When Albert Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers made the original proposal for charter schools, he saw them as potential sources of innovative practice where unionized teachers and co-operative administrators would work together to produce the conditions in which good education could take place. His model was a public school in Germany where “[t]eams of teachers had considerable say in how the school was run. They made critical decisions about what and how to teach and stayed with each class of students for six years.” It need hardly be added that German teachers are well paid compared to American, and that consideration could not have been far from Shanker’s mind.
Professor Richard M Ingersoll of Penn notes that three main reasons for teacher turnover are insufficient pay, lack of administrative support, and lack of influence in how schools are run. These are the features of schools that Shanker’s vision sought to correct. A fourth is ‘student discipline problems’ in schools that are troll havens. If the conditions Shanker sought had been realized in troll-free schools, the visionary gleam might now be a reality comparable in quality to Finnish schools.
Sadly, this has not happened. Instead, charter schools have, with a very few exceptions, turned into little Walmarts of learning, run top-down on the cheap, giving an undistinguished ‘education’ at a fearful price. Even though the charters have reduced the troll problem, the undistinguished education still occurs: by most measures, most charter schools do no better than public schools. The fearful price is twofold: 1) increased economic and racial segregation (something the Catholic schools they are replacing managed to avoid), and 2) an average loss of 24% of their teachers each year, twice the public schools’ rate. Compared to that, a goose would be a model of continence. The pool of people available to teach is not infinite. How many of them are gone through in the ‘human-resource’ wreckage typical of charter ‘education’?