In 1993 and 1994, Albert Shanker turned against his own idea: charter schools.
Once an avid proponent, he became convinced that they would become a vehicle for privatization.
Here is one of his columns reflecting his disillusionment with what had been his own creation:
Where We Stand
by Albert Shanker
President, American Federation of Teachers
NEW YORK TIMES – July 3, 1994
Noah Webster Academy
$4 million – for starters – will be going to a group of people who are eager for public funds but could
care less about public education.
A key idea behind charter schools, the latest movement in education reform, is that many terrific
opportunities to improve public education are lost because they are squelched by school bureaucracies.
Charter school laws, which have been passed in 12 states and are pending in 9 or 10 more, are supposed to
allow teachers and others the chance to establish public schools that are largely independent of state and local
control. Supporters say that throwing away the rule book will unleash creativity and that the fresh, new ideas
developed in these charter schools will revitalize all public schools. But it’s not so easy to draw the line
between encouraging schools that have the freedom to experiment and ones where doing your own thing has
nothing to do with improving public education.
This problem is already obvious in Michigan. Charter school legislation goes into effect this fall, and the first
“school” out of the gate will be the Noah Webster Academy, which is nothing but a clever scheme to get
public money for children who are already being educated by their parents – at home.
According to reporter Steve Stecklow’s story in the Wall Street Journal (June 14, 1994), Noah Webster’s
founder, a lawyer specializing in home schooling cases, has signed up 700 students – mostly Christian home
schoolers – for a school that is actually a computer network. The students will continue to study at home the
way they do now, but every family will get a taxpayer-paid computer, printer and modem, and there will be an
optional curriculum that teaches creationism alongside biology.
Does this actually fall within the Michigan charter school law? Barely. Stecklow quotes a Michigan state
administrator who says it is “ push[ ing] the envelope…just about as far as you probably can.” Critics had
predicted that something like this would happen, and the response was that charters would be issued by
school boards or colleges and they could be trusted to be responsible.
But Noah Webster’s founder discovered a tiny, impoverished school district – it has 23 students, one teacher
and a teacher’s aide, and it nearly went broke a few years ago. It agreed to sponsor his school, and give it a
99-year charter, in return for a kickback of about $40,000. Based on current applications, Noah Webster,
which is eligible for state funds to the tune of $5,500 per pupil, will get something in the neighborhood of $4
million of public money in the coming academic year.
Last year, Michigan suffered a big educational and financial crisis when the state decided to stop using
property taxes to pay for education and had to scramble for other ways of financing its schools. The previous
system gave a big advantage to wealthy districts, and the new one has provided some measure of equalization
between wealthy districts and poor ones. Nevertheless, kids in wealthy districts are still getting more public
money spent on them than kids in cities like Detroit. And now, the charter school law, which is supposed to
be about using public money to test ideas that could improve education is troubled schools districts like
New York Times – July 3, 1994