One of the President's old basketball buddies now is in charge of passing out $4.35 billion which, we are told, will jump start the process of transforming American education. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will dispense the funds as "incentives to competition," specifically to states and school districts that knuckle under to the Administration's formula for "reform."
Duncan is a Hyde Park liberal who never was a teacher, and whose "success" as CEO of the Chicago schools is open to question -- given that the Chicago schools remain among the worst in the nation. States that wish to benefit from Duncan's largess must take two steps immediately: ensure that there is no limit on the number of charter schools permitted under their laws, and ensure that there are no obstacles to tying teacher pay to student test scores.
That's not education reform. That's an ideological juggernaut bent on crushing anybody in state government or educational leadership who disagrees.
There is nothing in the Administration program that requires states to close down the 37% of charter schools where students do worse than the students in local traditional schools, or to reexamine the charters of the 46% that do no better despite the suspension of union work rules (see CREDO National Charter School Study*). There is no provision for research to determine whether existing merit pay structures actually improve student outcomes, and which, if any, works best.
It's interesting that teachers in charter schools are displaying a lot more interest in unionizing, citing factors like longer hours, lower pay, and very high teacher turnover. High turnover is not surprising in a building where the principal can unilaterally change the teaching load from five classes to six without even bothering to consult, much less negotiate. It's not surprising in a building where "teachers" with no experience or training are tossed into classrooms with nothing but happy platitudes expressed in pie-in-the-sky "mission statements" to back them up.
In the meanwhile, though, there are plenty of young, would-be teachers -- idealistic to the point of stupidity or stupid to the point of idealism -- who will flock to the flood of charter schools that will be inspired by Duncan's pot of gold. In the rush by fiscally challenged states to grab the money, charters will be approved for applicants who would have been denied had some restrictions on the number of charters remained in place. The effect of the Duncan plan will be to reduce competition.
Anticipate a glut of "awareness" charters, catering to every racial, ethnic, and interest group you can imagine. Anticipate a glut of for-profit charters specializing in glossy brochures aimed at impressing parents and state legislators. Anticipate that the 37% pure failure rate will surpass 50%. Anticipate that the program will be a political success, because all those racial, ethnic, and interest groups will be happy, and the for-profit school industry will be pouring much of it's new profit into lobbying and campaign contributions.
For more complete critiques of charter schools and merit pay, please see my most recent articles for the online magazine, Suite 101.