New thoughts on Charter Schools….

Just took a long swim in my pond and feel restored—maybe to age…. 50?

I’ve been involved this past year in working with Steve Zimmerman, who has started two community-based charter schools in Queens. He’s helped me do some hard thinking about my divided loyalties.

On one hand I’m a fierce critic of privatizing K-12 schooling. Of course. And that includes all kinds of subtle forms of privatization and using public monies to make a profit off of educating young citizens. I’m also shocked by the many ways in which the corporate and philanthropic world has lied and cheated and abetted the growth of the “charter chains” which operate within the worst of all worlds. They are corporate-style operators with control resting in the hands of privately selected board members who live and operate worlds apart from the communities and families they make decisions for.

BUT. What about colleagues I know (like the late Ted Sizer) who started charter schools because, unlike me, no one in the public school world offered them a chance to have the kind of freedom I was given in NYC’s East Harlem or in Boston? The only way they were able to do what so many of us did during a certain period in NYC and Boston was to take advantage of charter law!!

Why can’t we go back to Shanker’s original vision and apply to ALL public schools the best lessons of the charter experiment learned over the last 30 years while avoiding the worst? Schools should be places which demonstrate that democracy and freedom needn’t be enemies.

What better way to teach democracy to young people then by placing them in the midst of self-governing, community-based schools within publicly set rules of accountability and transparency?

So I’ve joined my friend Steve Zimmerman and support his organization; CPICS, The Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools. More about them and their plans next time I write. Meantime, you can contact CPICS directly by writing Steve at or visit the website,


PS: Privatization is being pursued by the Trumpists and must be fought tooth and nail. And charters and vouchers are part of their strategy. We need to be vigilant. Democracy is our means and end. I haven’t changed my mind about any of that.

3 Responses

  1. My kids, now 37 and 34, passed through CPE1. It was the best educational experience they have ever had, including stints at Ivy League schools. Charter Schools are appealing but exclusive and surely no replacement for public schools. I write because of a puzzling article in Sunday’s NYT on charter schools and their general failure to deliver promised results. The article was inadequate and incomplete. Is there a more useful commentary on the state of charter schools?

  2. Disheartening to see little discussion here.My later-in-life teaching career started (and was most important, I think), with six years in the (a) public ghetto, which is to say a beleaguered Baltimore middle school. After that I was partially unemployable — not good enough with grownups, and so found myself hired mostly in special ed, and one “public charter”.

    That last category is also where two of my grandchildren are now: of which I will only say: Iit is Montessori-branded, seems decent as you might expect in terms of teachers/materials/curriculum–and is both inward-looking and family-unfriendly except as fundraisers and volunteers.

    Furdermore (and murder more), some will find another aspect of the question most interesting and pertinent….

  3. Like many of my generations, I had a good education, all in public schools. I also found, through trying different jobs, hobbies, and higher education, how learning can be viewed in different ways. As my dad would say, I can’t figure out that kid. All I needed was a home, parents, and some guidance. I would figure out the rest. Outside schools, I took it upon myself, as some of my friends, to learn without thinking about learning. I’m amazed how quickly a kid/teen can be taught to ride a bike, ride a horse, train a dog, and in a fraction of the time some trainers/teachers approach. There are as many ways to learn as there are people. It’s nice to have choices so families and young people can find what works for them. We need provided the basics, but people can also make choices.

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