Delpit vs. Charter Schools (or Maybe Not)

By Liana Loewus — April 11, 2012 1 min read
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Monday night, I had the chance to see Lisa Delpit, author of our upcoming Teacher Book Club selection, “Multiplication Is for White People:" Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, speak at a restaurant/performance space in Washington. The event, hosted by the nonprofit Teaching for Change, drew a packed house of mainly teachers and administrators. Delpit gave a short, informal address, telling several anecdotes from the book, and quickly turned it over to the audience for questions.

Significantly, every single educator who asked a question of Delpit came from a charter school. This was interesting to me because in her book, Delpit is generally disparaging of the charter school movement. In the introduction, she writes:

In their first iteration, charter schools were to be beacons for what could happen in public schools. They were intended to develop models for working with the most challenging populations. ... Now, because of the insertion of the "market model," charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. Special education students, students with behavioral issues, and students who need any kind of special assistance are excluded in a multiplicity of ways because they reduce the bottom line—they lower test scores and take more time to educate properly. Charter schools have any number of ways of 'counseling' such students out of their programs.

At the event, Delpit mentioned she’d heard of charter-school students who hadn’t tested well being penalized for minor infractions (i.e., wearing the wrong color undershirt) and then encouraged to transfer to their local public school. The story invoked some mild chatter from the audience and the subject was quickly dropped.

The book was just recently published, and it was clear from questions that not many of the attendees had read it yet. I’m wondering if these educators—who seemed overwhelmingly impressed by Delpit’s presentation—will feel differently about her views after reading her book. By the same token, might the author become more sympathetic to charter schools, given that—at least to judge by this event—many charter school teachers are receptive to her ideas?

In other words, is there a bridge to be crossed that the two sides aren’t yet fully aware of?

As always, feel free to weigh in.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.