Charters vs. common schools

I wanted to post a quick reply to Carolyn Sharette’s excellent exchange about “common schools” and school funding. I will talk more about where our education dollars go (and don’t go) in future posts, but for now let me just note that charter schools offer the main counterweight to today’s version of the common school movement.

Charter schools ARE publicly-funded schools. I’m not talking about vouchers here. But the premise underlying the charter school movement is that public purposes are not always served by a uniform educational delivery system.

I was very struck by a fight that broke out in Baltimore over the Knowledge is Power (KIPP) schools there. These are the schools that featured so prominently in Waiting for Superman, and they’ve received a lot of attention for dramatically improving results for low income and minority kids.

But they do this at a price. It’s not so much a financial price, though the KIPP schools do get outside funding. The big price to my mind is that teachers who sign contracts with this charter school agree to work much longer hours, including some Saturdays. That’s a major part of the KIPP model: more time in school. The teachers are paid more, but not enough more to satisfy the union overtime requirements. For some background, here’s a Washington Post editorial on the fight (full disclosure time: the newspaper sided with KIPP).

I really want to give the teacher’s union the benefit of the doubt here, and assume that they and the KIPP administrators and teachers share a goal of improving the education of these especially vulnerable kids. But does a common goal have to mean a common approach? The rest of the world has largely moved beyond the assembly line model – why not education?

For what it’s worth, KIPP and the unions did finally reach an agreement. But it came at a high price: the 10-year deal will make it much harder for other charter schools to break the mold.


I’ll get back to the history of the common school movement tomorrow. (Right now I have 40 more AP US History essays to grade.)

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