Interesting turn of phrase: “the laboratory for new innovative educational techniques.” Weinberg’s terminology carefully echoes UFT President Albert Shanker’s then-new conception of a public charter school. During a seminal speech in 1988 he proposed that charters act as teacher-led laboratories for new instructional practices that, if successful, would be integrated into traditional public schools. And Shanker’s boxed-in, teacher-controlled, twenty-year-old articulation is what union officials cling to today.
Here’s current NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on charter schools:
There is much to learn from charter school success stories as well as charter school failures. Charter schools have the potential to be incubators of promising educational practices that can be replicated in mainstream schools. The key is to identify what is working that can be sustained and reproduced on a broad scale so that as many students as possible can benefit. We need to create more supportive learning environments for educators and students alike in all of our public schools. This is an essential part of fulfilling NEA’s vision of a great public school for every student.Weinberg’s echo of union code is an astute move by Corzine because it enables him to both pacify education reformists by appearing to support charter school expansion (and mitigate a principle difference between his educational agenda and Christie’s) and wink at union officials who are hell-bent on limiting charter school growth. Not to worry, says Weinberg/Corzine. We’re keeping charters in that dusty box.
Of course, this obsolete definition conveniently ignores the fact that charter schools no longer define themselves as short-term petri dishes, but as long-term educational models: think KIPP, Green Dot, Harlem Children’s Zone.
Along the same lines, read this piece by Tom Vander Ark in The Huffington Post that explores the public education sector opposition to private investment. (Some of the most interesting charter models are financed privately, at least in part.) He says that “most of this is just disguised job protection, the rest is historical bias,” and calculates that,
If the US Department of Education was able to invest half of i3 in private ventures, it would be multiplied several times over by private investment (10x in some cases), it would fund scalable enterprises with the potential for national impact, and the innovation would be sustained by a business model.Weinberg’s statement to NJN may sound like a capitulation on Race To The Top priorities and a bold move by Corzine to resist NJEA’s opposition to charter school expansion. Read more closely and it’s merely a validation of decades-old union resistance to educational reform.