Public Schools are a Public Good

Last night at the Baltimore City Schools board meeting on the budget, Ben Dalbey, a city school’s parent, read aloud to the room from an article in a recent US News and World Report article by Jerusha Connor.  Connor argues that we cannot just accept the expansion of charters.

Over the course of the last decade, the number of charter schools has grown exponentially, with the number of students enrolled in these schools topping 2.9 million this year. During the current school year alone, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports that 500 new charter schools have opened, serving an additional 348,000 students. In New Orleans and Detroit more than half of the students are now enrolled in charter schools. Increasingly charter management organizations, like Green Dot, KIPP and Mastery, are dominating the scene, opening new franchises in promising markets.

Charter proponents are “weary” of the battle with traditional public schools. Quoting MIchelle Rhee in a twitter exchange: “We shld celebrate great schools regardless of sector … focus on quality of schl instead of sector.”

But since charters represent such a fundamental threat to the “logic of polis” we have to push back against their continued expansion.

Charter schools are based on the logic of markets. Traditional public schools, by contrast, are based on the logic of the polis….  In the polis model, people’s motivations are understood as complex, but not exclusively self-interested. People can and will act out of shared values and a sense of mutual responsibility. Nonetheless, government has a role to play, too, serving as a counterbalance to market pressures that might lead to “the tragedy of the commons,” when individuals acting out of self-interest deplete a common or shared resource. Governmental oversight and involvement can also help guard against corruption, cronyism and other market machinations and combat the marginalization of citizens who lack the capital (economic or otherwise) to make markets work for them. The driving forces of the polis model are protecting the interests of the most vulnerable, while safeguarding the democratic rights of all citizens.

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