Howard Lisnoff: The Charter School Juggernaut
In CityWatch, freelance writer Howard Lisnoff puts charter schools in the context of a long assault on public education.
The publication of A Nation At Risk (1983) was like the Boston Massacre of public schooling in the US. There was less blood loss in the march toward privatizing public schools in the US than during the American Revolution, but the intent to destroy yet another public function and institution of government was there. Kill off public school after public school throughout the US and a major source of unionism, and teacher unions in particular, began to wither. Teacher unions were always a reliable base of support for what remained of New Deal liberalism in the US, even though in some large cities like New York City, teacher unions had been purged of leftists during the witch hunts of McCarthyism.
Somehow, as if by magic, public schools were failing kids in the US and A Nation At Risk would be the foundation to attack those schools. What was actually happening behind the curtain in the land of Oz was that the economy had stopped functioning for masses of working class and lower middle-class people who depended on manufacturing jobs and jobs in the public sector. Attacks against teacher unions and public schools were not far behind.
Even a casual observer could see the trends in the demise of jobs, the growth of prisons, the growth of charter schools, and the decline in support for public schooling in the US. In many places, largely in urban areas, public schools were in decline. School buildings in many places were relics of the past and deteriorated along with the general public infrastructure. Drive across any major highway where snow falls in the winter and see the deteriorating bridges: public schooling was like those bridges.
Then came the standardized testing frenzy of the last several decades. That frenzy began in the 1980s and took off, in a largely bipartisan effort, to turn public schools into testing centers. Some schools began doing test preparation with students as a major thrust of their curriculum, with prep sessions carried over into weekend classes where some kids were forced to wear the uniforms required during the regular school week. Many educational initiatives, such as during the Obama administration, rewarded schools with better test results with increased federal funding. It was sort of like the Kentucky Derby of public schooling.