I'm back from my Alaska jaunt refreshed and renewed, but can't help making one last point about Steven Brill's Class Warfare, this fall's big ed reform book, which I reviewed in The Nation. A hallmark of Brill's education journalism for the past two years has been that he visits charter schools, never traditional public schools, when he wants to demonstrate what an excellent school looks like. In Class Warfare, the only traditional public school on which Brill reports at any length is PS 149 in Manhattan, which is co-located with one of the Harlem Success Academy charter schools.
Brill paints PS 149 in an unflattering light, and I won't go into depth here on the debate over whether his portrait is accurate and fair or not. What I will say is that visiting only public schools co-located with the new generation of charters would bias any reporter against traditional public schools. Why? More successful neighborhood schools are better able to resist co-location with charters, both because they tend to be oversubscribed–more parents want to enroll their kids in these schools than there are seats available, meaning there aren't empty classrooms around for charters to use–and because successful schools also tend to have more politically active and connected parents, teachers, and administrators, who are able to lobby against co-locations.
Click here to read about how two politically savvy, high-poverty public schools in Fort Greene, Brooklyn–one of which also has an excellent academic repuation–were able to resist co-location with a high-quality, progressive model charter school.
In any case, this is why co-location, which is spreading nationwide, is such an effective political tool: It sets up easy comparisons between charter schools and some of the least effective neighborhood schools.
Update: Sara Mead replies, and she and I agree: There are good and bad schools of all sorts, and reform shouldn't be a rhetorical war over "charters vs. traditionals." My concern is the media narrative, epitomized by Brill's reporting and Waiting for Superman, in which the only excellent high-poverty schools that get any attention are charters. We know this isn't the case, because traditional public schools like George Hall Elementary in Mobile, Ala., PS 83 in Harlem, and the Harriet Tubman School in Newark are changing kids lives (and raising their test scores) everyday. Why does it matter to show the public examples of all kinds of different successful schools? Because if we don't, we undermine taxpayer support for public schools and promote over-simplified ideas about what makes a school successful (ex; no unions!) when we know that the calculus is actually far more complicated (ex; school culture, strong leadership, community outreach, rich curricula, and so on and so forth).