedagogical experimenting is as old as learning but innovation is not cheap. Scaling up small or modestly sized systems doesn’t always work. In other words, the best parts of charter school education appear to fundamentally be their smallness.
That, again, is a tangent – but an interesting one. If the public schools can learn one lesson from charters, perhaps it’s that smaller is better. The industrial-age mania for consolidating public schools into bigger and bigger buildings (and into fewer and fewer towns in rural America) is as big a mistake as…well, as the past thirty years of education outcomes show it is!
The real question, though, concerns the future of public education. Because charter schools are publicly funded, they remain an educational lightning rod. Public investment accountability pressure will only increase. Consequently, the charter school movement must live up to its rhetoric.
I think we charter parents and supporters would agree wholeheartedly; its our kids we’ve entrusted to them!
But my point – and the point to many of the MN2020 report’s detractors – is that that MN2020 report demands a draconian response to a largely fictional, or at least overblown, problem.
How fictional and overblown?
Check back next week.