My opposition to charter schools

I oppose charter schools.

I’ve been called a RINO because of it.  Conservatives might say I’m a moderate, or might even say I’m from the liberal wing of the Republican Party because of it.  I think they’re wrong.  I think I’m more conservative than the supporters of charter schools (despite what this graph says).  I think backers of charter schools are the ones who are in the middle of the road, trying to have their cake and eat it too.

I guess I’m not a compassionate conservative, you know, the kind that grows government spending on corporate welfare while hiding the corporate welfare part by thumping the Bible and using compassionate conservative code words such as “faith-based initiatives,” and “school choice.”

So I guess if I wish to describe myself as a conservative, I’ll have to delineate that I’m not a compassionate conservative.  I guess that makes me an insensitive, uncaring, arrogant, and heartless conservative.

But I’m not liberal.  I’ll explain.

I firmly believe that parents are the ones ultimately responsible for educating their children.  I believe that schools should be used as tools in the hands of the parents to help the parents fulfill their responsibility of educating their kids, and that, ultimately, if kids aren’t prepared for adulthood by the time they finish school, it’s not the schools that failed the kids, it’s the parents and the kids that failed the kids.  Doesn’t that sound conservative to you?

Along that vein, parents have three choices:  Home schooling, public schools, and private (including parochial) schools.  I leave it to the parents to decide which of these tools to use.  I’m OK with whatever they choose from that menu.

If I were a liberal, I would scrub home schooling from the list, because liberals don’t believe that parents are competent teachers unless they are actually licensed as such by the state, and even then, they’d only be competent to teach the grade levels and subject matter indicated on the license.  Liberals would also be concerned that home schooling isn’t sufficiently multicultural.  I leave it to the parents for them to decide whether they have the competence.  In areas where they feel less competent to teach, they can always supplement instruction with tools from other sources.  Parents can make home schooling as multicultural as they like.  There aren’t limits on how multicultural they can make the home schooling experience.  Again, I would empower parents with that kind of discretion.

Looking back over the centuries, home schooling took the form of apprenticing your children in your own trade.  Before the industrial revolution, nearly everyone worked their business out of their own homes.  Stay-at-home housewives?  Yeah, and stay-at-home househusbands, too.  What do you do to take care of the kids at the house while you do the work that sustains the family?  Have them learn the work with you, of course.  Some families might send some kids to be apprenticed elsewhere.  Some families might send some kids to the military, or to a convent, or to a monastery, or to a university.  In these cases, the parents worked out some form of monetary agreement to make those other opportunities possible.  The parents, in some form or another, footed the bill.

Public education is a fairly newfangled contraption.  Especially after the industrial revolution drastically altered family life, compulsory education in one form or another was deemed desirable by society, so we, the people, agreed to means by which the government became a provider of schooling.  It’s a shared cost arrangement.  Parents still foot the bill by way of taxes, but so do non-parents.  Anyone may send their child to a public school without having to pay extra tuition for it.  Children who go to public schools vastly outnumber the children who are home schooled and the children who go to private schools.

My parents sent me to public schools.  After all, they were already paying the taxes that are used to support the public schools.  They could have sent me to a private school, but that would have cost them a lot more.  They realized that they didn’t want to be saddled with the burden of private school tuition costs, especially since I was the oldest of 10 children.  If they had chosen private school for all of us, the cost would have been prohibitive.   They didn’t home school us.  My dad was a die maker at Ford Motor Company who often worked overtime to support our very large family.  Mom was often either pregnant or nursing.  Thus, home schooling would have been too time-intensive for my parents.  Still, my parents understood their responsibility to educate us.  They tell me I knew my alphabet when I was one year old.  I knew how to read before I was age three.  When I got to kindergarten, I was one of a small handful of kindergarteners who could already read who spent a segment of each school day in the first grade reading room with a first grade teacher (we readers had to miss milk and cookies, which is what the other kindergartners did in our absence).  I was adequately prepared for school as a preschooler by my parents.

My parents are aware that sometimes values are taught in public school that run counter to their own values.  My parents are aware that some values are totally missing from the public schools.  Knowing such things, but also knowing that they bore the ultimate responsibility for our education, they supplemented my public school learning with other opportunities for learning.  Much of the learning took place in the home.  Some of the learning took place at church.  Some of the learning happened through friends and relatives of the family.  Some of the learning occurred through extra-curricular activities at school.  Some of the learning occurred in clubs and organizations that had nothing to do with school.  My parents truly sought to adequately prepare us for adulthood.  They made mistakes, of course, but one isn’t spared from mistakes no matter what form the schooling takes.  One other thing my parents did when the public schools were found lacking in one respect or another, was that they were advocates when they felt they needed to be.  They would make their voice heard at a parent-teacher conference.  They would have a discussion with a principal or a superintendent.  They would state their case at a meeting of the school board.  It is critical that public schools remain under local control and it is imperative that they are responsive and accountable to local parents and local taxpayers.

