When it comes to education policy, there are serious discussions and there are — ahem — less serious discussions. Recently, we’ve seen this truth play out regarding public charter schools.
First, and most interestingly, the serious discussion. Education Next hosted a point-counterpoint between the chairman and executive director of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Boardvs. New Schools for New Orleans CEO Neerav Kingsland.
Kingsland vouches for the success of New Orleans’ unprecedented all-charter approach. He would like to see a number of other cities transition to all-charter school districts in the coming years. The positive results achieved in The Big Easy at least give credence to his case.
Kingsland’s formula to make it happen:
- Educators form nonprofit organizations to operate schools.
- Families can choose from any school in the city, with reasonable limitations, such as neighborhood set-asides, being determined by community values.
- Government holds nonprofit school organizations accountable for both performance and equity; it no longer operates schools itself.
He argues that D.C. authors Scott Pearson and “Skip” McCoy take too narrow a view of the rules that can operate in a charter system. But they prefer the balance of a roughly 50-50 approach, in which traditional district and charter schools co-exist in roughly equal numbers.
Pearson and McCoy contend that the competitive effect has the effect of lifting all boats. And the improving results in D.C., as in New Orleans, lend substance to their case. They fear that going the all-charter route will lead to homogenization, which would end up undermining the choice and diversity that is the basis for chartering.
Who’s (more) right, and who’s (more) wrong? At this point, I don’t know for sure. But at least it’s a serious discussion rooted in reality.
On the other hand, there is the kind of discussion launched by the Center for Popular Democracy (much better than the unpopular variety, I’m told). With breathtaking fanfare, they asserted in an email: “studies show that over $100 million in taxpayer dollars have been wasted and over 100 thousand children attend charter schools that are failing to meet the needs of children.”
Citation, please? Of course, even if their numbers are substantially correct, they represent less than 4% of enrolled charter students and less than 1% of annual charter operating budgets. Could you make a similar case about the traditional public education sector?
Then the group unveiled its 11-point “Charter School Accountability Agenda.” Why are they singling out charters? Could it be they might not be interested in an honest, serious conversation? Hmmm…
Their 11 points include transparency and ethics requirements that Colorado already has in place for both traditional and charter schools. But they also feature unreasonable requirements that would undermine the autonomy and flexibility inherent to the charter model, while the group apparently discounts the research-based fact that charters on average are already funded significantly less than their non-charter counterparts.
CPD’s silly document operates on a series of underlying assumptions that cannot be either substantiated or fairly generalized. Dare I say, even this 5-year-old is smart enough to see through the thin veil attempting to obscure efforts to unfairly discredit and attack the public charter sector.
Silly might be all right for playing games in the basement or on the playground. But it’s not OK when it’s trying to mess with families’ choices and kids’ futures. Give me the serious stuff. I can only take so much of the ridiculous fluff and nonsense.