As CNS News reported on Friday, the ongoing strike of the Chicago Public Schools teachers union has increased interest in the city's 110 privately operated charter schools, which are still in session because the schools are privately operated and the teachers are not union members. According to Andrew Broy, Illinois Network of Charter Schools president, there is now a long waiting list for charter school openings:
“We’ve got 19,000 students on wait lists in the city of Chicago,” he said. “We are seeing an increase in parent demand over the past two months generally, but in the past two days as the strike has been going on, a huge spike in calls to our office from parents seeking options.”
“I think what’s happening is that parents of regular public school students are seeing their neighbors and their colleagues send children to charter schools and because of that are now looking for options for themselves,” Broy said.Karen Lewis, a teacher in Chicago and president of the Chicago Teachers Union, has taken exception to Broy's claim. In a response that is loaded with faulty reasoning and rhetorical fallacy, Lewis implies that the claim of a 19,000 student long waiting list, a statistic repeated by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is a lie:
The mayor loves to tout unsubstantiated statistics about how popular charter schools are among Chicago parents. On Wednesday, he used a new number: now apparently the waiting list is whopping 19,000 students. Wow — that’s a lot of children who were “so unfortunate” to not get a seat at a coveted charter school.She uses the following statement to 'refute' this claim:
Really? Then why did only a few hundred families show up at last year’s New School Expo, even though Chicago’s corporate elite spent so much money on promotional advertisements and even provided a free shuttle bus to Soldier Field. Why did Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools say this week that there are 2,000 to 3,000 slots still available at charter schools for parents who didn’t want to wait out the strike?Lewis' argument begins with a version of the red herring fallacy, which occurs when someone uses irrelevant information to try and obfuscate an issue. In this case, Lewis takes a claim - there are now (as in today) 19,000 students on charter school waiting lists, and then refutes it by making reference to attendance at an educational expo that occurred last year. Now, there may be a correlation between attendance at an education expo and enrollment at a charter school, but such a correlation is obviously not necessary, and the inclusion of the expo's attendance is ultimately irrelevant. The second claim, that Andrew Broy said there were 2,000 to 3,000 openings is directly contradicted by Broy's own words above, in which he confirms the 19,000 number, and explains why the charter schools are now over capacity - over the course of two days, parents in Chicago have been crawling all over each other to get their students enrolled at the schools that are still open. Lewis' own actions as the president of the teacher's union have caused the jump in charter school enrollment, a fact that I would hope she grasps.
Lewis then offers the following "argument" against charter schools:
Chicagoans need to understand what is happening to our school system. The mayor and his hedge fund allies are going to replace our democratically-controlled public schools with privately-run charter schools. This will have disastrous results and people need to rise up and refuse. As a parent, do you really want your child wearing a three-piece polyester suit every day to school and pay a fine every time your child’s tie isn’t on straight?This paragraph is also full of nonsense and poor argumentation. There is an appeal to fear (loss of democratic control of schools to "hedge fund allies" resulting in "disaster"), appeal to ridicule (making fun of school uniforms), and a second appeal to fear (you'll be fined because your kid's tie isn't straight). Of course, all of these stupid claims make up yet another red herring, because the issue is whether charter schools are being sought out by parents, and whether those schools provide an effective education, not whether the uniforms are ugly.
When she does get around to discussing the performance of charter schools vs. Chicago Public Schools, the statistics and facts are few and far between, but the rhetorical fallacies continue. Consider the following statement regarding her claim that charter schools have to experiment with educational styles while their students suffer:
This is what we want for our children? Parents don’t want their kindergartner, fifth-grader or ninth-grader acting as guinea pigs for a charter school that might eventually become a good school.Contained in this statement is an Argumentum ad Populum fallacy (people don't want it, therefore it is bad), but more importantly, the argument also assumes facts that not only aren't in evidence, but seem to be contradicted by the evidence. After all, you can't argue that people don't want something when there is a 19,000 long waiting list for it.
Furthermore, this paragraph demonstrates the arrogance at the heart of progressive thought: the idea that we should restrict people's choices because we know what is best for them. Ms. Lewis, like all progressives, wants to limit choices and freedom rather than rely on her claims that CPS produces a superior product. My guess is that she knows how bad competition would be for her monopoly on education, and that this is far less about education quality and far more about the power she currently wields.
So, are Chicago charter schools better or worse than Chicago public schools? I have no idea, but I know that opening a market (in this case education) to competition always improves the efficiency and quality of the product. It also gives people more freedom. I also know that for the past week, the education provided by the charter schools has been superior, since they are the only ones making an attempt to teach children at all. Finally, I have learned that Ms. Lewis is not particularly skilled at presenting well-reasoned arguments, which gives me cause for concern regarding her ability to pass knowledge on to students.