Many people see charter schools as the answer to many of the ills our public school system faces. They’ve been promoted and upheld as filling the need for parental choice in education.
Before I begin, I feel the need to give you a little of my background regarding charters. In the recent past, I was not just a charter advocate, I was a serious charter cheerleader (minus the short skirt and pom-poms). In fact, back in 2004 I was a founding parent for a charter school in Meridian, ID, and sent my children to two other charters for years – one virtual, the other brick and mortar. My children had some wonderful teachers and experiences at both and I felt I was really taking part in and supporting parental choice which I so adamantly defended.
Fast forward a few years. I’d been researching Common Core for a few months, really digging in to try to understand the education system. As I studied I went from cheerleader, to disillusioned, to down right angry. I’d been duped.
Missouri Education Watchdog’s Anne Gassel wrote a wonderful article explaining how charter schools are not really about choice.
In a truly free market where the public is free to choose whatever product they want, or even choose not to buy a product, where the producer is free to select his raw materials, suppliers, investment strategies and product design, then yes, tying the money to the child and letting parents choose where to send them would be a great way to deliver education. It would foster competition among education suppliers. It would produce differentiated products, innovation and customer satisfaction. We can see exactly how this would work because such a system already exists in the university system. But none of the conditions I just mentioned exist in the K-12 public education system which is one of the reasons charters have never done terribly well and thus far have not delivered on the promise to improve all education.
Instead they are all about outcome-based education and how to churn out marvelous test takers.
…the definition of “works well” means “has good test scores.” In the current system, the producer in K-12 education does not get to choose the product design. Remember the product is not the campus, curriculum or staff. That is merely the production process. The product in public education today is the preloaded college and/or career ready graduate. The specifications for that product are designed neither by the producer, nor by the parent. They are designed by the test developers, external quality control agents (EQCA) if you will. That is why charters can and do skew their curriculum to be heavily focused on test prep…
While being billed as “parental choice” it’s been very interesting to watch how charters have reacted to parents opting their children out of the SBAC tests, compared to the treatment parents have received at traditional public schools. While we have some examples of regular neighborhood public schools bullying parents and students, most of them backed down when a little pressure was applied by parents and community members. However, charter schools took much more forceful approach, often threatening to un-enroll students, which, because of the way they’re structured, is much easier for them to do.
A truly free market system would see these parents as an unserved market segment and would develop programs and services to meet their wants thus gaining a customer base.
Charters are just another version of government-run and funded public schools. They’re required to meet all the same requirements as your local elementary, middle or high school. In reality, government charter schools compete directly with real choice, private schools. Who will win in the end? Well, unfortunately, in our society the “free” government option almost always wins, driving out any and all real competition (i.e. private schools) and leaving most families with only public school and home school as realistic alternatives.
The bottom line is that charter schools serve to narrow the market in favor of government funded public schools and do not expand real parental choice.
Read the rest of Anne Gassel’s article here