Linda Darling-Hammond surveys the wreckage of the privatization movement and assesses whether Betsy DeVos’s failed policies in Michigan will inflict further harm on the nation’s embattled public schools.

The article is well worth reading. It contains useful data.

However, I have some caveats.

I greatly admire Linda and her scholarship, but we have a fundamental difference about charter schools. As currently configured, I see them as an integral part of the privatization movement. She thinks there are good charters and bad charters. This is true, but the charter idea itself has been captured by people like DeVos who are hostile to public schools and equity. I agree with the NAACP that no new charters should be created until charters meet the same standards of accountability and transparency as public schools, and stop cherry picking the students likeliest to get good test scores. The good charters, in my view, should be part of the school district, given a charter to meet a need, and regularly supervised for compliance with state and federal laws.

Darling-Hammond overstates, from what I know, the extent to which California’s charter industry is regulated and supervised; too many very bad charters are rejected by the district, rejected by the county, then approved by the state board. Even some under investigation for fraud get new charters in California. And supervision is virtually non-existent. It is the financial and political clout of the California Charter School Association that protects the charter industry, not their academic success.

Darling-Hammond accurately shows the segregating impact of school choice on the neediest children, as in New Orleans, where the best charter schools serve an elite white enrollment and poor black children get to choose among D and F rated charter schools.

In praising the charter schools of Massachusetts, she does not mention that the state overwhelmingly rejected an expansion of charters, nor does she mention the reasons for the negative vote:

1) deep budget cuts to public schools that serve most children to fund schools for a small number of children;

2) loss of local democratic control to unaccountable charter corporations;

3) recognition that some charters act like publicly-funded private schools, with their own admissions and discipline policies.

I wish she had mentioned that Al Shanker turned against the charter movement that he inspired. In 1993, only five years after touting the promise of small, unionized, teacher-led charter schools, Shanker declared that charters were no different from vouchers and that they had been captured by private interests that would use his idea to bust unions and destroy public education. He was right. More than 90% of charters are non-union. Although a few charter teachers have formed unions, they have to fight the charter owners and risk being fired. The anti-union Walton Family Foundation claims to have funded one of every four charters in the nation. It is also a major donor to Teach for America. It is “all for the kids,” of course, but the Waltons home state of Arkansas is one of the poorest in the nation. Some local beneficence and minimum wages for parents hired for full-time jobs might really help the kids more than charter schools and TFA.