I guess compassionate conservatives, however, who don’t feel up to the rigors of providing home schooling would rather place the blame for failing kids upon the schools, as if the schools are ultimately responsible for the education of their kids.  What?  Pass the buck to big government?  That doesn’t sound conservative.  And if the public school isn’t satisfactory, do they take it upon themselves to supplement the child’s learning, as my parents did?  Apparently they’re too lazy for that.  OK, so send the kids to a private school.  Nope.  They don’t want to pay for that.  OK, so they’re too cheap to send their kids to private school and too lazy to supplement the public school instruction, so what do they do?  They come up with charter schools.

I believe that in being ultimately responsible for children’s education, the parents should foot the bill, unless others agree, by way of a vote of the people, to chip in, as well, and help foot the parents’ educational bills.

For home schooling, the onus is on the parents to make it all happen.  For private schooling, the parents have to foot the bill.  For public schools, the parents and the rest of the community pay taxes to foot the bill.  The taxpayers of Ohio have had many direct votes on the funding of public schools.

Charter schools, however, want to charge tuition AND squeeze the taxpayer, and maybe even make a profit.  The taxpayers of Ohio have never had a direct vote on whether they want to also fund charter schools. Oops, there I go, sounding like a conservative again–a heartless conservative.  Conservatives more compassionate than I orchestrated the charter school movement in the state legislature.  To me, it’s just more government spending on corporate welfare.  Essentially, the charter school organizers didn’t want to try to compete with private schools in the open marketplace.  They were too averse to taking such a financial risk.  Therefore, they found a way to open a school with a private agenda, like a private school does, but they found a way to pay for it from government coffers, like a public school does, and no one ever gets to vote on a tax levy of any sort to determine whether the public really supports the private agenda of the charter school.

Charter schools represent some kind of utopia for compassionate conservative parents who will only set aside a beer budget for their family’s education, but wish to quench their champagne taste, all with a minimum of effort.

They call it compassionate conservatism. To me, it’s just corporate welfare.  To me, it just sounds like socialism.  To me, it sounds like taxation without representation.  To me, I hear the grunting and squealing sound of pigs at the government trough.  To me, I see charter schools too incompetent to survive as private schools, so they become parasites to survive, feeding off the host government.

Education is something worth working for.  It’s something worth earning.  It’s something worth a lot of effort.  It’s not an entitlement.  It’s a responsibility.  It’s a prudent preparation for the future.

If I were Ohio governor or member of the General Assembly, I’d give all charter schools an expiration date, with enough time for parents to sort through the educational alternatives.  By the time the expiration date arrives, the charter schools would have to do one of the following:

  1. Become a self-sustaining private school.  Not a bad choice, considering that other private schools didn’t have the state government’s help with their startup costs like the charter schools had.
  2. Get the taxpayers of the community to vote for a tax to support the school independently from the public school.  I’d be so surprised if such an effort succeeded, but we do live in a democracy, and if the people voted to sustain the school and its mission with their tax dollars, so be it.
  3. Become an adjunct, alternative school within a school district.  Someone would have to come up with a brilliant sales pitch to persuade the community and the school board to allow the school to operate by different rules than the rest of the schools in the district in order for it to continue its mission.
  4. Have the school dissolved and all its resources absorbed into the public school district.  Investors in the charter school could get some reimbursement for the materials they provided that the school district absorbs, though the reimbursement would be tempered by the calculation that tax funds also helped pay for those resources.
  5. Shut its doors permanently.  Assets and resources could be sold however the charter school organization sees fit, but there might be some reimbursements due to the state according to how tax dollars were expended.

I’m such a moderate.  I’m so middle-of-the-road.  I’m such a RINO.  No.  I’m conservative.  An insensitive, uncaring, arrogant, heartless conservative, without an ounce of compassion.

19 Responses to “My opposition to charter schools”

  1. Jill Says:

    Fascinating post, Daniel. I’m going to need to read it again, maybe a couple of more times. I actually am okay with not-for-profit charters that are extensions of public school districts and represent a niche that isn’t being filled or a way to teach that isn’t being taught in the public school or some other community-desired and supported alternative to what isn’t being offered – as a way to differentiate education enough to help educate all the different learners we have in our society.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this – I’m going to print it out and re-read.

    • buckeyerino Says:

      Thanks, Jill. The kind of charters you’re referring to, though, are adaptations made by public schools. I’d like to empower public schools to seek alternatives, to adapt, and to respond to the local parents and taxpayers in myriads of ways. I think public schools could emulate the best practices of private schools, if only old dogs would be willing to learn new tricks.

