As this Barack Obama speech shows the Democratic candidates are working hard to show “toughness” to the voters, who despite the mess the administration has made in Iraq, are still skittish on national security issues. But, as I’ve argued before, the way to show toughness isn’t just a single issue, it’s to show fortitude across a range of issues, foreign and domestic.

So, overall public charter schools are a mixed bag, some great, some middling, some lousy. Surprise, that’s not at all unlike the traditional public school sector. But, I think there are some reasons for cautious optimism and things that state policymakers can do to increase quality. Sara Mead and I have a paper on that coming out in September.

In the meantime, there are some charters that are simply head and shoulders above other public schools, charter or traditional. These include public schools run by organizations like Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, KIPP, and YES College Prep and also include individual schools like MATCH in Boston.

Despite their potential to be life-changers for kids, and system-changers overall, every day these schools face organized opposition here at home from special interests determined to do them in or apathetic politicians who don’t want to take on the fight.

So I’m all for toughness, but how about some on this issue? A tough position would be standing up for powerful ideas like this, putting forward policy solutions to address the obstacles to the expansion of schools like this, and taking the heat for it.

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