Charter schools and school choice are no longer experiments. Nationwide, they have become important components of public education. Since this blog began a discussion of educational improvement almost two years ago, we have heard from countless educators, administrators, and social workers both pro and con on school choice and the advantages and disadvantages of charter schools. Today we would like to catalogue the input we have received to give you an overview of what education professionals are saying about this all-important public policy issue.
- Parental choice. The neighborhood school is not a perfect fit for every child. Parents should have the ability to choose an alternative that best fits their child. Choice advocates contend that all students benefit from maximizing a parent’s ability to choose their child’s school. The introduction of independent charter schools, they believe, harnesses market forces to reward better schools and ultimately force poor schools to close.
- Competition improves quality. With the advent of charter schools, studies show that competition has made traditional public schools more conscious about serving the student and parent. There’s much less of the take-it-or-leave-it attitude in public education.
- Foster innovation. With less bureaucracy and union rules, charter schools have been able to innovate beyond the restraints of traditional public schools, attempting reforms such as a longer school year or longer school week.
- Visionary approach. Traditional public schools must be all things to all people. Charter schools, however, can adopt a specific vision like a Montessori or Waldorf curriculum and attract those families who are interested.
- Charter schools draw funding away from traditional K-12 schools since funding follows the student. One school official remarked, “If you want to improve the road system, does it make more sense to invest in the roads that already exist or build a parallel set of roads?” Professor Gordon Lafer adds, “When funding follows each student to their school of choice, those choosing to remain in public schools are finding themselves resource-starved. The high costs of charter schools have led to decreases in neighborhood public schools in counseling, libraries, music and art programs, lab sciences, field trips, reading tutors, special education funding, and even the most basic supplies like toilet paper.” It seems that educational equity and school choice may not be able to coexist.
- Charter schools often target their audience by establishing a rigorous curriculum, for example. Also, by not providing transportation they often end up filtering out low-income families.
- More choice but less control. Charter schools are run by private boards rather than elected officials. When problems erupt, parents have few avenues of recompense. In other words, Charter schools may be funded by the public, but they are usually for-profit private corporations that need only to comply with licensing regulations not parental pressure.
- Charter schools create more racial segregation. Parental choice is, of course, the ultimate segregator, but any circumstance that promotes further segregation raises genuine public policy concerns.
A Third School of Thought
Many educators we heard from adopted a third perspective, neither pro nor con. They submit that school success is not ultimately about choice or the charter school movement but rather, in the final analysis, school success is about four more primary forces that empower education:
- Communities that value education.
- Families who nurture their children's academic endeavors.
- Classroom teachers who know how to inspire kids to excel.
- School administrators who create a positive and productive learning environment.
In their opinion, the charter school debate is serving as a distraction from society’s reaffirmation of these four essential elements.
That about sums-up the varying professional points-of-view on the current educational improvement initiative we have been hearing from our colleagues in education. We are confident that as long as everyone remains this passionate about education together we will engineer a solution.