When would you guess the following two sets of quotes were written? You might be surprised.
Central to the logic of charter schools is the idea that competition will force public schools, which now have a monopoly in providing educational services, to improve or perish as parents choose to send their children to better schools. Unfortunately, how competition will result in better teaching and more learning is never specified.
The assumptions are that educators have grown fat and complacent in the warm embrace of a government monopoly and that a threat to their now-secure futures will force them to figure out how to do better. In this scenario, teachers unions are considered self-interested culprits responsible for driving up the cost of education without accepting accountability for student achievement.
[C]harter school zealots… ridicule the idea that schools (particularly those in poor, urban districts) might need more money to improve. Any increase in funding would, from their perspective, be throwing good money after bad. In what has become the conventional wisdom in the charter school movement, the enemies of school improvement are rigid union contracts; bloated, unresponsive bureaucracies; and overregulation, not fiscal constraints…..
Charter schools, like private school vouchers and for-profit schools, are built on the illusion that our society can be held together solely by the self-interested pursuit of our individual purposes. Considered in this light, the charter school movement represents a radical rejection not only of the possibility of the common school, but of common purposes outside the school as well. The struggle is not between market-based reforms and the educational status quo. It is about whether the democratic ideal of the common good can survive the onslaught of a market mentality that threatens to turn every human relationship into a commercial transaction.
Then there is this selection:
In other words, more than good teachers, more than targeted testing, more than careful calibrations of performance measures and metrics that can standardize and quantify every aspect of learning, it‚Äôs the messy business of life – where a child comes from and what he or she goes home to at the end of the day – that really determines success in school. This message flies in the face of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-boostrap individualism, the extreme emphasis on private (read: teacher) responsibility that has animated the school reform movement in recent years. It demands a complete rethinking now of what our public response to the perennial crisis of public education in America should be….
Thinking structurally about social ills, rejecting excessive individualism for community-based, it-takes-a-village-style responsibility, has been out of favor in America for a long time. In education reform, what‚Äôs been in style instead is vilifying teachers and their unions. For some schools, making the grade has meant cooking the books to show results. Let‚Äôs hope that the time to reform this business-modeled mindset has finally come.
They both sound very current, identifying key elements of the political and ideological debate over school “reform” and the growth of charter schools in particular. You might be surprised to discover that the first quote was written by Prof. Alex Molnar for an education journal in 1996. The second was penned by columnist and author Judith Warner for Time magazine’s web site just a few days ago.
These articles are both worth reading, because they get at some of the underlying ideas, and framing, that are driving the current debate over education reform. All too often, the discussion arcs off into technical details and squabbling over one point or another. It is essential for us to remember why we have public education in the first place, and how that does or does not square with the ideas and motives of the current crop of reformers.
Alex Molnar, “Charter Schools: The Smiling Face of Disinvestment,” Educational Leadership 54, No. 2 (October 1996). Available here:
Judith Warner, “Why Are the Rich So Interested in Public-School Reform?,” Time Ideas, December 9, 2011. Available here: