The New York Times ran an article yesterday on how nerdy, quirky hedge fund managers have found a satisfying match for their entrepreneurial and altruistic impulses in NYC charter schools. It’s a growing trend, a way of combining data analysis, financial savvy, and opportunity, and, according to Robert Reffkin, one of the hedge fund managers profiled, a way to be part of “the civil rights struggle of my generation.”
What’s not to like? Smart, ethical people with cash to burn want to help expand educational opportunities for poor kids outside of the confines of traditional governmental constraints. Here’s a reaction from schoolmatters, a popular blog:
Those racist efficiency zealots were the first to look to tests, the IQ variety, as the preferred “scientific” tool for their generation’s WASPy war on the weak and the poor and the brown.One thing is for sure: at the rate that experienced principals are fleeing the schools, the new leadership academy will be running overtime to fill those slots. Of course, this outcome is most likely a part of the Bloomberg-Klein plan–to seed the schools with their own trainees who share their blindness and lack of compunction when it comes to treating children like commodities or manufactured components
“Racist efficiency zealots.” “A WASPy war on the weak and the poor and the brown.” “Treating children like commodities or manufactured components.” While schoolmatter’s reaction may be a tad histrionic, it echoes in the writings of Diane Ravitch and other education luminaries. What’s driving this aversion to charter schools?
We accept with equanimity a melding of the public and private worlds in higher education and preschool. We even accept the idea that parents can choose to pay to send their kids to independent private schools and parochial schools. But there’s something about using governmental money to fund charters that rankles some traditional educators, even when charter schools can provide a safer environment and the potential for higher academic achievement, particularly for kids in poor urban districts. Whether the argument is “creaming” off the best kids or the insertion of capitalism into a sacrosanct culture, people start foaming at the mouth. Charters become a deviant threat to the comfortable, complacent world of traditional education,
But isn’t the merging of free enterprise and ethics a quintessentially American practice? (We’ll start quoting John Winthrop any minute now.) Part of that ethos is that if a model doesn’t work successfully, you experiment with something new. One could argue that urban education, in New Jersey and elsewhere, is an Edsel, but we’re loathe to try something different because we get mired in the mythology of education as an ineffable, magical practice.
Of course, kids aren’t commodities and teachers aren’t widgets. But we’d rather drive (or have our kids drive) a Suburu than a lemon. If there’s a better model out there, why do we remain shackled to a less successful and outdated one? We’re stuck in an entrenched dichotomy between traditional public schools and sound business practices, and in the end that just hurts kids.