Charter Schools

Among my “allies” in the anti Red Plan world is a fellow who has been madder than hell at me for a decade. He blames me for bringing in the Edison schools and killing his own children’s school Birchwood Elementary in the middle of Duluth Heights. He used to lambaste me in the paper having done so as I recall last year.

He wrote a letter to the editor this week which I mostly agree with. He concludes by warning that however we deal with this Red Plan we shouldn’t let Central High School be sold to the Edison schools.

This is all a preface to what’s become a long post about what to make of charter schools.

Ironically Charters have been embraced by both Democrats and Republicans. Minnesota under Democratic governor, and former Hibbing school board member, Rudy Perpich invented them. They were championed by President Bill Clinton and by numerous Republicans who are interested in loosening the grip of teacher’s unions. Our former Superintendent Julio Almanza felt that State Education Commissioner Alice Seagren was giving him grief for not being friendly enough to our local Edison Charter.

When Julio’s predecessor, Mark Myles, was looking for something to inject a little life into Duluth’s public schools he had Edison in mind. At the time I was new on the School Board and my intention was to inject a little life into the schools too. In my case I wanted to give teacher’s more of a role in determining what and how the District taught. It was apparent to me that in an unhealthy way the teacher’s union had helped create a bureaucracy and contractual work rules which had mummified our schools. Despite my reluctance to rush to the Edison model I went along with it knowing that it would raise the union’s hackles. I’ve been on the outs with the union ever since.

During this time I began an email coorespondence with a woman who was attempting to pass legislation in the state of Missouri to create charters. I have kept all those emails because they are the best evidence of my thinking about that time. I never viewed them as the solution to the ills in public schools and I am not surprised that they have a mixed record. Some are very good some are hideous. What they all are is a break from centralized union/management bureaucracy.

For the sake of full disclosure, my daughter got a job with at the Edison Charter Schools a couple years ago with no direction from me. She didn’t even know that I had had a hand in its creation. She loves her job and loves the school.

Edison pays its teachers less than the Duluth Public Schools and has the ability to remove teachers who don’t cut the mustard. From what I’ve been told the teachers are very engaged in their work. Obviously, they can not afford to be otherwise.

Edison has not had paved the way to a promised land. It has, after a decade, managed to improve its testing results which once suffered in comparison to the Duluth Schools. This has happened despite the fact that the local Edison schools have collected a much larger share of special education needy children than the Duluth Public Schools. While Edison gets more special ed money as a result this isn’t never enough. The Congress “promised” when it put special ed mandates on the nation’s schools to cough up federal money to pay for the mandates eventually. They never did.

One of the most intriguing things I heard before I departed the School Board was at a meeting Senator Paul Wellstone called us too in the Board Room. I asked him about Special Ed money and he told us he was sure it would be fully funded in the comming year because of some assurances he seemed to have gotten from the new President George W Bush. Well, whatever Wellstone knew it all went down in flames when he was killed in the crash of a small plane as he campaigned for reelection and in in 9-11 when the Bush Administration focused on terrorism rather than education after leaving the nation its NCLB legacy. (all whips and no carrots)

I would direct readers to the comments of two people who wrote into the Daily Dish Blog written by Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic Magazine: Both offer clear eyed appraisals of Charters.

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