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Volume II, Number 8, October, 2004

Charting (and Spinning) a Wasteful Course

For all the talk about research-based educational policy and high standards, the Bush administration has endorsed a wasteful and reckless scheme to divert public funds over to the funding of charter schools that are usually freed from meeting standards, honoring labor agreements and showing good results.

A recent study comparing the test results of charter schools with their public school counterparts gives the lie to the simplistic claims of right wing, free market advocates of privatized schooling.

"Charter Schools Trail in Results, U.S. Data Reveals"
By Diana Jean Schemo of the New York Times, August 17, 2004 ($ archived)

Not only is the data about charter school performance embarrassing, the American Federation of Teachers, which released the analysis, claims in "First-Ever NAEP Charter School Results Repeatedly Delayed" that the Department of Education tried in various ways to withhold the data until it could manufacture an explanation (spin) to excuse away the results.

"The government’s first obligation to the public was to release the NAEP charter school results, just like it does with other NAEP results," said Bella Rosenberg, an author of the AFT report. "Repeatedly delaying that report for the sake of packaging the results with an official explanation tarnishes NAEP’s gold-standard reputation."

"Being transformed into a charter school is being held out as a solution for struggling public schools," said Dr. F. Howard Nelson, lead author of the AFT report. "But these NAEP data reinforce years of independent research that show charter schools do no better and often underperform comparable, regular public schools."

The full AFT report is available at

Shortly after reporting the disappointing results for charter schools, the New York Times followed up with s story outlining Ed Department plans to cut back on the reporting of charter school results.

 "U.S. Cutting Back on Details in Data About Charter Schools"
By Diana Jean Schemo of the New York Times, August 29, 2004 ($ archived)

We see a shameful willingness to hold public schools to different standards than pet projects. The claim to research-based policy is nothing but a sham as leaders pick and chose the reports they like, hide the ones that undermine their claims and try to recast evidence in more favorable terms.

While some charter schools may be started by well intentioned people, the lack of clear guidelines and standards in some cases means they may also be started by those with weak credentials and evil, greedy or mistaken intentions.

The recent failure of a huge charter school operation in California points to the dangers and waste of a policy that opens the doors to rampant, unbridled experimentation with our children.

Calif. Charter Failure
Affects 10,000 Students

By Joetta L. Sack

Thousands of California students were left to look for new schools after one of the nation’s largest charter school operators shut its doors last month.

The closure of the 5-year-old California Charter Academy, which ran about 60 schools under four charters and enrolled some 10,000 students, represents one of the largest charter school failures since the nation’s first such independent public school opened in 1991.
Reported in Education Week September 1, 2004

© 2004 No Child Left and FNO Press, all rights reserved.
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.