Zero Potential for Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story
by Ember Reichgott Junge
Beaver Pond Press, 2012, $20; 388 pages
As reviewed by Michael McShane
For years, I’ve stood a type of morbid involvement in conspiracy theories. Maybe for Wikipedia grants such easy access to descriptions of these. Or even the reason is that I love watching Mythbusters a lot of. Perhaps you can find some part of me that wants to consentrate that there is more anywhere int he planet than what you know already.
In education policy circles, the “charter schools are a plan by ultra-conservatives to privatize the public school system” is actually a conspiracy theory that is quite popular. It’s not Chupacabra, but prominent education commentators like Diane Ravitch have publicized such sentiments in certain form or fashion for quite some time now.
Ember Reichgott Junge’s book Zero Probability of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story, like Jaime and Adam of Mythbusters, puts that theory loosen up. Sorry folks, even so the concept of charter schools came from educators and civic leaders of the stripes.
Reichgott Junge, an 18-year Democrat-Farm-Labor (DFL) representative inside the Minnesota State Legislature, was the writer of America’s first charter school bill. Inspired by way of a lecture from Albert Shanker, the longtime president on the American Federation of Teachers (whom Reichgott Junge heard describe charter schools as “the best answer so far” to the ills from the American education system) she worked alongside civic leaders and fellow representatives to draft and implement a bill granting greater autonomy for the subset from the North Star state’s schools.
After Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas back then, saw main points taking place , and called charter schools a “New Democrat Idea,” they were off and running. Reichgott Junge’s work have been replicated in states all around america inside a movement that now enrolls over 2 million students in over 5,600 schools all across America.
For those serious about the politics of charter schools, Reichgott Junge’s description of her fraught relationship together with her state’s teachers unions was fascinating. She was and it is an unapologetic liberal, but that hardly ever stopped the neighborhood, state, and national wings of teachers unions from looking to block her plans and opposing her candidacy, first with the state level in 1992, and then within their quest for a congressional seat in 2006.
Reichgott Junge marshals private correspondences, flyers and mail pieces, and conversations with union lobbyists to indicate that teachers unions opposed charter schools–as well as the non-unionized teachers that they can could employ–when the faculties started to become an absolute threat on the unions’ power. The truth is, in the letter she quotes from Shanker to Ted Kolderie, another architect with the charter bill, Shanker complained that “the architects of your bill had [not] figured out the collective bargaining difficulty with the teachers unions” that she said was “certainly not an approach created to make friends” (pg. 167-68).? Any local chapter within the AFT was even more direct, declaring that which they wouldn’t support any bill that allowed charter schools to “contract out teaching services to agencies or groups which aren’t area of the teachers’ bargaining unit” (pg. 114).
Watching a long time DFL’er react to such obstructionism is an interesting perspective within the cleavages in the generally center-left, Democratic Leadership Council-driven coalition that built support around charter schools.? For many years, Reichgott Junge genuinely thought she would be able to get unions on the side and she or he was shocked each and every time unions devised a new way to oppose the growth of charter schools.
A a dose of skepticism is necessary when reading the account on the highly politicized event with the lens of 1 with the participants. Like the upsides associated with an insider account-the whispered conversations, the wording of communiques between key parties, the individual backstories-there is definitely the risk that we’re purchasing a particular slant around the story. For any majority of the account, Ms. Reichgott Junge avoids such problems, however it was clear in a number of aspects of the novel that he was (and it’s) a politician.
One of these sites is surely an incongruous tirade against school vouchers. Reichgott Junge carries a chapter about 2 / 3 of methods over the book explaining why charter schools may not be “vouchers lite.”? This chapter includes the phrase “Chartering gives incentive to improve our public schools. Private school vouchers give incentive to abandon them” (pg. 200). For a person who spent a lot of time excoriating her opponents for giving short shrift to the complexities with the arguments she was creating charter schools, I was quite surprised to find out a really glib denunciation of vouchers. It read like a politician endeavoring to score points.
Moreover, her criticisms of voucher programs in many cases are from the mark. Her report that, “private schools neither observe state regulations nor need to decide to performance standards or outcomes” (pg. 201) just isn’t true. Several largest non-special needs school voucher programs (Milwaukee, Indiana, and Louisiana) all require participating schools to accept same standardized tests as the public schools.
Similarly, when she states that charter schools tend to be “inclusive” because private school tuition is higher than most voucher amounts and “families receiving vouchers must still raise the remainder of the tuition” (pg. 202) she incorrectly characterizes virtually every voucher put in America. Exactly the Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Ohio EdChoice scholarships require parents in order to meet the primary difference relating to the voucher amount and tuition, and this only is applicable to families with incomes a lot more than 200% beyond the federal government poverty line.
This foray into voucher-bashing seriously counters what otherwise was an instructive and interesting read.? Those thinking about the origins of charter schooling might be well served to study it.
Michael McShane can be a research fellow at AEI and co-author of The federal government and Education Reform: The individual plus the Political.