School Choice

Stop Attacking Charter Schools

Unions and politicians are trying to kill the best hope for many disadvantaged kids.


Try a little thought experiment. Suppose somebody invented a new kind of hospital. At first, nobody—not even the inventors—knew whether these new hospitals would work. But gradually the evidence came in—and it showed the new hospitals working better than the old ones. Not all of them, and not all the time. But most of them and more often than not.

In the new hospitals, the patients got better faster. Not only that: The new hospitals worked special wonders with the sickest patients—the poor and minority cohorts traditional hospitals often wrote off as hopeless. And just to put a cherry on top of the sundae, the new hospitals usually charged less. Sometimes much less.

Naturally, word got around. More and more of the new-format hospitals began opening. Yet demand for space in them grew even faster. People joined lotteries and waiting lists, hoping they could get in. They held rallies demanding new-format hospitals and wrote to politicians, asking for help in getting a new-format hospital in their neighborhood.

Well, you could imagine what would happen next. The old-fashioned hospitals would start raising heck. They would complain that the new hospitals were cherry-picking patients. That they were kicking out patients who didn't heal fast enough. That they were in the hospital business to make money, not to help cure the sick.

And when those claims turned out to be false, the old-fashioned hospitals would accuse the new ones of stealing patients and dollars from them in order to destroy the traditional-hospital system. The new hospitals, they would argue, had to be stopped in order to protect the traditional ones.

Confronted with an argument like that, most people would scratch their heads. Just whom is a hospital supposed to be for, anyway—the patients or the employees? If the old hospitals don't want to lose business, then why don't they do what the new hospitals are doing? 

This, essentially, is the story of the charter-school movement. In the past decade the number of charter schools in America has more than doubled, and the number of students enrolled in them has more than tripled. That growth has been driven by one simple factor: success. Although charter schools are not working miracles, they frequently are leaving traditional public schools in the dust.

For instance: A 2013 study by Stanford University, examining charter schools in 27 states, found that charter-school students did roughly as well as their public-school peers in math and considerably better in reading. "The results reveal that the charter school sector is getting better on average and that charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged, and special education students," Stanford reported.

A follow-up study of charter schools in Los Angeles found that the typical charter student made gains equivalent to about 50 extra days of instruction in reading and 79 extra days of instruction in math. The biggest gainers: black and Hispanic students, students in poverty and middle-school students.

It's the same story in New York. Nicholas Simmons, a teacher at one of the city's Success Academy charters, notes that while 29 percent of sixth-grade students in the regular public schools passed a state math test—and only 15 to 17 percent of blacks and Latinos—83 percent of his school's sixth-graders did. (Nearly all of Simmons' students are black or Latino, and three-fourths are low-income.)

Moreover, while only 7 percent of special-needs students in New York's traditional public schools passed the state math exams, 56 percent of those at his Success Academy did.

Well, maybe Simmons is biased. But even The New York Times editorial page has cited research showing "the typical New York City charter student learned more reading and math in a year than his or her public school peers."

And Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently noted that "some of the most successful schools in the inner cities have been charters in the Knowledge Is Power Program, showing what is possible even in troubled cities."

Then there's New Orleans, which handed over operations of most of its schools to charter organizations after Hurricane Katrina. The result? According to the Christian Science Monitor: "The academic gains have been dramatic. The city has surpassed the state average for high school graduation by several points. . . . Yet another bright point: the percentage of students qualifying for college scholarships from the state based on ACT scores and grade-point averages. Prior to Katrina, less than 6 percent of students in 14 high schools later taken over by the [Recovery School District] qualified for these scholarships. . . . In 2013, 27 percent did."

Naturally, traditional public school interests have not taken any of this lying down. In New York, Mayor Bill DeBlasio has waged a strident campaign against charters. In Illinois, the state legislature has been considering almost a dozen bills meant to restrict the growth of charters. "Charter schools are being used to destroy traditional public schools," says Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who sees "no reason to open more of them." Chicago parents feel differently; hundreds of them recently flocked to the State Capitol's Rotunda to denounce the anti-charter legislation.

