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Tis the Season of Progressives Fleeing Charter Schools?

It’s not that politicians on the right never run frantically away, for opportunistic political purposes, from positions they previously held, it’s just that I enjoy it more when politicians on the left do it.

Tis the season of fleeing charter schools.

Elizabeth Warren, for instance, who in the past has praised the “extraordinary results” of many charters in Massachusetts and said their successes (in the words of a recent Washington Post editorial) should be shared with other schools, “took a page from the union playbook in calling for a clampdown on public charter schools.”

Enter the fray my old friend Chris Stewart (essentially from stage left), to mighty applause, or what deserves to be mighty applause.

Chris, as you may recall, was a Minneapolis School Board member a dozen years ago, among other ventures.  He’s currently the CEO of Education Post, a “nonprofit, non-partisan, communications organization,” where he writes passionately and often about education reform – and its habitual absence – particularly as it pertains to low-income children of color.  He’s also one of the more interesting and pointedly opinionated people I know (that’s meant as a compliment), who American Experiment has published a few times.  He’s likewise someone I interviewed for a book several years ago in which he, unsurprisingly, wound up appearing in more pages than most interviewees.

In the matter of Senator Warren’s MEA-inspired and AFT-induced change of position, Chris wrote a week or so ago about how “It must have been mortifying for Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren to have a loud group of Black parents – mostly mothers and grandmothers – shout her down at a campaign stop that was meant to highlight the importance of valuing Black women.  As they chanted ‘our child, our choice,’ a mantra in support of school choice (and against Warren’s proposed curb to federal charter school funding) she stood immobilized.”  (“The System is Winning.  For Now.” Nov. 26.)

Good for Chris (who’s Black himself) and good for the women – though this might be the only time I’ve ever written, or ever will write, anything nice about shouting anybody down.

Warren is certainly not the only progressive candidate worthy of criticism for backtracking on charters, or other acts of tepid or absent support for them.  But criticizing public figures is not the main aim here.  Instead, it’s to remind them and others of the exquisite progressive spirit (formerly known as “liberal spirit”) undergirding and surrounding, first the conceptualizion and then creation of charter schools.

Nationally in the 1980s, the principal mover was Al Shanker, the longtime president of the American Federal of Teachers, the now-belligerent AFT.

In Minnesota, the prime legislative mover in the 1980s and ‘90s was Sen. Ember Reichgott-Junge, a DFLer of unquestioned fidelity.

Or, as declared in the headline of another Washington Post editorial, “There’s Nothing Progressive about Strangling Charter Schools.”  For that matter, there’s nothing conservative about it either, not that I know of many conservatives opposed to expansive educational freedom.

It goes without saying that not all charter schools are excellent, or even good, which is manifestly true for all types of schools.  Though it’s almost always easier to shut-down a bad charter school than a bad district school; no small difference.  But along with other kinds of school choice – especially those that allow parents to choose private schools – thousands of charters are godsends for countless kids at risk of being dismissed this season as political footballs.

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