What follows is an edited transcript of my remarks at a Century Foundation panel held on Wednesday, The Future of School Integration, about a new book by the same name. The speakers included the book’s editor, Richard Kahlenberg, as well as contributors Stephanie Aberger, Marco Basile, and Sheneka Williams, and fellow commenter Derek Black of Howard University’s Law School.
There are three points I want to make today.
- It’s important that those of us who support socio-economic integration don’t oversell the evidence, and I’m worried that in the book and in today’s comments we’re doing some of that.
- We shouldn’t pit controlled choice against other forms of school choice, especially charter schools.
- We need to think of controlled choice not just as a means of integrating schools; we need to think of diverse schools as a choice in and of themselves.
Let me take each of these points in turn.
On not overselling the evidence
I think it’s a mistake to say, as Marco did, that we’ve known since the Coleman Report that integrated schools do better. We know that there’s a relationship. Rick goes into this in his book, looking at NAEP scores and other evidence, and you can see that in schools with more integration, students perform better—especially poor and minority students. But that does not necessary prove that school integration “works.”
Those of us who support school choice and school vouchers used to like to point out the higher test scores and graduation rates for poor kids in Catholic schools—and argue that therefore Catholic schools
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did not participate in the state plan. In 2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the Treasury Department approved.
Are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that they can participate in state and local pension plans?
The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a plan to be a "governmental plan." In November, the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations on the subject, and the news is not good for charter school teachers in Louisiana, or anywhere, since these new rules would affect charter schools in all states.
The legal issues are complex, and in a forthcoming study, two of us (Buck and Thukral) will attempt to sort them out. However, the nub of the matter centers on whether charter school teachers are considered government employees. In particular, are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that they can participate in
Writers on the Gadfly Daily blogs analyzed issues from around the country this week, discussing everything from the lessons that the Louisiana Recovery School District has to offer to the tough talk coming from New York State.
School choice was a big theme, with Fordham announcing the new editor of the Choice Words blog, Adam Emerson, who explained the importance of “subsidiarity” in education. On Flypaper, Mike argued that charter schools should approach district collaboration with caution and from a position of strength, while Terry noted that Ohio has prime examples of getting charter-district relationships wrong on the Ohio Gadfly Daily blog.
Stretching the School Dollar explained the flaws in a recent school funding court decision and why paycheck protection needs to be a policy priority, while on the Common Core Watch blog Kathleen argued that having a plan for CCSS implementation is a start—but just a start.
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Yesterday, to go along with the release of its annual report on the state of American charter schools, the Center for Reinventing Public Education asked several experts to answer a tricky question: What is the future of district/charter collaboration? Here's my take:
The topic of collaboration between districts and charter schools inevitably leads to Cold War imagery. Are we talking about appeasement? Détente? Trust but verify?
Like the ideal of world peace, it’s easy to agree about cooperation—moving from a “battleground” to “common ground,” as one Gates Foundation official put it. But how can we ensure that cooperation doesn’t turn into an excuse to co-opt the charter school movement?
The key, it seems to me, is for charters to come to the negotiating table as equal powers.
To be sure, some enlightened superintendents and school boards will welcome charter school engagement for all the right reasons. But local politics being what they are, let’s not take goodwill as a given. Through a prism of Realpolitik (!), the key to making partnerships work is even strength on either side.
What that implies is that long-lasting charter-district collaborations are only likely to work in locales where charter schools boast serious market share and significant political power. So before charter schools sit down to hammer out a deal, they should:
- Get to
scale. If districts are losing twenty or thirty percent of their students
(and funding) to charters, that’s enough to change political dynamics. Much
less than that, and districts (and unions) can mostly look the other way.
Category: Charters & Choice
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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