Class Conflict

Here in Massachusetts, in the birthplace of Horace Mann’s free American ‘common school’, an intense battle over charter schools — one with outsized national stakes — will be decided at the ballot box next week. The fight, at least on the surface, concerns a question of expansion: Do we need more charter schools to meet the demands of over 32,000 students currently on the waitlist for charter enrollment, or do we need to limit the growth of new charter schools, whose growth may spell a decline in the public system?


Zoomed out, however, the question of expansion morphs into several different debates: market driven forces versus publicly funded services, stricter discipline versus free expression, longer school days and greater teacher demands versus union standards and protections.


But what if ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on charter schools misses a bigger point? Amid all the divisiveness, all the rancorous disputes, a near-consensus still abounds: Reforms are needed to drastically improve the quality of education across the board. The real question may be: If the reachable goals are a full day’s learning, a path to work, higher education, and self-reliance, a bond with families and the real world, why shouldn’t kids find those essentials in shaped-up modern versions of community public schools?

This week we enlist the help of pioneer education reformers Linda Nathan and Paula Evans.

Both Nathan and Evans have had long careers in education reform. Both are disciples of the great reformer Ted Sizer, author of Horace’s Choice and founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, and both have served in positions in the public and charter system. Yet they have also been at odds with each other over specific reform tactics over the years. We brought them in to talk about the real issues overshadowed by the ballot debate.

Zuck and the Newark Initiative

Photo credit: Gary He from Facebook

Bringing the debate outside the commonwealth borders, we’ve also recorded a segment with Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize, which tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg’s 100 million dollar pledge to transform Newark schools, with a little help from Corey Booker and Chris Christie. The fiery and very funny education blogger Jennifer Berkshire joins us, too. She runs the Edushyster blog, which has been skewering various aspects of “market-based education,” from joy and achievement culture to the basic problem of teaching obedience. She serves as moderator and provocateur for this debate over the charter choice.

Guest List
Linda Nathan
founding headmaster of Boston Arts Academy, co-founder of the Center for Collaborative Education, and Executive Board member of the Coalition of Essential Schools.
Paula Evans
founding headmaster of Community Charter School of Cambridge and former principal of the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School
Jennifer Berkshire
freelance journalist, public education advocate, and founding editor of the Edushyster blog.
Dale Russakoff
author of The Prize and former reporter for the Washington Post

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  • Fred Grosso

    You better believe this is a class issue. The powerful are willing to open the door to some to make money and gain more power while destroying those left behind.

  • Pete Crangle

    I have not listened to this discussion yet … enjoying the electoral Fever Swamp on this election eve. I’ll toss in my pre-listening $0.02 (opinions are resistant to inflationary/deflationary pressures) and suggest that developmental education for profit is a hobbled idea, but fully expected in a culture that fetishizes everything through the panacea of hyper-commodification. No margin, no mission is a failed concept when applied to sectors that are inherently inefficient, or need protection from boom-bust cycles, as well as, predatory human behavior. It should not be applied to every human activity that manifests within a shared, common infrastructure, even if those human activities seem ripe for revenue streaming. Moreover, we should observe that markets have no internal restraint, are always reduced to a profit chasing myopia, are always scheming for proprietary competitive advantage, and of course, resist oversight at great expenditure.

  • Potter

    Thank you for this discussion. I do not know now how I will vote on this, the most difficult of the ballot questions here in MA. I am thinking that the more I know about the issue, the less I know how to vote on this.

    I grew up in the public school system in NYC.. even through college. I went to P.S. 11, my first school in the Bronx, a big Victorian building, kindergarten through 8th grade. But I was transferred to a new school in the 4th grade. What an upheaval!. I still remember.

    I think it’s brilliant and wonderful that you have these folks so fueled to improve the state of our education. One problem that has not been solved here in MA ( and elsewhere) is that the money that supports our schools comes from real estate taxes. So the wealthiest towns get the best schools. That is why we moved out to Sudbury so many years ago despite how hard it was to afford. I remember the “Metco kids” were being bussed in. Fast forward, that is why our son and his family moved to Scarsdale,NY: for the schools for his children. The schools are better in the wealthy areas. This is, at the ground level, the story of our country’s inequality.

    As I said, I don’t know how to vote on this. I may skip the question altogether… not like me.

    • lindam313

      Please support charter schools for exactly the reasons you pointed out – the failure of Mass to economically support our schools through other means than property taxes has led to significantly varying results for children.

  • lindam313

    I teach at a charter school and my biggest concern is if students RIGHT NOW are not reading, writing, doing math and science, etc at grade level, are functionally illiterate or otherwise not succeeding at the school they are currently attending, there is no time to waste. There is only one opportunity to attend school while one is young and each day a child is behind, the likelihood increases that doors of opportunity will close and jail doors may open. If a family has money and can either move to a town with a better school system or place the child in a private institution, what can be done? Why waste the life of a child arguing this point? Money should not determine the quality of public education one receives, but it can and it does, otherwise people wouldn’t be living in wealthy communities – not all charter schools will reach all children, but each child who achieves academic success improves his or her future. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

    • Potter

      Very persuasive.

  • Potter

    ROS- In your letter you say, you decided eventually that this is not the right question. What then would be the right question??