Charter School Expansion: An Opportunity for Parents, Communities, and Education Workers?

education-not-for-saleBy Nick McDaniels — I, like many others with close ties to public education, am somewhat of a traditionalist.

In an era of corporate education reform, I tend to believe that the solution to “failing” public schools is to reinvest in the public schools that are “failing.”  I don’t think closing schools down is the answer.   I don’t think that replacing a traditional public school with a charter school is the answer.  In fact, I think there are a lot of corporate-driven solutions in public education that are creating or exaggerating problems to wedge a foot in the door.

There has been a lot of buzz lately about charter school expansion, regulatory changes that would make charters school operation easier.  Some of the buzz is around changes that would allow charter schools to negotiate their own teacher contracts.  You see, in Baltimore, all charter schools are still covered by the broad collective bargaining agreements for all teachers.  Privatizers love changes like these because it can create a race to the bottom in teacher salary, which can then create a ripe economic situation for for-profit charter schools.  All of this scares me, as you can imagine.

But maybe there is hope.  In a time where teachers union leaders carry the water for school system management, and school system management carries the water for corporate ed-reformers, hope for significant top-down change is slim.  Charter schools, then, present an interesting alternative for parents, community members, and education workers to create schools that resemble the better-funded public schools of decades gone by.  I’m increasingly envisioning a school that runs like a co-op.  This model is not particularly new, but could capitalize on charter school expansion as a way to create a structurally and organizationally re-imagined school, a school where every voice is democratically respected.

Such as school, as a public school, could probably never come about under current traditional public school structures, but could perhaps with the flexibility of a charter school.  All workers get a voice in the way the organization is managed as an employer-entity.  All parents and students get a voice in the educational process.  Not many would argue with this structure in theory or in practice.

The second side of the same coin, however, is the for-profit charter school that would also take advantage of charter school expansion and would prey, like many charter vendors have done, on low-income communities of color.  Is the opportunity to create a better organized cooperative school under expanded charter school regimes worth the risk of the door being open to predatory for-profit charter vendors?  Probably not.  But it would be an opportunity nonetheless.

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