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Charter Schools AKA "Schools from Scratch"

Charter Schools AKA "Schools from Scratch"

In 1988, Al Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers, gave a speech that had been inspired by a visit to Germany where he visited a school run by teachers, who were free to experiment with new ideas and stayed with their classes for six years. Shanker talked about his vision of “charter” schools, which used public money to experiment with fresh ideas that could be transferred to public schools and improve education for all. What an opportunity! To establish innovative schools from scratch with enough money to get the job done! After six years, the charter school movement had been taken over by specialized nonprofit and for-profit corporations, which ran the schools, and Shanker became disenchanted with the movement.

It is now 25 years since the first charter school opened in Minnesota. On March 1, I went to an Intelligence Squared debate in Manhattan, hosted by journalist John Donvan, who framed the proposition: “Charter Schools Are Overrated” for two debate teams. The academics, Gary Miron, of Western Michigan University and Julian Vasquez Heilig, of Sacramento State and a founder of the Network for Public Education, who agreed with the premise, squared off against a team of charter school advocates, Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of The Center for Education Reform and Gerard Robinson, of the American Enterprise Institute and former Florida Commissioner of education. Donvan insisted that this formal debate was also an exercise in civil discussion and the attendees in the packed auditorium each had little keypads at their seats to vote for the team they felt was most effective in defending its position.