Friday, March 11, 2011

Superhero School Reform Heading Your Way • Now Playing in Newark, NJ

"Additional clues about where this policy train is headed come from Andy Smarick, one of Christie’s newly installed assistant education commissioners. Smarick is a former George W. Bush education official who served as a policy analyst for the American Enterprise and Fordham institutes, where he proposed replacing “failing schools” and districts with market-based reforms inspired by the corporate world. He came to New Jersey because, he said, “I’m especially excited to get to lend a hand to the effort to improve Newark’s schools. The city has a set of superb charter organizations, a remarkably strong nonprofit support infrastructure, and a hard-charging mayor.”

Smarick’s signature ideas are that investing in low-performing schools is a “waste of human capital” and that charters are “the wave of the future.” He has written that “our relentless preoccupation with improving the worst schools actually inhibits the development of a healthy urban public education industry.” Key to developing this “industry” is the rapid expansion of charter schools and government subsidies for private and religious schools. To clear the way for innovation, Smarick says schools that do not meet the test scores targets in the federal No Child Left Behind law should be given “only one option . . . closure.”

Smarick does not see charters as a vehicle for improving existing schools and districts or even a compatible coexisting sector. “Chartering’s potential extends far beyond the role of stepchild or assistant to districts,” he says. “The only course that is sustainable, for both chartering and urban education, embraces a third, more expansive view of the movement’s future: Replace the district-based system in America’s large cities with fluid, self-improving systems of charter schools. The system is the issue. The solution isn’t an improved traditional district; it’s an entirely different delivery system for public education: systems of chartered schools.”"