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.
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.