This week is National Charter Schools Week. Today, forty-two states allow charter schooling and there are now about 3,000 charter schools around the country serving 750,000 students. Charters are not mainstream but no longer marginal either. Charter schools are public schools, but in addition to school districts, parents, teachers, local community groups, and others can open and operate them. Like other public schools charter schools must accept all students, first come first served, or randomly if more students want to attend than there are seats (most charter schools have waiting lists). And, charter schools are accountable for student learning as well as parental satisfaction. Parents choose charter schools in the first place and dissatisfied ones can go elsewhere.
Though by no means is every one a great school, the majority show real promise to help students, particularly those in currently underserved communities. Charter schools enjoy bipartisan support and have a more impressive track record than vouchers. Moreover, unlike vouchers, charter schools expand rather than erode support for public education.
Yet despite this, some legislators, teachers unions, and other education interest groups in states including California, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington are celebrating National Charter Schools Week by attacking these public schools, seeking to limit their growth or cut their funding. Eduwonk shudders to think how they’re celebrating Be Kind to Animals Week.
Visit Green Dot Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, KIPP Academy, SEED, MATCH, or Cesar Chavez — just to cite a handful of the many terrific public charter schools around the country. In what parallel universe is it good politics, good policy, or even just remotely sensible to work against these schools, which are showcasing what is possible in public education and helping kids every day?
Political Afterthought: 750,000 students whose families have chosen public charter schools, plus charter school staff and supporters…not exactly the AARP or the NRA but enough support that alienating them seems ill-considered especially during an extremely close election.
Double Bonus Afterthought: Here’s Clinton on state charter school laws:
“Now, the one problem we have had is that not every state has had the right kind of accountability for the charter schools. Some states have laws that are so loose that no matter whether the charter schools are doing their jobs or not they just get to stay open, and they become like another bureaucracy. Unfortunately, I think even worse, some states have laws that are so restrictive it’s almost impossible to open a charter school in the first place.”
Final Afterthought! Though they’re a new way of delivering public education, charter schools are less important as a “new paradigm” or “out of the box” idea than as an immediate way to increase the supply of great public schools for kids.