Raise your hand if you remember to substitute the words “binding contract among the parties” every time you hear the word charter in education. A charter school. Now charter districts. In life your intentions may make you a fine person or an evil one or somewhere in between. But as a legal matter intentions cease to matter when you sign a contract. Its words now control. They dictate the relationships among the parties. Now those of you who have joined me as readers from the Get Schooled blog know I have a running joke about Attentive Parent’s Glossary of Words. That I should publish it as a dictionary because so many of the commonly used terms and slogans in education actually have far different meanings than what is commonly appreciated.
Now think about the implications of that for a minute when those words get put into a formal education statute or regulation or a charter. It’s bad in all three instances because the side providing the money is not really going to get what they think they are getting. That’s the beauty of Orwellian Newspeak–the duplicitous use of language. It makes it a whole lot harder to detect the problem. If you do though, at least you can lobby politicians to change or repeal a law. Where do you go to appeal a legally binding contract that was intended by one side (has the accurate knowledge and is in charge of daily operations) to operate differently from what the other side (providing the money and children) thought they were getting from the charter?
Welcome to the dangerous world of charters in education. And yes I was a corporate lawyer in charge of negotiating contracts in an earlier version of my life. Contracts to me are close to living things. I never forget that the only time anyone ever reads a contract is when the parties have ceased to agree. So it needs to be written accurately while everyone is still getting along. In education charters though one side may not have any real effective means of appreciating that there was never a point when both sides were in agreement about what was supposed to happen in that school or district. In fact the charter becomes an effective weapon for making the deception over intended results legally binding. And to accelerate the speed at which radical education reform is being brought to a public school or district you are financing with your taxes. That money you must pay annually that then limits what else you can buy. Which limits what other people in turn make from sales. Which limits their income. But not their property taxes that finance so much of education.
On June 1, a 93,000 student school district with an over billion dollar annual budget became the largest charter school district in Georgia. A state that seems determined to pilot cutting edge radical ed reform. Usually because there is some poorly understood federal grant of money involved. It’s not alone in that category of destructive fundraising though so don’t gloat too much if you live somewhere else. EdWeek did a story on the charter calling it a “gamechanger.” Yes I have no doubt it was intended to be a national model. The language is simply too tied in with some of the most controversial or nefarious schemes in using education as a social and political weapon. What do I mean for example?
Well if you have been reading all along you know I mention something called Transformational Outcomes Based Education as the end game. Fundamentally change the student from the inside-out. What she values, believes, and how she behaves. Make responding from emotion a habit and logical, abstract thinking a rare, maybe even impossible, event. Cultivate a sense of being part of a group instead of being an independent individual. My nickname for Transformational OBE is intellectual totalitarianism. But then I love history and recognize the characteristics and dangers of a government officially limiting what its future voters may know or be able to do.
So when I see language in the charter that I recognize as coming from the OBE scheming it is alarming. When I recognize tools that the designers created to use education as a weapon to change American society or its economy or quietly shift its political structure that’s unacceptable. Contractually mandated policies and practices that track back to what a long dead schemer believed would make it much more difficult for the US to prevail against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. That’s a problem too. You get my drift. If education is a legal, social, economic, and political weapon, charters are a dangerous and poorly understood major means for going on offense. And very intentionally so.
You see it turns out that schemers back in the 1970s first began to appreciate that charters could be used as a stealth weapon to force schools and districts to implement radical ed reform with fidelity. No deviations allowed. Legally bound to the script. In 1988, getting ready for the 2nd attempt at national ed reform, one of the regional ed labs (that’s your money) formalized the charter plan for radically restructuring the mission of schools. A new transformative vision quietly placed in those unassuming counterintuitive words of the charter.
A vision that could not be legally altered for 5 or 10 years of finally actually piloting the political theories. Even the national unions became involved in 1988 behind the idea of using charters to make education about reaching the 80% of students who did not thrive in a traditional, transmission of knowledge approach to schooling. Except the new approach would bind 100% of the students. Finally and successfully using public education for a levelling purpose. To finally create equality. Even if all were left in an intellectual basement together. Socializing and feeling and being guided.
Now I wish there was humor in this post about a lethal vision. I think we will have to settle for irony this time. At almost the precise moment of victory. As this vision to use charters to radically transform education in a binding, untouchable way in high-performing suburban districts finally got under way. The tax paid schemers got caught. Thoroughly. Spread the word. It’s the primary weapon we have for fighting back.