Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is running for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, was campaigning in South Carolina this weekend and sat down with journalist Roland Martin for a town hall in which she talked about a number of topics, including one that has not featured in any of the Republican and Democratic debates: charter schools.
Martin, host of “News One Now,” a one-hour weekday morning news show on the TV One network, moderated the town hall meeting with Clinton, hosted by the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus on the campus of Claflin University in Orangeburg. Martin brought up the subject of charters by saying that a poll in South Carolina among black parents found that most of them were interested in enrolling their children in charter schools because they were not satisfied with traditional public schools. He then asked Clinton whether she supported the expansion of charter schools and vouchers.
Here was her response:
CLINTON: I have for many years now, about 30 years, supported the idea of charter schools, but not as a substitute for the public schools, but as a supplement for the public schools. And what I have worked on through my work with the Children’s Defense Fund and my work on education in Arkansas and through my time as first lady and senator is to continue to say charter schools can have a purpose, but you know there are good charter schools and there are bad charter schools, just like there are good public schools and bad public schools.
MARTIN: So let’s get rid of all the bad….
CLINTON: But the original idea, Roland, behind charter schools was to learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools. And here’s a couple of problems. Most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.
So I want parents to be able to exercise choice within the public school system — not outside of it — but within it because I am still a firm believer that the public school system is one of the real pillars of our democracy and it is a path for opportunity.
But I am also fully aware that there are a lot of substandard public schools. But part of the reason for that is that policymakers and local politicians will not fund schools in poor areas that take care of poor children to the level that they need to be. And you can get me going on this…. I mean, the corridor of shame right here in South Carolina, you get on there and you can see schools that are literally falling apart. I’ve been in some of those schools. I have seen the terrible physical conditions. That is an outrage. It is a rebuke to who we are as Americans to send any child to a school that you wouldn’t send your own child to.
And so we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that public schools serve people, but that doesn’t mean we don’t also provide options within the system so that parents can find what they think might work best for their kid.
For years — going back to the 1990s — Clinton has expressed support for charter schools. In her 1996 book, “It Takes a Village,” written when she was first lady and her husband, Bill Clinton, was the president, she wrote:
Some critics of public schools urge greater competition among schools as a way of returning control from bureaucrats to parents and teachers. I find their argument persuasive and I favor promoting choice among public schools…. Charter schools are public schools created and operated under a charter. They may be organized by parents, teachers, or others. The idea is that they should be freed from regulations that stifle innovation, so they can focus on getting results. By 1995, 19 states had enacted charter school laws about 200 schools have been granted charters.
The Improving America’s Schools Act, passed in October 1994 with the President’s support, provided federal funds for a wide range of reforms, including launching charter schools. Federal funding is needed to break through bureaucratic attitudes that block change and frustrate students and parents, driving some to leave public schools.
Every since the 1990s, Clinton has expressed support for charter schools, but in Saturday’s remarks, she said something that is likely to irritate her supporters within the Democratic Party who are avid backers of charter schools as a principal means of reforming public education: that most charters don’t accept those students who are the most difficult to educate, or, if they do, they “don’t keep them.”
She doesn’t directly say these schools push out these children, but charter critics have frequently said that many charter schools — especially the high-profile “no-excuses” charters — counsel out students who are disciplinary problems or who might drag down their school’s average standardized test scores. And they say that charter schools and traditional public schools cannot legitimately be compared in terms of student achievement in part because traditional public schools have to accept all students and charter schools don’t. Many charter advocates strenuously disagree on both points.
A recent story in the New York Times reported:
Success Academy, the high-performing charter school network in New York City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.
The story then goes on to say that at Success Academy Fort Greene, school leaders created a list called “Got to Go” that had names of students on it. Another report in the Times, a day later, quoted Success network founder Eva Moskowitz as saying that the list was an “anomaly.”
Clinton did not mention vouchers, and she has consistently been opposed to them.
(Correction: Clinton’s comments were made during the town hall hosted by Martin.)