In Massachusetts, friends of the traditional school system also have tried to stop the charter-school movement because it ostensibly drains resources. "In Boston," noted The Boston Globe last month, "the school system is losing $87.5 million in state aid to about two dozen charter schools this year." And in Nashville, where the number of charter schools has grown from four to 21 in just five years, nine more have applied—provoking a backlash over the same "fiscal concerns" as those in Massachusetts. But if a student goes to a different school, why should the money stay with her old one? Shouldn't the dollars follow the pupil?

Here in Virginia—which has all of six out of the country's 6,440 charter schools—lawmakers have imposed high hurdles to the creation of new ones, and in recent years have quashed efforts to lower the barriers.

Legislators from suburban areas with good school systems see little reason to rock the boat, and some legislators from urban areas remember the grim days when "school choice" was just a cover for white supremacy.

Those days are long gone. Yet like yesteryear's Massive Resistance, today's defense of the status quo still does considerable harm to minorities. Instead of standing in the way of progress, the defenders should take the same advice most people would give to our hypothetical old-fashioned hospitals: Physician, heal thyself.

This article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. Beyond the teacher’s unions, progderp faithful, and their democrat masters is there really a segment of our society that actively opposes school choice?

    I’ve talked with people about it and mostly people agree that the opposition to it is fucking stupid, or, when confessing ignorance of the matter and having the basics explained to them generally agree that the opposition to this is fucking stupid.

    It seems that this is one issue where the blue team really should get their clocks cleaned, as even a reliable part of their voting base is opposed to their policy.

    I wonder if this is an issue where the democrat coalition will start to fracture?

    1. It’s possible, but it seems likely that, in the end, TEAM will win out over reason.

      1. Not here they’re not. Charters are winning. Even blues like Cuomo are on board.

    2. There are a scary huge number of people who believe that school choice is undeniably better for individual children yet undeniably worse for the collective. And they vote according to the collective.

      1. Karl,
        One poll showed that among minority (Black) parents support is overwhelming:

        “The study showed that 85%-89% of parents in each state feel that the government should gives parents as many options as possible for the education of their children with most parents in each state supporting charter schools. ”…..ool-choice

        Aside from the pajama boy types, and the Teacher’s Union idiots who the hell supports squashing the charters?

        The trouble is people who vote Team Blue no matta what. Then again … the Team Red morons have their own issues.

        1. It’s mostly the white folks who feel this way. Always defending what no one asked them to.

      2. In addition, many see the ‘Conform to Mediocrity’ push as helping to limit inequality in the future. An ‘I feel good because I’ve sacrificed my children to the cause’ sort of vibe.

  2. Choice means the right to abortion or to get gay married. Choice does not include the right to ride Lyft, drive a dollar van, smoke e-cigarettes, manufacture hot sauce, own exotic pets, smoke weed, post 3D printing schematics of guns to the internet, use alternative currencies, post naked pictures of your ex to the internet, etc…

    1. Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

  3. Bill DeBlasio’s opposition to charter schools is so retarded that Gov. Cuomo has had to step in and slap him.

  4. Where’s acosmist?

    That guy hates charter schools.

  5. is there really a segment of our society that actively opposes school choice?

    I have run into quite a few people who really do seem to believe shitty schools for everyone are better than variable quality. Because a competitive environment apparently has no broadly beneficial effect. And, despite their slavish recitation of the “class size matters” mantra, they are horrified by the notion of a broad array of small schools in place of gigantic central schools.

    You know… morons.

    1. You mean like … these guys?
      Moron – A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but “pervades and regulates the whole.” He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.

  6. Just from casual perusal of the local fish wraps on city and state charter schools here, it seems many charter schools in the state of MN are indeed failing or spewing out unprepared pupils.

    I don’t really follow educational philosophies too closely and this could easily be cherry-picking by the newspapers….

    1. “I don’t really follow educational philosophies too closely and this could easily be cherry-picking by the newspapers.”

      In SF, we get big headlines about a charter school mishandling funds, only to find out they hadn’t filed the right form with the gov’t.
      So, yeah, if the paper is selling the party line, sniff the stories closely.

      1. True that. Often times, they’re messing with numbers.

        Sevo, if you’re in SF, didn’t the SF city government make some new rules and retroactively enforce them just to go after charters a few years back? My memory’s fuzzy on that one…

  7. Progressives hate progress.

  8. many charter schools in the state of MN are indeed failing or spewing out unprepared pupils.

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