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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 02/13/2012

Ravitch: Why states should say ‘no thanks’ to charter schools

This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch, a research professor at New York University and author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” a critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement. Ravitch was an assistant secretary of education in the administration of former president George H.W. Bush. This first appeared in the Montgomery Advertiser .

By Diane Ravitch

Former D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee has sent her followers to Alabama to promote charter schools, but Alabama should say “no, thanks.” The District of Columbia is no model for school reform.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is the gold standard of education testing, shows that Washington D.C. has the biggest achievement gap between black and white students in the nation, double the size of Alabama’s. Alabama should not take lessons from one of the nation’s lowest performing districts.

Charter schools haven’t helped other states and they won’t help Alabama. Here are the reasons why:

* Numerous national and state studies have shown that charters on average don’t get better results than regular public schools. A small percentage get high scores, more get very low scores, most are about average in terms of test scores. Why kill off a community’s public school to replace it with a privately managed school that is no better and possibly worse?

* Charter schools weaken the regular public schools. They take money away from neighborhood public schools and from the district budget. As charter schools open, regular public schools must cut teachers and close down programs to pay for them.

* Many of the “high-performing” charter schools succeed by skimming off the best students, even in poor districts. The more they draw away the best students, the worse it is for the regular public schools, who are left with the weakest students.

* Many charter schools succeed by excluding or limiting the number of students they accept who have disabilities or who are English language learners. They are also free to push out low-scoring students and send them back to the local public school. This improves their results, but it leaves the regular public schools with disproportionate numbers of the most challenging students.

* Many charter operators are for-profit, and the district winds up paying them tax revenue that should be invested in students. Many of the nonprofits pay exorbitant executive compensation that wouldn’t be acceptable in a regular public school district.

* Charters fragment communities. Instead of everyone working together to support the children and schools of their communities, charters and regular public schools fight over resources and space. This is not good for education or for children.

* Charters cannot help the large numbers of children who live in rural and semi-rural communities in Alabama. These communities barely manage to support their own local public school. Replacing a community institution with one that is managed by private operators with no local ties would do harm to the community.

Transferring control of public dollars to private hands is not reform. It is privatization. This strikes at the very heart of public education. It is a mirage. Alabama needs to do the right thing and support a sound public education system that benefits the children of the rising generation.

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