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Morning Shots

Beware the guise of democracy

There is a bill moving through the New Jersey Assembly that is particularly lousy, in part due to its specious language, but mainly because it facilitates the status quo by hampering the incentive for charter schools to do what they do best: innovate.

The piece of legislation (A 3852) seeks to put any and all charter school applications to local referendum, thereby transferring all duties of application evaluation –a process that traditionally requires weeks if not months of thorough scrutiny and targeted inquiry by education professionals– to a swift popular vote. Operating on the pretense of democratic principle, the bill’s sponsors would like for you to believe that the backwards operation of New Jersey’s Office of Charters has all along been the result of too little input from education stakeholders at the local level, e.g. principles, board members, and parents. This argument is populist positioning and little more: a guileful use of the symbolic American prerogative– the ballot box. It acknowledges neither the root of the problem with the state’s current authorizer or the need for a certain level of expertise and objectivity when it comes to deciding which applications do and which do not merit consideration for a charter. Instead, it tosses the application process into the arena of popularity– where a charter is measured not by its expressed, detailed need in the community but by its popularity, or attractiveness to the majority. (more…)

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Georgia charters reap what legislature sowed

Georgia’s high court recently struck down HB 881, a 2008 revision to the state’s charter law which empowered a new commission to approve charters, putting a dozen new schools and thousands of children in jeopardy. Was the court right that this conflicts with the constitution? Well, it does if you consider that the legislature in GA — not wanting to conflict with the state education department — failed to create the truly independent authorizer that would have fallen outside the education powers clause of the constitution. All states have these clauses, and in effect, they regulate the flow of all education affairs that exist through school district boundaries.  The state education department also derives its authority from this clause. However, the legislature has the authority to tax and spend and create institutions outside of the education powers clause that withstand constitutional lines of authority. In effect, legislatures can create authorities to solve just about any state problem. Georgia legislators were poised to do this when they first were introduced to the notion of multiple authorizers by yours truly. But they, along with a bevy of local advocates, decided to placate local school boards (who sued them anyway) and avoid a clash with the state education department and thus failed to make it truly autonomous. That led to all sorts of practical and process difficulties during their first approval process as Commission members clashed with state department of education authorities. But they did approve several schools two years in a row and now those schools inevitably will close.

A pity for the kids and families. And a big lesson to be learned by legislators.

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Taking the "right" out of civil rights

Masquerading as a champion for equity, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA semi-regularly issues forth condemnations and reports outlining how little we’ve achieved as a nation in civil rights. Their glass is always half empty, and their data normally, well, wrong.  When it comes to education, they criticize any programs that give the poor and people of color power, as if only a highly regulated government can really ensure our civil rights are respected.  But more than 30 years of school system failures to do just that still hasn’t convinced them they are wrong. Instead of embracing the kinds of reforms that do indeed restore justice to those lacking, they find ways to use data to say otherwise.

Their most recent report says charter schools in most states are highly segregated and of course, it is suggested, are an affront to civil rights. The “project” neither collects its own data for this, instead relying on federally flawed data, or does it actually look at the communities where charters live for a glimpse of what service these schools are providing. (more…)

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