While former President Bill Clinton is one of the founding figures in the Democratic Party’s centrist club, he finds himself now to the left of President Obama in a sharp critique of charter schools in a speech delivered in New York this week.
Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been vocal supporters of charter schools and often find themselves opposed to teacher unions.
“If you’re going to get into education, I think it’s really important that you invest in what works,” Clinton said, according to the Huffington Post. “For example, New Orleans has better schools than it had before Hurricane Katrina, and it’s the only public school [district] in America where 100 percent of the schools are charter schools.”
But charters are falling short of their promise, he added. “They still haven’t done what no state has really done adequately, which is to set up a review system to keep the original bargain of charter schools, which was if they weren’t outperforming the public model, they weren’t supposed to get their charter renewed,” Clinton said.
“Clinton’s statement is stunning once you consider its implications,” notes Luke Brinkler in Slate. “Research shows that the vast majority of charter schools in the U.S. haven’t cleared that hurdle. A study at Stanford University last year found that only 25 percent of charter schools fare better than traditional schools in reading. In math, only 29 percent of charters do better. Nineteen percent of charters actually did worse in reading, while 31 percent were worse in math; the rest weren’t significantly different from traditional public schools.”
Hillary Clinton’s views on this remain opaque, Brinkler writes, but he notes that she did receive the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers in 2008, and he speculates that she would likely end up among the critics of the pro-charter reform movement.
“There’s a split even within the charter movement between those who believe that chartering needs to be done in the context of good government oversight and accountability,” said Columbia University professor Jeffrey Henig, “and the notion that the key characteristic of charters is that they be liberated from government oversight.