The debate over the value of charter schools, and whether they should increasingly come to replace America’s public school system, varies from state-to-state, city-to-city. But even supporters of America’s public schools– and the teacher's unions fighting so hard to maintain them– admit that issues abound, and that many children are not being molded, either as humans or intellectuals, as public schools’ mission states they will be.
According to the Foundation for Economic Education, public schools’ efforts to self-reform in the past have been half-hearted at best. This inability to enact wholesale improvements to the system has contributed to steady deterioration in student performance. Pisa tests, which measure 15-year-old students’ performance in the fields of math, reading, and science– subjects which tend to be true metrics of educational quality– tell a grim story of the American educational system.
America ranked 25th in terms of success in reading and math, considered merely average among the world’s population. Considering America’s resources and the international reverence for its secondary education system with respect to these subjects, such a low ranking constitutes an indictment of the nation’s public schools. In terms of math, the US ranked 41st, below the global average and behind the likes of Estonia, Slovenia, Vietnam, and other smaller, less developed nations.
"We're losing ground - a troubling prospect when, in today's knowledge-based economy, the best jobs can go anywhere in the world,'' said the US Education Secretary, John King.
With these metrics in mind, it is near-impossible to argue that the American public education system is working. So, what is the solution?
In the past, ideas have been put forth which would ultimately fail. Whether it was increased preschool education, the enactment of universal curricula such as Common Core, or the embrace of technology in the classroom (how could that one possibly misfire?), test scores have continued to decline.
Leading many to conclude that something more fundamentally flawed with the bureaucracy of public schools is to blame. Firing teachers, even those who curse out students and write notes requesting to meet 14-year-old pupils behind a dumpster, is a near impossibility in most public schools, thanks in no small part to the unreasonable power granted to teachers unions. Laws enacted in many states give tenure to just about any public school teacher, meaning that their actual job performance means little.
Once incentive to perform at a high level is removed, issues become obvious. Not only are some teachers who once had noble intentions less motivated to consistently excel, the positions will attract many who know that, once hired, their termination is unlikely. Which is one reason why so many find the concept behind charter schools so appealing.
According to PBS, a charter school is a public school, yet one that is independent of the public-school system. It has been equated to a “one-school public school district,” which may make one wonder how so many pro-public school politicians are so staunchly opposed to them. The reasons for such strong opposition lies not in the commentary about charter school students’ performances, which on average outpace public schools in many cities, even when the difference is only slight.
Further, the benefits of a public school remain true in charters: free tuition, publically funded, and subjected to federal and state educational standards. So, again, why are so many teachers opposed to these charter schools?
The motivation behind the opposition is quite simple: charter schools can fire their teachers, sometimes without cause. It is understandable why some would see this as a negative. Yet, in light of charter schools’ need to adhere to educational standards, and the incentive to perform which potential termination for poor performance provides, this typically means one thing: accountability. Even president Obama, considered a hero to many public-school teachers, has espoused the benefits of firing teachers at failing schools.
Charters hold their employees to the same standards which are applied to those in the private sector, a reason why so many see charters as incentivizing enhanced performance in its teachers and, in turn, its students.
In addition, parents and students have a choice of which charter school their child will attend. With more and more charter schools establishing niche curricula, this means many students are getting a head start on careers in fields which they have a passion for at a young age. It is only one example of how charter schools better prepare their students for college and life by treating them as individuals, not like-minded masses.
For an example of charter schools’ success, look to New York City. Success Academy is the face of charter school success in the Big Apple. While liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post paint Success Academy as a school engaged in a ‘War Against Children’ (be more alarmist, why don’t you), the statistics and test scores justify tactics which include a public commitment to competitiveness, among students and teachers.
Studies which consider socioeconomic factors found that New York’s charter schools outpace traditional public schools in terms of educational improvement in students:
‘when an apples-to-apples comparison is made by comparing students only from similar racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, charters shine more brightly: their students score better in math than, and just as well in English as, those in traditional selective schools.’ (Manhattan Institute)
The success of charter schools is also being noticed by parents, whose demand to send their child to a charter versus the local public school– which in most cases has been failing for generations– is immense. It is only left-leaning public officials, addicted to the teat of the union vote, who stand in the way of expanded charter schools. In 2015, an estimated 43,000 applicants for charter schools were waitlisted, meaning that demand for charter schools far outpaces supply.
Which makes this quote from the Wall Street Journal difficult to reconcile:
‘But instead of celebrating student achievement, the chair of the committee that oversees new charter school approvals by the State University of New York, Joseph Belluck, said it would be “very difficult” to approve new Success Academy schools as long as Daniel Loeb remains on its board.’
Loeb, who sits on the board of Success Academy’s charter school system, is being apparently forced out by public officials who took grave offense to this Facebook post from Loeb:
‘He wrote that Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an African-American Democrat who serves as the Senate minority leader in Albany, had done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood” because of her support for the teachers unions.’
The post was ill-advised and in poor taste, and Loeb has since apologized. Should such a faux pas, even in today’s all-offending times, be reason to run off a man considered largely responsible for the state’s charter system that has granted true educational opportunity to many disadvantaged children?
Despite the poor choice in metaphor, Loeb’s sentiment about politicians– particularly of African-American descent– who block the expansion of charter schools is shared by many. They are doing unquantifiable, yet undeniable, harm to their own constituents, who stand to gain most from the expansion of charter programs.
Apparently, Joseph Belluck believes that such a poorly worded statement– the underlying basis of which is shared by many people who have witnessed the success of charters in the city– is reason to risk the successful formation of Success Academy’s NYC operations, also risking the education of those who attend its schools.
While the firing of Loeb is unlikely to throw Success Academy’s operations into disarray, charter schools are independent, and therefore the success of one system cannot be extrapolated to another with any certainty. A shake-up in one system could have wider-spread effects than, say, the firing of a public-school principal (which rarely happens even in the worst public schools), who has far less impact on that school’s success due to a built-in curriculum.
It is no coincidence that Belluck does not reserve such outrage for the many public school teachers who routinely neglect their job responsibility or make similarly insensitive comments such as these:
‘last month…the head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, accused charter schools and vouchers of being “slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”’ (WSJ)
But the fair treatment of charters is not to be expected. Favorable treatment towards public school officials is not about the educational success of said schools. It is about the value of labor unions– including teachers, one of the largest– to Democrats, and the threat that charter schools’ success poses to those unions.
In the right system, children benefit from charter schools. Parents are encouraged to be more involved in their child’s education, with strategies to ensure their involvement as a critical component of admission. And, as New York testing showed, results among inner city populations– often in the most need of better education– illustrate the educational benefit of charter schools as they are in NYC.
The value of true education reform is apparently less than that of the feelings of one politician who stands in the way of charter school expansion. And that, in a nutshell, illustrates why those who take a blanket approach in opposing charter school expansion must not be left in charge of decisions relating to the education system.