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Charter Schools Are All the Rage

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Jeanne Allen, National Journal

Charter schools are all the rage, but are hardly a fad. The most important takeaway of the past twenty-two plus years now is that doing education differently and better is possible, when we put freedom and accountability at the center of the education process.

Scores of data have been collected, more so than with any other single education effort in modern history. It’s hard to believe we’re still debating the efficacy of a movement that has demonstrably transformed the public education system. Where once no choice existed and no innovations took place, today millions more students are in schools that are impacted and improved by charter schools, and live in policy environments with higher standards, accountability with teeth, improved performance measures and much more, because a once radical idea challenged the system to evolve or shutdown. Had this much happened to our nation as a result of any other conventionally-embraced education idea that reinforced our oldest thoughts about schooling, this nation would have unleashed armies to push it and defend it. Instead, charters today are forced to not only fight for existence and once thriving, must engage in political and policy gymnastics to prove that their statistics and measurements are validly demonstrating student achievement, when measurements are clear and apparent.

But that’s what the status quo does. It puts one on the defensive (if you let it) and makes you question the very reality that you see working. It makes David’s victory over Goliath seem like chance, when it’s nothing of the sort.

Meanwhile, such defensive posture causes charter leaders themselves to beat their breast with platitudes about accountability that drives more government and less freedom into the schools that were founded to do the opposite. As Rick Hess’ weekend opinion piece points out, “creeping bureaucratization and regulation are endangering the entire charter school movement.”

Hess describes the litany of successes that stand in stark contrast to this creeping wave of oversight that is often the result of ill-conceived but well-intentioned policies. The best charters in the country that started at this movement’s inception did so without a heavy hand (or start up funds) from the federal government and very little involvement from state departments of education. Rather than wring their hands for more money from the feds, supporters should be pushing for equity in spending at the state and local level. Federal funds bring with them federal intrusion of an irrational sort. Rules for rules’ sake, lots of people needing to be hired to manage and interpret the rules, and in the end, a system that looks very much like the one charters were designed to spurn will emerge. It’s happening now, and it’s a critical time to repair the damage being done and avoid the temptation to ask for more, which will inevitably be received, with strings.

As we consider how charters work for the masses, these empirical factoids are also important to have in hand.

1. The data clearly show that charter schools increase student achievement: https://edreform.com/issues…

2. Increased achievement is recognized by parents, business leaders and the general public, and is met by demand: https://edreform.com/2013/1…

3. States that ensure successful charter schools and accountability have strong laws that meet growing demand: https://edreform.com/2014/0…

4. Problems with charter laws are a result not of the concept but the weak policy environments.

5. Charter schools have professionalized the classroom, boosted confidence in public schools, spawned a bi-partisan consensus around choice and accountability and infused rigor into once entirely failing schools.

 

Purchase a copy of Jeanne Allen’s book, Education Reform: Before It Was Cool: The Real Story and Pioneers Who Made It Happen, here.