One area of continuing controversy in public education is the role of the charter school. For the most part, union activists (of which I was proudly a member during my thirty-three year teaching career) dislike and oppose the current charter school model as depriving teachers of the autonomy they need to serve their students well. For-profit corporations have taken over most charter schools as competitors of public schools for both students and tax dollars. The vast majority of charter schools lack unions or rights for their employees, leading to a whopping 24% annual teacher-turnover rate, more than double that of traditional public schools.
In this editorial in the New York Times, entitled “The Original Charter School Vision” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/opinion/sunday/albert-shanker-the-original-charter-school-visionary.html?_r=1), Richard D. Kahlenberg and Halley Potter (no relation to Harry) point out that the man who came up with the idea of charter schools, Albert Shanker, had a different idea of how they would work. Shanker envisioned charter schools as laboratories for public schools, places where teachers could experiment with curriculum, organization, and techniques without some of the bureaucratic restrictions of large school systems. The successful experiments could then be utilized to make public schools better. This piece points out the discrepancy of that concept with current practices.
The article additionally shows Shanker as interested in improving our democracy by mixing up social classes and races, again seeing charter schools as an opportunity to do this. No, Albert would not appreciate the way his charter school concept is being used today, especially when many of charter schools are segregated by income level and race, but this article certainly made me appreciate him as more than just a union leader. His drive to find ways to improve schools at the same time he worked to protect and expand teacher rights is an inspiration to those of us who are trying (at a much more modest level) to do similar things. Kahlenburg and Potter do an excellent job in pointing out that the original concept of charter schools is nothing like the way most function now and that we should strive to make them work correctly, the way Albert Shanker advocated.