Update: the final word? From Jennie Shanker, Albert Shanker's daughter; she passes her father's legacy NOT to neo-liberal ed reform but to Diane Ravitch:
Your stance on this issue is diametrically opposed to his values and
intent, and you are dead wrong to shame Diane Ravitch for her position.
Indeed, if you consider your thinking to be in line with my father's, I
recommend that you champion her work, as my family does.
If anyone can
speak for my father in this day and age, the person who should be most
trusted is Dr. Ravitch.
It's unfortunate that many people who read your article will not see
this comment. I would like to respectfully request that you reconsider
further publicizing your characterization of my father's position on
this topic. From what is in evidence in this article, despite your love
for the man, you are in no position to speak for him.
Kind of a "I knew Jack Kennedy and worked with Jack Kennedy. You sir, are no Jack Kennedy."
End of update.
So there was a bit of a kerfuffle between Diane Ravitch, the noted educator and Chris Cerf, New Jersey's Education Commissioner, over what he said about Albert Shanker, who is thought to be the father of the charter school movement.
Now, I outlined Mr. Shanker's role in charter schools in my multi-part series on charters, saying that he approved of lab classrooms within schools where teachers could try different methods and then to push out the ideas that worked to the larger school group.
Unfortunately, as time went by, Mr. Shanker saw the writing on the wall and denounced charters.
But Mr. Cerf just took the early history of what Mr. Shanker said.
Mr. Cerf said in an editorial:
Comm. Cerf tells us that he wants to "go beyond the frequent misrepresentations to have an honest conversation about what charter schools are and why they are important to New Jersey." While not part of the local district, they "are public schools, with public school students and public school teachers, funded with public dollars. Like district-run public schools, they are open to all students and, unlike many magnet and vocational schools, they are legally prohibited from using admissions criteria."
He (and all charter supporters) can say until the cows come home that charters are public schools but public schools do NOT have application forms (and many charters do) and public schools have some elected accountability (not the case for many charters). The minute you have some private interest - non-profit or not - overseeing them, they are NOT public schools. (Yes, magnet schools have application forms but they are specialty schools.)
Diane Ravitch weighed in saying Mr. Shanker would in no way approve of what was happening today.
Mr. Cerf and others say otherwise but hey, let's go to a reliable source (since Mr. Shanker has passed on) - that would be his wife, Edith. She said this when NY ed commissioner, Joel Klein, tried to use the Shanker name:
A few months ago, in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Joel Klein invoked Al Shanker’s name as an educator in support of today’s charter school “reform” efforts. Klein wanted the public to believe that Al was the originator of the charter school concept (he wasn’t) and that he would today be supportive of the charter school ”reform” ideology now being spread around New York City and the country as a panacea for low student achievement. Conveniently, Klein did not indicate that Al denounced the idea of charters when it became clear that the concept had changed and was being hijacked by corporate and business interests. In Al’s view, such hijacking would result in the privatization of public education and, ultimately, its destruction – all without improving student outcomes.
In an effort to marginalize Ms. Ravitch, she was called "angry" in pointing this out when, in fact, she was pointing out the obvious. These people were wrong about what Mr. Shanker would think. And now, we have his wife saying the same thing.
What would be nice is if charter supporters, at any point, would admit there are failures, admit that charters are not being closed in the numbers they should be (given their dismal success rate) and not trying to put words into the mouth of a dead man.
Here's Diane Ravich setting the record straight about Shanker - this from The Answer Sheet at The Washington Post:
1. Albert Shanker was president of the American Federation of Teachers, not the New York City union, when he first proposed the charter school idea in 1988.
2. Shanker proposed that any new charter should be jointly approved by the union and the school district. More than 90% of charters today are non-union. Shanker would not have approved any school that did not respect the rights of teachers to bargain collectively.
3. Shanker proposed that new charters should target the hardest-to-educate students: those who had dropped out or were failing. He never imagined that charters would have a selection process or that charters might avoid students with disabilities or English-language learners as is now the case in many charters.
3. Shanker wanted charters to collaborate, not compete, with existing public schools. He proposed them as a way to solve the problems of public schools. Whatever they learned, he said, should be shared with the public schools that sponsored them.
4. MOST IMPORTANT: In 1993, when Shanker saw that the charter idea was going to be used to privatize public education, he turned against charter schools. He opposed the takeover of the charter idea by corporations, entrepreneurs, and for-profit vendors. He became a vocal opponent of charter schools when he realized that his idea was embraced by “the education industry.” In his weekly column in The New York Times, Albert Shanker repeatedly denounced charter schools, vouchers, and for-profit management as “quick fixes that won’t fix anything.”
Then, she suggests what would help the charter movement (note: she doesn't even say it should go away but until it is straighten out - it doesn't work):
Here is an idea for Commissioner Cerf. You can fix the charter idea if you align it with Shanker’s original idea.
First, insist that all new charters are endorsed by the local school district and the union representing teachers.
Second, bar all for-profit management.
Third, insist that all charters recruit and enroll only the lowest-performing students, the students who have dropped out, and the students who are doing poorly in their present public school.
Fourth, require that charters collaborate with the public schools and share whatever they learn.
Fifth, to truly revive the spirit of Shanker’s proposal, bar all corporate-owned charter chains. Authorize only stand-alone charters that are created by teachers and parents in the district to serve the children of that district. No chains, just local charters committed to that community.
So, yes, Commissioner Cerf, you are on the right track when you quote Albert Shanker. Now, if you take his advice, you can save the charter school idea from the privatizers and profiteers who are giving it a bad name.
And this is exactly what we will get with I-1240 - privatization and not the help needed for at-risk students. It's just not worth it.