      • Jill Says:

        The charters I’m referencing are the ones that the ORC describes as being able to be created. I wrote a legal brief a year or so after the law was passed that analyzed how a school could choose between going charter or going indy private non-profit. The districts have to ok it all, but the formation would come more likely than not from the parents and taxpayers – much as you say. The law does indeed empower the districts to seek alternatives – but not necessarily within the more traditional school setting which does serve a large proportion of students. Charters, by design, are intended for smaller populations that have needs outside of the main.

        At least – that’s my reading of the ORC on what it calls community schools.

      • buckeyerino Says:

        I’m familiar with the construct you describe, Jill, as Lorain City Schools have a digital academy within a charter, and since Lorain usually has often had open enrollment in past years, they’ve sometimes attracted out-of-district pupils that way.

  2. Twitted by Jillmz Says:

    […] This post was Twitted by Jillmz – […]

  3. Nick D Says:

    Hi Buckeye RINO, I came here from Jill’s tweet about this post. I wonder what your feeling is about online charter schools? Supporters say they are a great alternative to brick-and-mortar publics for students who fall outside the system for whatever reason, for example, pregnant mothers who can’t come to school, people who are attempting to earn a diploma after dropping out, etc. What’s your take on that?

    • buckeyerino Says:

      Thanks for commenting. My take on it is this: The online education is either a component of the home schooling (onus on the parents), is an alternative provided by the public schools (accountable to the local parents and taxpayers of the community), or is considered private education (for which the parents pay the tuition). One other option for online education exists in bullet point 2. For the state to have a separate charter school budget in addition to the public school budget makes no fiscal sense to me. I’m too heartless to cave in to these compassionate conservative utopias where we send unvoted tax dollars (corporate welfare) to private entities with little recourse for public accountability. I think it’s great if parents lobbied a school district for online instruction where it’s useful and the school district responded favorably to the parents with the consensus of the taxpayers.

  4. Kyle Sisk Says:

    Very interesting post. Like Jill I had to read it twice.

    The timing of your post is kinda funny since I’m working on a post about charter schools that I hope to have up by the weekend that approaches charter schools from a purely political viewpoint.

    I actually have a “from left field” question for you:

    Do you have kids? If so, are they in public school? private? home schooled? Other?



  5. Daniel Jack Williamson Says:

    I’ve never fathered any children of my own.

    An ex-wife has a daughter from another marriage who attends private school. I stay in contact with them. The ex-wife is a public school teacher who has taught at the elementary and middle school levels in the field of special education who has also taught as an adjunct instructor in special education at CSU. The ex has been a tutor for an online “digital academy,” like Jill described. The ex has been a coach for junior high girls track and for Academic Challenge. The ex has also served on a public school board of education and on the board of trustees and as treasurer for a non-profit agency that ran the Head Start program for Lorain County. The ex serves on the STRS board. The ex has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a masters in education, with some post-graduate work completed. As you can imagine, the ex possesses a treasure trove of information and insight as to all things related to education.

    As for me, in the past, I’ve worked as a substitute teacher in the public schools in Ohio (my Ohio sub teaching license doesn’t expire till summer 2011), and I’ve taught English as a second language in South Korea in private academies. I’ve also volunteered in elementary and special ed classrooms in private and public schools in the state of Washington and in the state of Ohio. I’ve been a summer camp counselor in upstate New York for boys ages 5 to 16. I’ve been an assistant scoutmaster. Despite being diagnosed with ADHD, I did pretty well in school, earning a National Merit Scholarship. I’d like to go to graduate school, and my GRE scores are fairly high, with a 700 on the verbal and a 680 in math. I have a bachelors degree in international studies.

    Is that a full enough disclosure?

  6. Boring Made Dull Says:

    I’m not sure I get this post. I’m as heartless as anyone – indeed, well above the quota – but I’m not sure how this ties to condemning the children of the poor and middle class parents to warehousing in government schools with no accountability for performance. Or real educational prospects.

    Which is exactly what urban public schools are.

    In this country, given the State’s monopoly on education, the only effective choice for most parents is to move to an affluent school district. At which point they no longer care about what happens in the cities of Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, etc.

    That’s where educational choice really happens. No public school ever failed or went out of business for doing a lousy job. They usually just change a couple of administrators, and collect their tax dollars us usual. If there’s a real scandal, they may change the name on the school, but 90%+ of what happens in the building doesn’t change.

    The fallacy we’ve bought into is that Public Education (state 100% financed out of tax dollars into a monopoly) leads to an educated public.

    If this was once true, however doubtful, it isn’t anymore.

    As a family that homeschooled 4 kids for a total of about a kazillion years (granted, 3 of the 4 have have been in Akron’s premier public high school for some portion of time, and the teachers range from competent (not quite half), to “what can you expect?” (sizezable minority), to epsilon minus (a literary reference about 90% wouldn’t be able to place). I’d be happy with eliminating the whole mess, and giving parents back the tax money to spend on their kid’s education. However they choose.

