An advocate for charter schools proposes bold changes in public education.
A senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, Osborne (The Coming, 2017, etc.) is a proponent of decentralization in government, including oversight of schools. Director of the Reinventing America’s Schools Project, he has amassed a great deal of data about charter schools. The book is replete with statistics, mostly defending charters’ successes; nevertheless, despite his infectious enthusiasm, he recognizes thorny problems. He focuses mainly on three cities: New Orleans, which re-created its school system after Hurricane Katrina; Washington, D.C., led by its controversial chancellor, Michelle Rhee; and Denver, whose elected school board instituted charter schools and “innovation schools” throughout its districts. Osborne asserts that overbearing school bureaucracies, insisting on a one-size-fits-all model, along with recalcitrant teachers’ unions, have undermined public education. Schools must decentralize decision-making, offer enhanced choices for students and families, give school leaders “the freedom to mold school cultures” and hire and fire teachers, and create measures of school performance. Assessment emerges as a complicated issue, since each charter school is accountable “to its own standards.” A charter, Osborne argues, “should be a performance contract, which spells out what the school intends to accomplish, how it will be measured, and what will happen if the school fails to achieve its goals.” What has happened in some cases is that schools have closed when students withdrew and teachers quit out of disappointment or frustration. The author aims to influence state and city administrators, school boards, and federal policymakers, with a nod to ways that parents can make their concerns heard. He offers myriad school models, such as “no-excuses” schools, with longer school days and years; schools that focus on science and technology; athletics-intensive schools; single-sex schools; schools offering intense therapeutic help; and schools that seek to preserve a particular ethnic heritage. Osborne, however, does not show concern about the cultural consequences of such specialized education.
A fervent manifesto for school diversity and autonomy.