Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Misusing Language


We all know about strong and weak regulation. In this era of economic crisis we debate stronger regulations, and decry the weakening or loosening of financial industry regulations.

We all know what that means. Stronger regulation means some combination of more laws, more controls, closer scrutiny, stricter limits, etc.. Strong price controls would be strict, and weaker regulation of the airline industry has lowered prices dramatically.

And yet, many charter school proponents have twisted the language around 180 degrees. They think that having few charter schools is “weak,” and having multiple authorizers (each of whom might have its own criteria) is “strong.” They think that freedom from preexisting school regulations makes a “strong” charter school law, and many believe that imposing strict requirements on schools as a condition for them to remain open after their initial characterization period is “weak.”

On Friday, The Quick and the Ed’s Chad Aldeman complained that Iowa’s strict charter school law is “one of the weakest charter laws in the country.” The Center for Education Reform’s annual report ranks states from “strongest” (DC, Minnesota & California) to “weakest” (Kansas, Virginia & Iowa). Note, of course, that CER‘s URL is charterschoolresearch.com — clearly marking them as charter school proponents. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools uses the same language, as do many many others.

Of course, I have heard countless people use this kind of language at academic conferences and around schools of education.

Shouldn’t a “strong” charter school law be one that is very stingy in who can open a charter school, and provide for close oversight of charter school operations and strict accountability (in terms of whether or not they can stay open)? Without addressing the question of whether this kind of strength is good or bad for education, this would clearly be  more consistent with how we generally speak about regulation.

How did this twisting of language happen? Why do charter proponents claim that permissive laws are “stronger” stricter laws? I do not ask why they claim such laws are better, because that is an entirely different issue. Does not this smack of the dishonesty of doublespeak?

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