    Will some blow it on high living, with no eduation for their kids? Sure.

    Will some make poor choices and put their kids in crummy schools? Sure.

    Will it be worse, on aggregate, than it is today? Not so sure…

    But that’s the question, isn;t it? Who do you trust, some bureaucrat, or the parents?

    If your answer is that it’s not the parents, we probably shouldn’t be letting them vote either.

    • buckeyerino Says:

      Thanks for replying. I do hope to write about what to do about the dreadful public schools you are talking about. Yes, there are dreadful public schools. And I definitely think something should be done about them.

      But your reply totally sidesteps the issue of charter schools, which is what this post is about. I find no conservative tenet that would serve to justify charter schools in their current form.

      It appears that you are hinting that you would support universal vouchers. I plan to blog about that topic in the near future, too. I think there are plenty of conservative reasons to oppose universal vouchers.

      And I plan to apply conservative approaches to my reform proposals for public schools. Before I delve into that, there is one key concept that I want to latch onto, and you’ve touched upon it with what you’ve written here:

      “In this country, given the State’s monopoly on education, . . .”

      In this country, what is the “state” supposed to consist of? Isn’t our government supposed to be of the people, by the people, for the people? Doesn’t the constitution of our nation begin with the phrase “We the people?” The state’s schools should be our schools, because we are the state. So if the state needs to fix the schools, who needs to do the fixing? We do. We are the state. Therefore, inasmuch as we have allowed public education to be hijacked by elite bureaucrats, an important element of the remedy would be to liberate the public schools from the clutches of said bureaucratic elites and restore the power over the schools to the people.

      We’ve got to take ownership. Your approach misses that entirely.

  7. Boringmadedull Says:

    Sorry that I’m late responding to your response to my response to your post, etc., etc. etc.

    As we think about the state monopoly on education – granted, it’s limited, in that folks of means can avoid warehousing their kids in either government schools by going to private school, or can mitigate the damage by moving to comparatively well run suburban districts, for most families, most of the time, the burden of taxation and the costs of paying twice for their children’s education is a pretty daunting prospect.

    On the subject of charter schools. To the extent that they are subject to state regulation and the relevant battery of bureaucratically approved procedure, I’m not for them. The only thing to be argued in their favor is that they are likely to be marginally more effective than the standard kid warehouse.

    Universal vouchers are somewhat more appealing, but sooner or later the state will insist on intrusive regulation. That’s what governments do. That’s why places like Grove City and Hillsdale College don’t take a hint of government money.

    In terms of reform, consider that while the left always talks about being counter cultural, the home schoolers do it every day.

    Now, I’m perfectly willing to concede that while homeschooling may be the standard, not every family can live up to that standard. Consequently, there will be a market for ‘for hire’ teachers.

    Why do we assume that the government is the only entity capable of providing that service? Just about no one believes that the government is capable of providing high quality good and services in a flexible, customer oriented manner. Well, outside of the well founded belief that the military is very, very good at blowing things up.

    In terms of your point re: the preamble to the Constitution, I find a curious lack of text allowing the Feds any say so in education whatsoever. Must be one of those penumbras or something.

    In a free republic, there is a state interest in an educated citizenry. That’s different from the state’s providing an ‘education’. As we become more beholden to the bureaucracy, the state has less of an interest in an educated citizenry, and an increased interest in a compliant one.

    There’s more to resolving this problem than the dispute over funding. Until people come to the conclusion that a) parents matter, b) families are about responsibility, and c) adults should be adults and behave as such, there’s really no way out of this mess.

    • buckeyerino Says:

      Well, I think there is a way out of this mess, and you hit on some key ways out of this mess in your final paragraph.

      The post I’ve written about supplemental learning opportunities, in combination with public schooling, is one way that a family can get a learning experience for their children that can have all the benefits of charter schooling, perhaps even private schooling, for probably less than the charter school tuition cost.

      I’ve got more reform proposals that I plan to articulate in the future that include restoring power over the public schools to the people in the communities. The more bureaucracy we add, the more parents drop out of the process, and that has to be reversed. I’ll also propose reforms in curricula and pedagogy. Another big change that has to be made is that some bureaucratic elites push social engineering as the top priority of the schools instead of academics, and that has to stop.

      I haven’t composed my post about universal vouchers yet, but you can expect that I’ll portray the implementation of universal vouchers as the creation of a new entitlement program. Those who wrote our state constitution did not envision having an equal number of tax dollars following every single child wherever they go to school at. Kids and families are not standardized inputs, and entitling each kid to the same number of dollars doesn’t standardize the inputs, either. There’s no way to hold down the cost of education if it becomes an entitlement program. We’ve got more checks and balances on the cost of education now than we would if we resorted to universal vouchers.

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