Who Needs to Learn from Whom? What Public Schools can Teach Charter Schools About Teaching All Students. The New York Times published a story about what public schools can learn fro charter schools. But the most important lesson is to be careful which students are admitted.

The role of charter schools in public education continues to be a subject of heated debate. The House of Representatives recently passed a bi-partisan bill that would provide additional sources of funding for charter schools. At the same time they rejected rules that would require charter schools to report teacher attrition rates, student discipline data, and enrollment data. They also rejected conflict of interest guidelines for charters.

Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, is visiting a charter school in New York City today “to rip Mayor de Blasio over charter schools.” He has repeatedly said that de Blasio’s skepticism about charters is a “war on kids.” The very same day the New York Times published a story on the “chasm” between public and charter schools. The story, which mentions the school that Cantor is planning to visit, spins a story about how charter schools should be “test kitchens for practices that could be exported into the traditional schools.” It praises two charter schools (Kings Collegiate Charter School and Bronx Charter School for Excellence) that share their insights with two neighboring public schools (Middle School for Art and Philosophy and P.S. 085 Great Expectations).

But the numbers raise some questions. The school that Cantor visited today, the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, serves 72% fewer English Language Learners and 55% fewer special needs students than its neighbor, P.S. 085. The charter school serves exactly zero of the highest need special education students– while over 16% of the public school’s students are highest need special education. And the charter school has a student population that is over 210% more economically privileged, as measured by the New York City Department of Education’s economic need index, than the public school’s.

The other charter to public school comparison shows the same pattern. The Times claimed, “it too, served large numbers of low-income black students, many from the same neighborhoods.” This is inaccurate. King Collegiate serves a student population that is 35% more economically privileged than the Middle School for Art and Philosophy, as measured by the New York City Department of Education’s economic need index. The charter school has 95% fewer English Language Learners and 55% fewer special needs students than the public school. The charter has exactly zero of the highest need special education students while, in the co-located public school, over 11% of the student population consists of the highest need special education students. Even with these advantages only 12% of the 8th graders who graduate from the charter school stayed on-track in credit accumulation in 9th grade versus 80% of the public schools students.

Of course, the teachers at these schools should continue to collaborate and share ideas with one another. But what is not OK is the big lie that is being told about the relative success of the schools. If there is a war being waged on kids, as Cantor has claimed, it is the charter schools and their supporters who are waging war on English Language Learners, on students with special needs, and on poor students.

The data show that the biggest ingredient of the charter school recipe is that they educate students with greater incoming advantages than public schools. Many also kick out students who don’t do well on tests. This is not a lesson we want public schools to learn. We want our public schools to teach every single child. We do not need charter schools to know that schools that serve more privileged groups of student have higher test scores.

The skepticism that de De Blasio has expressed about charters is well earned. As long as charter schools as a sector refuse to educate the neediest students, they are best viewed as the mechanism for ultimately sorting all of the neediest students into the educational equivalents of Bantustans. Those Bantustans will be called “public schools.” As long as charter school interest groups are able to get politicians to vote against transparency for charter schools we will never be able to hold them to the mission of public education– which is to educate every single child.