“Critical thinking skills,” I’m told, are fundamental for success in the 21st century.
All of the best propaganda – er, information – about the Common Core State Standards extol their virtue. They’re so important that the new state standardized test is called the California Critical Thinking Skills Test.
But critical thinking is impossible without a solid foundation in facts. Think critically, by all means, but know what on earth you are thinking about.
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By that basic standard, the California Teachers Association’s new campaign against charter schools, “Kids Not Profits,” fails the test.
Charter schools are public schools – this is a critical fact. They operate with some independence from state laws and district rules in exchange for greater accountability.
California has been a leader in the charter schools movement, which began in the early 1990s as a path for reforms within a public school system. Today, there more than 1,200 around the state.
The CTA has never cared for charter schools, which tend to spurn union contracts for flexibility in hiring, promoting and firing teachers. Another critical fact: Although charters aren’t necessarily unionized, about 30 percent had some kind of collective bargaining agreement in 2015.
The teachers unions would like the see that number approach 100 percent. And if that isn’t possible, unions would prefer charter schools didn’t exist at all.
From that fact we might draw an inference: Teachers unions really don’t care very much about the quality of education their members provide.
For the most part, charters have succeeded. Not always, and not everywhere. Some shady operators have used public funds to line their own pockets. And a few schools have been more concerned with preparing kids to take those all-important standardized tests than actually teaching them anything useful.
Then again, the same may be said of a lot of traditional public schools.
“It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools,” CTA president Eric Heins said.
Charter schools have been held accountable for their performance – academic as well as financial – from the very start. And charters can be revoked, usually after five years. When was the last time you heard of a taxpayer-funded school being closed for poor performance or mismanagement?
Traditional public schools have no such accountability. Once teachers get tenure, they’re set.
As for “private operators,” that’s a canard. Again, according to the California Charter Schools Association, only about 1 percent of charter schools in the Golden State are run by private companies. The rest are nonprofit organizations.
In the CTA’s telling, if it isn’t run by dues-paying state or local government employees, it’s private; and if it’s private, it’s bad.
But the union and its allies are well and truly alarmed that a handful of billionaires – including real estate developer Eli Broad and Netflix founder Reed Hastings – support charter schools. Apparently these billionaires stand to make large profits somehow by operating schools that, by law, receive fewer taxpayer dollars than do traditional public schools.
Somebody at union headquarters needs to do some critical rethinking. Or maybe they learned the new math?
The union says its opposition to charters is really about defending “public education.” Not really. They’re defending a sclerotic institution in which the unions have a deeply vested interest.
In reality, the CTA’s campaign against charter schools typifies the kind of “education” they’re used to providing: slipshod, supercilious and superficial. Oh, and ideological. Keep pointing fingers and shouting excitedly at the billionaire bogeymen while your schools slide further into mediocrity. Sounds like a plan.
Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness, a new journal of conservative opinion. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.