OK, we're going to say this as simply as we can: When a charter school moves into the area all the children in that area become commodities. Sounds harsh we know, but there it is. Now we're willing to believe that at least some of the charter school advocates had good intentions and sincerely believed that turning our educational institutions into for profit corporations would improve them because capitalism! You know, it leads to more choice and just look how that has improved our lives when it comes to things like buying cars, or refrigerators, or toasters, or toothpaste.
Let's set aside for a moment that this is a classic example of the logical fallacy called false equivalence for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which is that while a toaster is created to be sold for a profit, a child is not, and just look at what inflicting "choice" on students has gotten them.
In a word, nada. Or more recently, and more specifically in Wisconsin, the word would be zilch. (pdf)
But that is not to say "choice" hasn't been good for some folks. Take Michelle Rhee for example who parlayed some rather questionable test score improvements while Chancellor of Washington DC schools into a sweet sweet gig as Head School Improver at studentsfirst.org, an organization that is working "with parents, teachers, administrators, and citizens across the country to ensure great teachers, access to great schools, and effective use of public dollars." And what could be a more "effective" use of public dollars than to give them to people like Michelle Rhee?
Now we come to the great lesson about success in a capitalistic economic system which is...get in the middle. If you can burrow in and set up shop between the producers and the consumers, and convince both that you need to be there your ship has come in and it's a luxury liner. Of course we don't mean to imply that all those who occupy middles in our system are leeches draining off scarce dollars from communities for private gain. Take the transportation system for instance that gets a farmer's crops from his field to consumers. Pretty important. But a charter school that sets up in a neighborhood and diverts money to a sometimes distant and disconnected corporate headquarters? Not so helpful.
The "choice" advocates would tell us that our farmer is motivated to produce the best crops he can because if his product were to show up on the shelves spoiled, or be substandard in some way we would buy some other farmer's apples who had better quality control. Yet the product we've been served by the charter movement is, at best, indistinguishable from the product it purports to improve upon, and it's more expensive.
So how do they manage to keep parents buying a substandard product in a system that's supposed to improve everything by giving consumers more "choice?" Two ways: have a great marketing department, and don't take kids with educational challenges.
Sort of like if that farmer with the bad apples made sure they were extra shiny.