School & District Management Opinion

Questions for Deborah

By Diane Ravitch — July 22, 2008 2 min read
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Dear Deborah,

I am still somewhat unsure about the difference between your small schools and the small schools created by various school districts, or your small schools and the charter schools that are popping up in many districts.

I just read in the LA Daily News that Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, has asked voters to approve a new multi-billion-dollar bond issueto support new charter schools and “small learning communities.” Not long ago, the Broad Foundation (and Eli Broad himself) committed $23 million to create many new charter schools in Los Angeles.

How will these schools differ from what you did at Central Park East? Will they replicate the promise of the Annenberg Challenge? Are they designed to achieve what you tried to do in the early 1990s? What are the similarities, what are the differences?

How do you feel about the dramatic expansion of KIPP charters? Soon KIPP will have 40-plus charters in Houston, and a growing number in many other cities. KIPP boasts a high graduation rate and unusually high test scores. How do you feel about their methods and their success?

Does the charter movement promote the privatization of public education? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Why?

And last, why do you think so many super-wealthy individuals are so deeply interested in starting charter schools? Do they see public education as a government bureaucracy in need of an injection of private enterprise? In New York City recently, we have seen an upsurge of hedge fund managers and others with vast resources choosing to start charter schools, in some cases actually getting set up in a public school building. For example, Courtney Sale Ross operates a charter school in the ground floor of the Department of Education’s headquarters. So, when people come to visit the school system’s headquarters, the school on display is a charter school. This was supposed to be a showcase school, but it has run through a string of principals and teachers in its short life (see article in New York Sun detailing problems in Ross Global Academy Charter School). Another charter school is supposed to be inserted into P.S. 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, by one Spencer Robertson, son of billionaire Julian Robertson. I wonder why the billionaires don’t buy their own space instead of taking it away from regular public schools that lack their deep pockets. In NYC, nearly three dozen charter schools have been wedged into public school buildings, and you can imagine the culture clash between the two schools in the same space, which is accentuated when the charter students—with private funding—have smaller classes, more technology, etc. A group called Democrats for Education Reform, run by wealthy hedge fund managers and other zillionaires, has the primary goal of creating more charter schools.

So, what gives here? How did some of your ideas migrate to become the plaything of the super-rich?


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