Forbes’ Laura Kroll gets a rare interview with Carrie Walton Penner, the Walton heiress granddaughter who’s now the point person on the family spending on its idea of education reform — namely more charter schols and, they hope, school vouchers.
The piece is friendly, though it does at least note the failure of charters to move the needle much, if at all, in overall educational achievement. And it falls prey to a familiar trap:
It writes of a high-performing charter high school in Houston, populated largely by poorer Latino students:
Ranked the fourth-best high school in Texas and 28th in the country by U.S. News & World Report, it represents everything that’s great about charters. Namely that all children, no matter their circumstances, can succeed when they attend the right school.
Does it really? Does it really prove that every child can succeed at the right school? Or does it prove that the right child can succeed at any school? Absent evidence from the progress of these students pre- and post-charter, it’s possible to say this school might only prove that certain types of children — from motivated families committed to their success and better prepared at an earlier age than some from similarly at-risk demographics — can succeed no matter what school they attend.
As a teacher, which would you rather have? A classroom full of leftover kids with absent or uncaring parents? Or a self-selected classroom of students and families who want more? If schools — and not the raw material — was the only ingredient in success, one highly touted charter school in Arkansas, for example, wouldn’t be on the current academically deficient list.
Carrie Penner is at least paying lip service now to rooting out the underperforming charter schools, of which there are more than the other kind.
I’d like to see her concerned, too, with the removal of middle class and aspiring kids from classrooms that are becoming increasingly segregated by economic station and family circumstance. We know diversity in students — not just race but economic status — helps poor kids. The choice system envisioned by the Walton billionaires inevitably will worsen the situation of millions of kids, though it might help others. This is actually good for the school choice crowd. Their schools will prosper. The left-behinds will fail. And few will see the connection of skimming the cream out of public schools for flight havens of all sorts — racial, class, religious and other stratifications.