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Letter to the Editor: School Choice Programs

New York Times
May 29, 2012

To the Editor:

Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools” (front page, May 22) doesn’t mention facts and data showing that more choices in education lead to increased student achievement without doing harm to traditional public schools.

School choice programs increase student achievement and graduation rates, while costing only one-quarter of the money per child that conventional public schools do. Scholarships and tax-credit programs stimulate healthy competition that yields dramatic improvement in achievement among students of every income level.

Contrary to the article, choice programs are embraced by the largest and most diverse coalition in recent history — a coalition that includes Republican and Democratic legislators, civil rights leaders, business leaders, local officials and educators. Most important, it includes parents who want and deserve the power to choose the best school for their child.

JEANNE ALLEN
President
Center for Education Reform
Washington, May 24, 2012

Too much credit

sneechesEven when research studies come from prestigious universities like Stanford, they can be flawed. That’s the case with data cited in “The $5 billion bet on education,” Al Hunt’s recent New York Times commentary about the Obama Administration’s education agenda and its reliance on less bureaucratic, more accountable public schools known as charters.

A small research unit at Stanford (not the university itself) piloted a methodology pairing virtual twins in charters with students in traditional public education, producing results at odds with most state and national assessments that show far better results. And the longer students are in charters, the better they do.

Obama’s Race to the Top would not be complete without such reforms, but Hunt errors in giving credit to states that have done little to create strong laws that allow for high numbers of high performing charter schools to flourish. The real test will be whether, when state legislators return to work, they will be willing to allow charters to start outside of school board control, free from union contracts and other constraints and funded equitably.

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At Odds

takeoverAndy Rotherham (via Eduwonk) has some fun dissecting today’s New York Times article on the unionization process within two Brooklyn-based KIPP charter schools (“Teachers at 2 Charter Schools Plan to Join Union, Despite Notion of Incompatibility“):

First, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform says that “A union contract is actually at odds with a charter school.”  “Actually” is the wrong word there.  The more accurate way to say that would be, “could be.”  Why?  Well one example is the unionized and highly sucessful Green Dot Public Schools, another is KIPP Bronx, which has been unionized for some time.  And there are others, good and bad.  What matters is what’s in the contract not unionization per se.

Beyond the quote as printed, what I actually said was that unions and the charter CONCEPT are at odds. Green Dot (Andy’s example) created its own contract, one that works within its model (though results in NYC will be interesting). What KIPP schools are experiencing is the equivalent of a takeover, even disguised as a restructuring, where management will no longer be able to set the tone or culture of their schools. That might work for some teachers who believe their work conditions are the most important aspect of their school, but this move puts students second. This thinking is what brought us the system failure that, to date, un-co-opted charter schools have sought to correct.

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