The Democratic Potential of Charter Schools

By Stacy Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Charter Schools and Democratic
Social Reproduction

I. Revisiting the Democratic Potential
of Charter School Reform

At the outset of this book I noted that the charter school debate is polemicized between a model of market competition on one hand and charges that charter reform is anti-democratic on the other. I suggested that this polemic overlooks some key potentialities of charter reform in terms of democratic social reproduction. Charters are autonomous organizations within the public educational sphere that provide conditions for voluntaristic, associational school communities. Insofar as charter school reform creates distinct public school communities, some potential goods and some potential dangers may arise.

In terms of goods, charter schooling offers increased and pluralized choices within the public educational sphere. Such choices are especially significant for low-income and historically marginalized families. The organizational structure of charter schooling allows for the institutional representation of these groups' distinct educational interests within public education. In addition, the voluntaristic and associational nature of charters raises the possibility that distinct schools may encourage a sense of belonging in students. A sense of belonging might provide a corrective to the widespread alienation that so often accompanies the contractual, bureaucratic relationships within traditional schools. Finally, the regulatory relief granted to charter schools raises the possibility that they might function as particularly democratic associations where public discourse surrounds common educational concerns and a spirit of civic participationism is cultivated in both parents and students.

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