Are charter schools uniquely susceptible to bad ideas?
Yesterday, NPR reported that a group of charter schools in Arizona are employing a teaching method called "Applied Scholastics," which is based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the eccentric science fiction author and founder of Scientology. A teacher at one of the schools described the training sessions as "very weird." Last year, the Tampa Bay Times reported that a charter school in Clearwater, Florida was also using the Scientology-influenced teaching method.
Some charter school critics leapt on these stories to discredit the entire charter school movement. Responding to the Clearwater revelation last year, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post argued that the use of Applied Scholastics "underscores continuing oversight problems with some charter schools across the country." Apparently Strauss would prefer students to attend traditional government schools that have lots of oversight, like Prescott Middle School in Baton Rouge:
Inside the industrial looking brick walls of one of Louisiana's poorest performing middle schools, Scientologists finally have achieved a longtime goal.
A study skills curriculum written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard is being taught as mainstream public education.
All the eighth-graders at Prescott Middle School are being taught learning techniques Hubbard devised four decades ago when he set out to remedy what he viewed as barriers to learning.
The state eventually took over Prescott and now a charter school organization is seeking to make it a charter school.
The reality is that no entire group of schools -- public, private, or charter -- are immune from adopting silly education fads or outright quackery. We should hold schools accountable for their performance, but using such examples to smear large swaths of unconnected schools without even attempting to demonstrate a systemic problem is intellectually dishonest.