Just in time for National Charter Schools Week the NYT turns in a big thumbsucker on the state of charters.
Three quick observations:
First, this is basically a summation of the CW today. That’s fine, especially for a general audience, but the real action right now is about the second generation of charter school policy. For instance, encouraging replication of success along the lines of what Michigan is trying to do, better charter authorizing, drilling down on why quality is better in some places than others, and so forth.
Second, the article buries some important angles. For instance on the Raymond charter study it says parenthetically “(Ms. Raymond’s study did show that learning improved the longer students were in charters.).” But that’s no small point or aside, it pretty much contradicts the way almost everyone is talking about the study. And, like pretty much everything on charters, the top line on that study obscured the more important learning buried inside.
Finally, the issue of fiscal sustainability is not well understood or reported yet, primarily because this field doesn’t do numbers very well. Pretty much all the analysis out there conflates growth capital and operating money, extrapolates inappropriately from the status quo based on that conflation, and fails to account for the big differences in finance by geography and the persistent (approximately 20 percent on average) underfunding of charter schools relative to other public schools*. In other words, a charter network that struggles in CA could be completely sustainable in NY, even accounting for higher labor and operating costs there. And because CA has so many charters, and CMOs, and is such a fiscal basket case, it skews the analysis. At the same time, other networks, for instance KIPP, don’t aspire to absolute sustainability but have a different mission. There are scale and sustainability problems for the sector (CMO and non-CMO) but the fiscal aspects are overplayed and basically a matter of public policy.
In fact, if you’re not convinced that education politics are completely screwed up and driven by turf and politics rather than outcomes consider that KIPP gets attacked for spending more money for the results it achieves rather than being held up as an example of how money matters in education and we ought to be spending more on poor kids.
*Underfund the regular public schools by 20 percent we’d worry about their sustainability, too! They’re looking at cuts of far less than that right now and you’d think the sky is falling.