Yet, with all the attention this debate is attracting, you would never know that only about 6% of public school students attend charters. More and more students have parents who are undocumented immigrants, and many more are disabled. More children are living in states where corporal punishment is still permitted in schools. But the needs of these students usually don’t have the kind of awesome “change agents” associated with them, the smiley faces that attract big donors, and awesome media coverage. They lose in the financial economy and the attention economy.
By succumbing to a binary vision of charter schools, Democrats are missing the big picture. Many parents choose charter schools because they want their child to receive a good education. They want their child to learn a language, study the arts, and have a clean building and books in the library.
What would it look like if we built an education policy agenda dedicated to securing these resources for all students? Not just the students who win a lottery, but also the students who lose or who can never enter because they are homeless or their families are struggling with drug addiction, and the adults in their lives don’t. don’t have the information or resources to participate in a school choice “market”? What if our system was not designed to reward innovation for the few, but for the rights of the many?
What if we insisted that all our schools, for all our children, to be safe and nurturing places? What if our new education secretary, Miguel Cardona, focused on a plan as bold as the New Deal, as funded as the war on drugs, dedicated to a general effort to ensure that every child has an effective learning environment? ? What if, as a society, we pursue the dream of grandes écoles not through punishment (as in No Child Left Behind), and not through competition (as with Race to the Top) but through the provision of essential resources?
This pivot would force political leaders to abandon some of the principles that have guided the educational policy of our generation. It would mean education philanthropists couldn’t set the agenda by funding the latest buzzword reform idea. This would mean abandoning the philosophy that we achieve excellence through private consumer choice – the idea that a great school is something known that parents ‘buy’ like we buy cereal – in favor of engagement. towards excellence for all.
It would mean that charter school supporters and avowed skeptics would take the achievements of 2020 seriously ‘educators are not paid enough’ and tackle the teacher shortage that will worsen in the wake of the pandemic. .
Beyond education, schools provide food, shelter, mental health care, and frontline defense against abuse and neglect. The pandemic has reminded us how essential they are. We need to replace the fight for charter schools with the claim that every child deserves a great school. And we need political courage and imagination to make it happen.
Eve L. Ewing is an educational sociologist whose research focuses on racism, social inequalities, urban politics and the impact of these forces on American public schools and the lives of young people. She is the author of “Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side”.
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