white shoe: In its early days, the adjective was used in an envious, resentful way by those with less-privileged backgrounds; now it is either a dispassionate description of elitism or a passionate derogation of old-fogeyism.
If you lose 60% of your students between 9th and 12th grade, graduated the remaining 40%, and bragged about their 100% graduation rate, you might be a charter school.
If you decide to only educate kids who spoke decent English, you might be a charter school.
If you externally suspend anywhere from 15-50% of your students,* you might be a charter school.
If your lottery system benefits kids whose parents have the savvy to manage the charter school application process, you might be a charter school.
If you depend on public schools for subsidies, you might be a charter school. (The Springfield Public Schools, already hamstrung by the City’s levy limit, loses almost $28 million a year to charter schools).
If you have a significant number of billionaires, assorted 1 percenters, and philanthrocapitalists like the Boston Foundation lobbying for and sprinkling money on you, you might be a charter school.
If these were actual redneck jokes instead of actual issues, they might actually be funny (and make more sense in the second person). So if you’re not laughing, that’s okay. The real joke is a lawyer joke. lawyers. Three lawyers from white shoe law firms, abetted by the plutocrats at the Boston Foundation, planning a civil rights lawsuit against the cap on charter schools. That’s right ladies and germs, the 1950s had Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP and Brown vs. the Board of Education. The 2100’s have the frivolous lawsuit from the Boston gentry. Plaintiff to be named later.
The lawsuit may be off the wall, but it isn’t entirely unexpected. Part of March Madness in legislative Massachusetts happens when the Boston
plutocracy Foundation and its Friends push to lift the cap on the number of Massachusetts charter schools. Every year offers a slightly new twist. Last year, there was a plea for more new money for charter school buildings. This year the twist is the charge that the charter school cap of violates children’s civil rights. Seriously folks. Here in the cradle of freedom, three white shoe attorneys have found a new Edmund Pettus Bridge to cross: the charter school cap. Never mind that Boston alone has 34 charter schools. Never mind that the rest of Boston students may be lacking what they need. Never mind that none of these guys kids go to charter schools.
I don’t know anything about the grounds necessary for a lawsuit, but I’m sure Paul F. Ware Jr., Michael B. Keating, and William F. Lee have some legal argument in mind. However, I couldn’t discern one from Attorney Michael Keating’s interview on WBUR. “Students have a constitutional right,” he says, “to the kind of education charters provide.” There is Massachusetts case law requiring more funding and equity for schools, but none so far granting students a right to the limited slots in charter schools. And what about those left behind in the underperforming schools? Kind of funny how it’s schools that underperform, not the government, not taxpayers, not neighborhoods, not poverty, not parents, and not kids themselves. They aren’t kidding when they say underperforming schools; the blame has to fall on teachers, administrators, and sometimes, even the buildings they work in.
There is a risk to charter proponents with this weird lawsuit: drawing attention to charter school shortcomings and even criticism that it may actually charter schools violating students’ civil rights. In fact, the past year or so has seen questions raised about civil rights violations in charter schools, particularly over no-excuses discipline:
a growing array of critics is concerned that the no-excuses approach more effectively contributes to very different results: a flagrant form of two-tiered education and a rise in racially skewed suspension and expulsion rates for low-level misbehavior charter schools that require subsidies from public schools in order to operate.
At the national level, seventy percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100% of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools. Some charter schools enrolled populations where 99% of the students were from under-represented minority backgrounds. Forty-three percent of black charter school students attended these extremely segregated minority schools, a percentage which was, by far, the highest of any other racial group, and nearly three times as high as black students in traditional public schools.
MTA President Barbara Madeloni seemed to be alluding to these civil rights considerations when she said, “Any claim that the charter school cap is the basis of Massachusetts children being denied their civil rights is appalling and deceptive. The real threat to our students – and to our democracy – is the two-tiered school system funded public dollars that charter proponents will go to any lengths to expand.” Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, concurred.
If the white shoe triumvirate were a bit sharper politically (and truly nasty), I’d wonder if they had an ulterior motive. It’s a common tactic among the right wing to muddy the conversational waters by accusing their opponents of what they themselves are actually guilty. However, I don’t think that Ware, Keating, and Lee are in Jerome Corsi’s league. As pleased with themselves as they no doubt are, I don’t think the charter school movement’s version of Thurgood Marshall has swiftboating in mind. They may think, they may even be the smartest guys in the room, but they certainly aren’t the wisest. There’s more to education than is dreamt of it Boston Foundation white papers (or white-shoe law firms). And there are a lot of people who know even more than these guys think they do.
Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation, the $1 billion charity that uses its money to lure people into serving its agenda, seems skeptical of the lawsuit, which is being brought by the Chair of his Board of Directors:
“It’s a new development and a wild card that might shake things loose, and we’re in need of that after a very disappointing result” in July, when the state Senate rejected an attempt to raise the cap, said Paul Grogan, president of The Boston Foundation, which supports the expansion of charter schools. “I think, if nothing else, it will build moral pressure.”
As you may have guessed, I’m not a charter school proponent. Some charter schools do good job. Some truly offer an education unavailable in public schools. Too often, however, what they refer to as “innovative” is at best merely “different.” “No excuses” discipline, for example, is practiced in many charter schools. is at best troubling, at worst truly disturbing. As Joan Goodman, professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the school’s Teach for America says of many urban charter schools:
These schools start with the belief that there’s no reason for the large academic gaps that exist between poor minority students and more privileged children. They argue that if we just used better methods, demanded more, had higher expectations, enforced these higher expectations through very rigorous and uniform teaching methods and a very uniform and scripted curriculum geared to being successful on high-stakes tests, we can minimize or even eradicate these large gaps, high rates of drop outs and the academic failures of these children. To reach these objectives, these schools have developed very elaborate behavioral regimes that they insist all children follow, starting in kindergarten. Submission, obedience, and self-control are very large values. They want kids to submit. You can’t really do this kind of instruction if you don’t have very submissive children who are capable of high levels of inhibition and do whatever they’re told.
Maybe improved test scores are worth the price of submission, but there should be a honest discussion about what charter schools do and how they fit into the education of all our children. Other than proliferation, the charter school lobby lacks any real policy or clear educational direction. In recent years, the MTA has pulled its punches on charter schools, but cities and towns are upset about the loss of precious revenue.
According to the State House News Service, Senate President Stan Rosenberg is promising a discussion about the charter cap after raising it was resoundingly defeated last year in the senate.
“There’s going to have to be another debate on the subject this year,” said Rosenberg, expressing hope that opponents and proponents of charter school expansion can find common ground.
“I think the two sides have really gotten dug in, and I think they need to stop talking at each other, and start listening to each other. And you might find common ground on which you can build and move forward,” Rosenberg said during an interview on Boston Herald radio.
I’m less optimistic about the conversation than my former senator is. Charter s
* Note: percentages at individual charter schools vary widely, some due to policy, some do to grade level. Raw percentages or numbers may be misleading. Reporting the number of suspensions in a school system might also obscure high rates at individual schools or the number of total kids suspended.