Joe Nathan defends the Illinois Charter Commission.


Charter advocate Joe Nathan.

Joe Nathan runs the Minnesota-based charter school advocacy group Center for School Change.

The Center for School Change is funded by Annenberg, Blandin, Best Buy, Bradley, Bremer, Cargill, Carlson, Frey, Gates, General Mills, Joyce, Minneapolis, Peters, Pohlad, St. Paul, St. Paul Companies, TCF, Travelers, Rockefeller, Wallin, and Walton Foundations, the Carnegie Corporation, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Initiative Funds, and the Minnesota and U.S. Departments of Education.

When I posted Tim Furman’s report on the fight around Elgin’s charters and the Illinois Charter Commission, Nathan wrote a comment.

And so began the following exchange:

Joe Nathan:

The American system of government does not give all the power to any elected body. That’s true for state legislators, Congress and school boards.
The Illinois state legislature decided to create a state wide board to review charter applications. I think that’s a good thing. Some teachers and parents for many years have been frustrated by decisions local boards make. The state-wide board gives them a neutral place to have their ideas reviewed. Doesn’t mean all charter proposals are good and should be approved. I’ve seen plenty that were flawed and encouraged decision-makers to reject them (often, they were rejected).

But school boards are not the only decision-makers on plenty of things. I think that’s fine.

You are wrong on this Joe. The Illinois Charter Commission is anti-democratic. “The American system of government does not give all the power to any elected body,” so misses the point as to be laughable. They are hardly a disinterested body existing to perform the duties of checks and balances. That is the job of the Illinois State Board of Education, which in fact, formerly did that job. Elected local school boards can be over-ruled in their rejection of specific charter applications by an appointed political body whose members are, by statute, required to be supportive of charter schools. Citizens have no recourse once a decision by the Charter Commission is made and then must fund those schools with local tax money that would have gone to traditional public schools. The Commission came within a few votes of being de-commissioned in the last legislative session. Its days are numbered.

Joe Nathan:

Local school boards are not the final authority on many things. Fortunately other groups had the power to insist that, for example, young women needed to have equal opportunity, that students have freedom of speech, etc. etc. etc.

These are goofy and non-relevant examples. Congress and the courts are not “other groups.” Title IX was was an act of Congress. Freedom of speech for students was litigated in the courts. No politically appointed body with a vested interest in the outcome was involved in forcing their views on an elected local body.

Joe Nathan:

A variety of progressive state legislators don’t think they are goofy examples. The charter board was created by elected representatives of the people.

I know Jeanne N and know that she does not support all charter proposals. She rightly recognizes that it takes a great deal of skill & knowledge to run a good school, whether district or charter. Being supportive of the charter concept does not mean you support each proposal presented.

This misses the point again. The Charter Commission is a privately funded advocacy group established by the legislature in a bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to approve charter schools after they have been turned down by local school boards. Bad public policy.

Joe Nathan:

Long before ALEC was involved, a number of progressives were advocating that there be an opportunity for people proposing to create charters to go to a group other than a local board for permission to do this. Having an independent group does not mean they will approve all proposals.

There’s plenty of experience in states from California to New York to Mass showing that such independent boards turn down many proposals.

Fred, you constantly criticize school boards. You’re not alone. Legislators all over the country have heard this and like Illinois, decided to create an authorizing authority in addition to local boards.

Of course I criticize some school board decisions. I also criticize legislative decisions. But I don’t support an über legislature, funded by private corporations and the Gates foundation that have the power to overrule legislative decisions. That’s the people’s job. Those corporate folks and foundations have too much power already.

am for more public control of public institutions. Not less.

In Chicago, the only school system in the state that does not have an elected school board, people are fighting to take that power back from Mayor 1%.

When we finally win back our right to an elected school board, do you think people will not criticize its decisions when they thing they are wrong? Should we then establish a separate body, appointed by the Mayor, that has the power to undo the decisions of the elected school board?

Legislators who establish charter commissions in other states are doing so because it is part of the ALEC agenda. It has nothing to do with “hearing” from Illinois.

7 thoughts on “Joe Nathan defends the Illinois Charter Commission.

  1. Thanks for posting, Fred. However, our 3 children all attended urban public schools, k-12. I was a PTA president at one of them and on the site council of 2 others. My wife retired from 33 years of teaching in an urban school district. We are advocates of excellent public schools, whether district or charter.

    People interested in this overall area might be interested in this discussion of teacher led public schools:

    Click to access tps-white-paper.pdf

    In some places, teachers literally are the majority of the board that runs the school. A recent national poll found that more than half of the teachers in the country would be interested in working in such a school.

    1. Our Center works will both district & charter educators. We’re not a “charter advocacy” organization. We have worked extensively with district public schools for more than 20 years. For example:
      * We helped the Cincinnati district & teacher union, both of which were deeply involved, create a number of changes that eliminated the high school graduation gap between white and African American student
      * We’ve spent years helping district & charter educators create new options so that high school students can earn college credits while still in high school. we’ve helped a number of district schools add these courses.
      * We helped district schools increase family involvement, along with academic achievement
      * We’ve helped create many new district schools within schools in rural Minnesota.

      I also write a weekly column carried by 20-25 suburban & rural newspapers. This column constantly points out exciting things going on in district as well as charter public schools.

      1. Joe,

        Of course you are a charter advocacy organization. Nearly every comment you have ever posted on this blog has been to advocate for charters. On your organizations own website you list your outcomes:

        Key in writing the nation’s first charter law. Today there are nearly 150 charter schools enrolling over 39,000 MN students. More than 20 state legislatures and several Congressional Committees have asked us to testify about this idea

        Directed a project in which Cincinnati (district) Public Schools increased overall high school graduation rates by more than 25 points, and eliminated the graduation gap between white and African American students. More information on that project here.

        Over a two-year period, helped 11 Minneapolis district and charter schools show “above average” gains in reading, math and family involvement

        With financial support from Frey, St. Paul and Travelers Foundations, assisted several district and charter schools increase from 23% to 38% the number of students participating in some form of dual credit course, during the first year of a projected four-year project

        Worked with Target, Minneapolis and St. Paul district & charter public schools to distribute more than 2,000 books to families, along with information about the value of reading with/to young children.

        All but one deals with your success in advocating for charter schools.

        You can try and call a duck and dog. But if it quacks…

  2. Joe Nathan has been preaching this nonsense from his “University of Minnesota” and other pulpits for more than 20 years. He used to belabor all these points from the ARN ListServe (Fair Test) and others I was on, but has apparently continued elsewhere. This was nicely done. I’d like to use it, since back when Joe wrote “Free To Teach” he trundled around with his car filled with copies of the book. He really hasn’t changed the abstract positions he defends, even though history long ago proved his abstractions (insofar as they were ever worth considering) wrong. But as you note, he is as well funded as the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. Difference is his camouflage is usually much better.

    1. We work with and honor outstanding district schools, as well as charters. So the things I describe in the weekly newspaper columns are not abstractions – they’re real.

      One recent column included advice from union, district & charter leaders about how to have a good start for the school year.

      Another included young people from challenging backgrounds in district schools describing how their lives changed when they took college level courses while still in high school.

      A third challenged the state for what appears to be unnecessary & expensive testing.

      But the major question that started this is whether it’s a good idea to allow teachers and parents to go somewhere other than a local board to propose a new school. All over the country veteran educators who have ideas rejected by central office administrators for years have found that they can start new schools via having at least one additional group besides a local board with the power to review, and if strong, approve their ideas.

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