I wrote yesterday about Eva Moskowitz's charter schools in NYC -- more specifically, how they follow in the paternalistic tradition of a number of charter schools. I noted that Moskowitz made very stringent demands of parents and informed those who didn't want to follow that they should take their kids elsewhere. The fact that charter schools can influence who attends their schools has become somewhat of a running theme in this blog. While I have absolutely no idea how pervasive it is, it's quite clear that some charter schools go to great lengths to push out certain types of students -- something that traditional public schools simply cannot do.
Legally, I'm not sure if charter schools have any more right to expel a child than does a traditional public school (I'm guessing this might differ by locale, but if anybody has seen anything on this topci, let me know) but, practically, charter schools absolutely have more power to get rid of a child. KIPP is known for holding back a number of children -- many of whom transfer to another school rather than repeat a grade. According to David Whitman's book, the SEED Academy expels almost 6% of its students each year and 30% are not promoted to 9th grade on their first try.
Now, I'm not sure of two things:
1.) How widespread the practice of expelling kids (or, in most cases, recommending that they leave) is across charter schools.
2.) How much their de facto ability to expel some students and deter others from attending affects the climates and the successes and failures of such schools.
But my gut feeling is that these are having some sort of effect -- and I'm not sure anybody would disagree (but, please, feel free to). So, for a moment let's assume that the fact that charter schools have an exit door and can attract/deter certain types of students/families is an advantage that charter schools have over traditional public schools. Here's the bigger question: does this advantage mean that we should discount what charter schools accomplish, or does it mean that we should strive to make all schools more charter-like? In theory, these aren't necessarily mutually exclusive but -- realistically -- most people are on one side of the fence or the other.
Commenter Kerri on my last post referred to the fact that charter schools can demand what they want of parents and that parents can leave if they don't like it as "the beauty of charter school." We could probably extend that out to the beauty of any sort of school choice system -- private, parochial, charter, vouchers, magnet, etc. The power to attract/deter certain types of students and rid yourself of those that won't cooperate has the potential to entirely change the way a school does business. It's hard for me to imagine that such powers wouldn't substantially reduce disciplinary problems in a school. In that sense, it would be a good idea if all schools had these powers. If all schools were "schools of choice" that had entry requirements and an exit door, then principals and teachers wouldn't be stuck in the powerless position in which many find themselves today: students and/or parents who refuse to cooperate but also refuse to leave.
On the other hand, that some schools have these powers and others don't may be a strong reason to believe that schools in these two groups cannot be compared to one another -- that they're like apples and oranges. In this sense, holding up the miraculous results of any "school of choice" and insinuating that traditional public schools should copy their model is an invalid argument -- because traditional public schools cannot, by law, fully copy their model.
So that leaves us with two options:
1.) Change the law. Make all schools "schools of choice" and eliminate an awful lot of complaints. Problems with this option: a.) there may something inherently valuable about a community school and the degree to which it fosters social cohesion in that community; b.) it's unclear what would happen to students if no school would accept/continue to enroll them -- would education no longer be a right in such a circumstance?; c.) it's unclear to what extent parents would really be able to choose the correct school for their child -- transportation is a huge obstacle, as is the dissemination and comprehension of information.
2.) Stop comparing schools of choice to neighborhood schools. Problems with this option: a.) There's no way to make people stop comparing the two; b.) just b/c a neighborhood school can't copy the entire model of another schoold doesn't mean they can't learn something; c.) finding a reason for differences between these two groups doesn't really help either boost their performance.
So, in short, it's not possible to make all schools "schools of choice" without excluding some students/families from the education system -- but simply living with limitations of non-choice schools doesn't solve the problem. What's a nation to do?