Does Donald Trump’s Support for Choice Have to Be Bad for Charter Schools?

Charter schools are a controversial topic in New York City, although their supporters range from wealthy Wall Street contributors to middle-class parents looking for a more rigorous academic environment to underserved families desperate to escape their local, failing public schools. They also face opposition from all three demographics, proving that they’re an issue whose base can’t be easily pigeon-holed.

That’s all destined to change now that President-Elect Donald Trump has come out in support of charter schools in particular, and school choice in general.

Self-described liberal New Yorkers who were more or less comfortable enduring their “progressive” albeit anti-charter mayor and coming out in favor of letting parents decide where and how their children will be educated (likely because many of these same folks send their own offspring to gifted and unzoned schools which operate the same way charters do and, in some cases, go even further), are now pulling back their support for fear that agreeing with one Donald Trump position will suggest they endorse others.

Now, from a practical standpoint, that makes about as much sense as advocating to close down national parks because Teddy Roosevelt harbored imperialistic tendencies, or disbanding the Peace Corps in response to John F. Kennedy sending American “advisors” to Vietnam. (And then there’s the internet’s top go-to boogey-man: Hitler was a vegetarian and an animal lover. Ergo, both those things must be bad via the Transitive Property of Equality. What? Are you anti-math and science, too?)

But people aren’t thinking practically. A few days after the election, charter network Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz gave a tour of one of her Harlem outposts to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. In response, a handful of protesters demonstrated outside her home. (I live a few blocks from the private school Barron Trump attends, and didn’t see any protesters there, but I guess not all outrages are created equal.)

People are still in shock from the election results, and they are reacting viscerally, emotionally. They are so horrified by Trump’s stated positions on women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews and more, so much so that they are ready to throw out the charter school baby with the ethnocentric, nationalist bathwater.

Already, charter school advocates are attempting to disentangle their beliefs from Trump’s by distancing themselves from his Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, pointing out that she supports school vouchers, which is not the same thing as charters. They are absolutely right, and I will tackle the voucher issue in a separate, follow-up post.

But they are wrong if they think such a nuance will make much of a difference with the general public. The general public isn’t interested in nuances. The general public wants sound-bites and slogans. They want black hats and white hats.

A more productive strategy might be a general reminder that even our most beloved presidents were incapable of producing policies everyone agreed on (especially in hindsight). Franklin Roosevelt may have beat the Depression via the New Deal, but there was also that pesky internment of Japanese-Americans. Americans may have liked Ike, but Eisenhower’s the guy who let Joe McCarthy go to town. And history will most likely soon be asking Barack Obama to answer for the unprecedented levels of National Security Agency eavesdropping.

The fact is (leave no cliche unturned in the hunt for pithy soundbites), no one is infallible, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, one size doesn’t fit all, and even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Maybe charter schools are Trump’s hour.

What do you think?

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