Just curious… does anyone else find this New York Times “Room For Debate” piece by Michael Petrilli, president of The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which ran under the headline “Charters Can Do What’s Best For Students Who Care,” as breathtakingly offensive as I do? What boggles my mind is that this man is a leading voice among the so-called education reformers. His honesty is, at least, honest, I suppose. Unlike the DFERs, at least he’s not out there shouting that access to charter schools is the new civil rights movement of our time. He’s not out there suggesting that charter schools don’t cherry-pick and weed out students. So there’s that. I guess.
Instead, Petrilli’s saying that the fact that tax-dollar-funded charter schools kick out large numbers of students is “a feature, not a bug.” And that when it comes to discipline, “[t]raditional public schools that serve all comers have to find a middle ground, as best they can, which often pleases no one.”
And this guy is a thought-leader for the education reform movement. His institute’s tagline is “Advancing Educational Excellence.” I guess a more accurate version would read, “Advancing Education Excellent For Some.”
Judge for yourself. Here are the money paragraphs from Petrilli:
Because [charter schools] are schools of choice, they have many advantages, including that everyone is there voluntarily. Thus they can make their discipline codes clear to incoming families (and teachers); those who find the approach too strict can go elsewhere.
This is a good compromise to a difficult problem: Not all parents (or educators) agree on how strict is too strict. Traditional public schools that serve all comers have to find a middle ground, as best they can, which often pleases no one. Schools of choice, including charters, need not make such compromises. That’s a feature, not a bug.
It’s not too strong to say that disruption is classroom cancer. It depresses achievement and makes schools unpleasant, unsafe and unconducive to learning. We need to think long and hard about taking tools away from schools — especially schools of choice — that allow their students to flourish.
In other words, we should divide students into those who care and those who don’t. We should provide resources to those who care, and warehouse the rest. And when our public schools actually attempt to meet kids where they are and to reach all kids, they’re engaged in compromises that “please no one.”
Of course Petrilli eliminated two key words from his last sentence. It should read: “We need to think long and hard about taking tools away from schools — especially schools of choice — that allow [some of] their students to flourish.”
Is it really okay to openly advocate for charter school discipline policies that weed out a significant portion of the student body (without, in most cases, replacing those expelled or “counseled out” students, of course)?
Is it really okay to say that our public schools are places of compromises that please no one?
Is it really okay to imply that public schools truly are the schools of last resort, that their highest and best purpose is to serve as dumping grounds for those students who are not good enough (or malleable enough, or terrified enough, or controllable enough) to succeed in charters?
On Twitter, Petrilli argued that he’s saying that public schools should be able to kick kids out with impunity as well, as if that somehow makes his proposal okay. I asked him what he suggests doing with all of the kids he suggests kicking out. His response was that we can send those kids to “alternative schools.” In other words, we’re supposed to warehouse “those kids” in faux-schools until they drop out or end up in prison, but there’s no point in trying to motivate them, reach them, or educate them. We should just separate them from the rest of us. We should just face facts and write them off. Because they don’t care. They are ungovernable. Unteachable. And so we owe “those children” nothing. Despite the fact that they are children.
According to Petrilli, apparently the fundamental problem with traditional public schools is that they don’t kick out more kids. If only the public schools expelled more children, then they’d be “advancing educational excellence.” The real problem with American education is that we just don’t have enough high school drop-outs, I guess. It’s not inequitable allocation of resources. It’s not failing to combat poverty and inequality. It’s really just the low school expulsion rate that’s to blame.
Presumably in an all-charter system this will mean dumping the unwanted students into low-performing charters until those charters either kick them out or are closed and a new batch of substandard charters arise to take them on. In a mixed public/charter district, this will mean dumping those kids back into the traditional public schools, further damaged by the alienation, sense of failure, and disruption that go along with getting kicked or counseled out of a charter school. But according to Petrilli, there is no need to worry about that, since bringing stability to the lives of students with anger or behavior issues is apparently not a priority. And stratification of students in publicly funded schools is apparently “a feature, not a bug.”
I am just amazed that someone who is, for better or for worse, a leading voice in education policy setting will openly come out and state that some kids just suck, and the best thing we can do is to just weed them out and get rid of them.
“Those kids” are apparently not worth educating.
“Those kids” are apparently not worth reaching.
“Those kids” apparently don’t belong in classrooms with the rest of our kids.
So, here’s my question: at what age do we write kids off?
When is a child old enough to be thrown away?
When does a child go from being a cute little boy or girl to becoming one of “those kids”?
And how do we distinguish kids worth educating from kids who should be warehoused in alternative environments? Are we weeding out the rebels? The creative thinkers? Those who question authority? Are we rewarding malleability, conformity, and keeping your head down?
This isn’t even code for active advocacy of re-segregation of schools. It’s a blatant statement that we should re-segregate schools. With impunity. As we cloak ourselves in righteousness. Because you know, there are kids who matter, and kids who don’t. And if socio-economic factors happen to determine who belongs in which category for the vast majority of those kids, who cares? Because why care about a kid who doesn’t care, regardless of why that kid appears to “not care”?
I’m still trying to figure out why my tax dollars are supporting quasi-“public” charter schools that their own proponents encourage to refuse to serve certain kids. Their own proponents agree that the charter schools do — and agree that they should — weed out “those kids” with impunity. Can someone please explain to me how that is preparing kids for citizenship in a democratic society? Unless, of course, the goal is to create a permanent underclass of citizens who are uneducated, easily manipulated, and disenfranchised.
Why don’t we just kill two birds with one stone? We can expel students who have problems with authority from school and just send them directly to prison. After all, justice and equity are irrelevant to Petrilli’s vision. And why bother with trials if we’re not going to be judged by jurors with access to basic education?
In Petrilli’s world, order is apparently the order of the day. Children don’t deserve second chances. Late bloomers have no opportunities to turn themselves around. Troublemakers should be warehoused. And public education with public funds owes nothing to the public.
Perhaps I’m just naive, but I, for one, am outraged. You should be too. Even — and perhaps especially — if you support charter schools.