Charter Schools

Parents Are Filling the Political Vacuum for Charter School Support

Charter enrollment grew by 7 percent last school year, double the prior year.

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When teachers unions forced public schools to close indefinitely in spring 2020, the void they created showed how ill-suited traditional public schools are to the 21st century. Though the pandemic stressed most public institutions, public charter schools proved remarkably resilient.

According to a new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), during the pandemic, public charter school enrollment increased in 39 of the 42 states with charter schools, adding 237,311 students from the 2019–20 school year to 2020–21. During the same period, traditional public schools lost 1.4 million students. While some of the traditional public schools' losses can be attributed to homeschooling, learning pods, and other alternatives, the Center for Reinventing Public Education learned that flight to virtual schools only accounted for roughly 40 percent of traditional districts' enrollment declines. 

That tracks with the NAPCS findings. Though enrollment in virtual public charters spiked in a few states—Oklahoma, Utah, and Pennsylvania—in other states like Texas, which had an enrollment surge of almost 30,000 students, those new charter school students are not attending virtual schools. Over the last decade, brick-and-mortar charter schools did very well, and would have likely done even better were enrollment not arbitrarily capped by law in many blue states like New York and Washington. Even in places where public charters are not legislatively capped, union contracts have scotched their growth.

Much has been written about charter schools' "scary future" politically in the wake of the frayed bipartisan support for public charter schools. Observers claim Republicans are now more focused on private school vouchers than more widespread charter schools. Democrats once had a strong pro-education reform contingent that favored charter schools but have in the last five years or so retreated into the open arms of teachers unions who oppose charter schools. There is no disputing that political expediency on both sides has created something of a vacuum in support for public charters, but out of this vacuum emerges a powerful force: parents.

Consider the words of Jasmine Morrison, the director of Parent Engagement at the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association and leader of the parents' charter school advocacy Unapologetic Parent coalition. She spoke at the NAPCS' webinar launch of its report. According to Morrison, what policy makers who routinely oppose public charters are missing is that the pandemic gave parents a lens into their children's lives like they'd never had before. They peered over little shoulders during remote learning sessions to observe curricula, teaching methodology, and classroom management. They also had an unprecedented opportunity to observe their child's behavior as a student—not as a procrastinating or recalcitrant homework-hater, but as a real-time student. They observed how motivated or unengaged, how enthusiastic or bored their children were in class for significant periods of time. The parents of 237,311 did not like what they saw, so they voted with their feet and bumped charter school enrollment nationwide by 7 percent in a single school year, double from the previous year.

Morrison says that's a big deal because it's no easy feat to change a child's school. Birth certificates, school records, proof of residency, and vaccine records have to be gathered—and had to be submitted and verified at a time when the world was shuttered. But for parents who saw their kids blossom—or "do a happy dance," as she described it, because they achieved success during class—the effort was well worth it. Parents in her network have lauded their new schools for being nimbler and better equipped to meet the moment than district schools encumbered by top-down bureaucracy and union rules.

"People were dissatisfied with the first round of school closures," Morrison says, "and while parents don't know off the bat if their new charter school is union or nonunion, they know something is different whether it's the environment, the school culture, the amount of teacher contact, or resources like after-school activities and tutoring, or just finding the best fit for their child's development."

Naomi Shelton, CEO of the National Charter Collaborative, which provides support for minority charter school leaders, also participated in the report's launch. Shelton says that when parents like what's happening in their child's public charter school, policy makers need to be responsive and support the expansion of grade ranges or seats as needed.

Both agree that parental voices need to be amplified by the community that advocates for charter schools. Shelton points to the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools, which is engaged in direct advocacy, or the Powerful Parents Network, a nationwide organization that advocates for school choice and which drew headlines for confronting Democratic presidential candidates on the issue at primary debates in 2019 and 2020. 

The NAPCS report paints a picture, as Shelton put it, of the "radical reckoning" that happened during the pandemic—a reckoning that should prompt policy makers to rethink fossilized opposition. 

The dramatic exodus of families from traditional public schools to charter schools—the highest enrollment growth since 2014—presents the perfect opportunity to engage in what Adam Grant, author of Think Again, calls the "critical art of rethinking." America's industrial-era education systems, heavily dependent on centralized school districts, can no longer be the default in our new reality. Autonomous schools like the nation's more than 7,500 tuition-free public charters, which serve mostly low-income minority students, must be embraced as part of the solution—and not just by parents dealing with a political education vacuum.

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  2. Don’t put your kids in any school run by big labor or big government.

  3. Who cares what Parents want for Their Children. Politicians and Union officials know best.

    1. Politicians send their kids to private schools and take limousines to work. But public schools and buses are all YOU need!

      1. You are behind the times. Today’s politicians hate buses. They want to replace them with trains that don’t go anywhere you need to go.

  4. Check out this article from VERY early on in the COVID scare.

    March of 2020.

    Read how the New York Times writer treats the concepts of fear and panic. Read how she characterizes what “experts and epidemiologists” say. Now compare and contrast to how the media talks about it today.

    NYT Journalist alert: Written by Sarah Maslin Nir, the hyper-rich NYT Journalist debutante who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning exposé on NY city nail salons.

    1. Just some quick hits:

      Federal health experts and epidemiologists agree that patients fully recovered from COVID-19 no longer pose risk of infection to others. Yet some people who have survived the illness are still confronting a fear-driven stigma from the outside world.

      […]

      Martucci soon learned that she had drastically underestimated the anxiety she and her son, Marcus, would encounter. Even now, a month into their recovery, some neighbors see them and run.

      As those who have been stricken with the virus emerge from hospitals or home quarantine, they are being forced to navigate a world that clearly is not yet ready to welcome them back into a still-sheltering society.

      […]

      The veterinarian who refused to treat a recovered woman’s dog. The laundromat worker who jumped at seeing an elected official whose illness had been reported on the local news. The gardener who would not trim the hedges outside a recovered man’s home.

      1. We need to find a bakery that refuses to make a “No Vax” decorated cake.

        1. That actually wouldn’t be any kind of legal issue. Refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple that doesn’t have any kind of written message on it can easily be argued to be discrimination against the couple for being gay. But a baker refusing to bake a specific written message that they may disagree with is clearly within their own First Amendment rights. Even if you could argue that the baker was discriminating against the customer because they were anti-vax, that isn’t any kind of protected class.

  5. If there’s ONE thing I do know, it’s that parents just don’t understand.

  6. One thing I keep bringing up, but that school choice advocates rarely engage with is how the “choice” isn’t just coming from the parents. A news segment about charter schools that I saw years ago encapsulated the issue very well. A Black parent was explaining why he sent his children to a charter school. He told the story of how he was walking past the neighborhood school once and saw kids throwing textbooks out of the window. He explained how he didn’t want his kids going to school with the “book throwers”.

    It isn’t just that parents are choosing the schools, but that schools are choosing the students. Private schools have almost total control over who enrolls and can expel students at just about any time for almost any reason. (Racial discrimination would likely still lose them their tax status, but that’s about it.) Charter schools are still funded by the public, so, in principle, they have to accept any student eligible, provided they have room. But they get accused of “counseling out” students with poor academic records, limited English, and learning disabilities regularly. That is, a charter might try and dissuade a parent from enrolling their child there as not being “a good fit” or that their child’s needs might be “better served” elsewhere. They can also require a high level of parent involvement and more strict discipline from the students with much steeper discipline ladders than regular public schools that have to accumulate a lot of documentation of interventions before expelling students for anything less than serious criminal acts.

    There is also the issue of transportation, of course. Since enrollment isn’t based on geography, parents are often entirely on their own to get the kids to the school. I don’t see anyone in favor of school choice explaining how all children could be given equal opportunities under these ideas. It is a way for some lucky few to “escape” the supposed “failing” regular public schools with the “book throwers”. It does not seem to even be intended as a systematic reform that would reach all children.

    1. So you’re intimating, if a private school refuses a student, for whatever reason, said student will remain where he/she/it is, in the public school. So the remedy is to abolish the private school, punish the student by subjecting him/her/it to the public school you admit is a failure.
      On the other hand, should the funding for education (however that funding is achieved) be determined by the LOCAL school district as a per student amount be awarded to the parent to shop for a school.
      I can envision any number of private and corporate for-profit providers springing forth to offer such services. Schools that would attempt to serve the genius child, the mediocre child and the sluggard, special needs child; all of which would provide competition (both for students and educators) with the government school; resulting in a great leap of efficiency of learning.
      I suggest you may well find children’s needs ARE better served as you seem to scoff.

      1. So you’re intimating, if a private school refuses a student, for whatever reason, said student will remain where he/she/it is, in the public school. So the remedy is to abolish the private school, punish the student by subjecting him/her/it to the public school you admit is a failure.

        Uh, I put “failing” in scare quotes because I don’t “admit” that regular public schools are really failures. Poor results at a particular school can have a lot of contributing factors, not all of which are the fault of anyone employed at the school.

        Second, I did no such thing as to suggest that we “abolish” private schools. I’m just pointing out that private schools that can pick and choose their students and public schools that have to accept all children that seek to enroll are not in the same boat.

        I can envision any number of private and corporate for-profit providers springing forth to offer such services.

        You can envision it, but how likely is it to really work out that way? Florida has what I think is the largest and most widely available voucher system in the country. How well does it do at providing a market for quality schools to pop up in low income neighborhoods? The answer is that we really don’t know, since the GOP Florida legislature refuses to require any real accountability from these voucher schools. (The Orlando Sentinel has documented a lot of the problems with that in their “Schools without Rules” investigative series, if you’re interested. Private schools that rely entirely on voucher students that hire felons, teachers with only high school diplomas, that close in the middle of a year due to financial mismanagement, and that falsify fire inspection records, are some of the highlights.) The voucher students don’t have to take the same tests that the public school students do. And the results of the tests they do take get sent to some university research group to write a report for the legislature that it promptly ignores, rather than it getting published publicly like the grades and data that the state requires regular public schools and charters to make available.

        How are parents supposed to make informed choices about a private school under those conditions?

    2. What, exactly, is your underlying point?

      That, because Charter Schools can’t save EVERY student, they shouldn’t be allowed to save ANY student?

      That we should continue exclusively using a failing system until a 100% perfect system is fully developed?

      That motivated students with motivated parents should continue to be trapped with the book throwers until Dumbledore apparates into the room, waves his wand, chants “Motiviationous Educationous!” and magically makes all of the disruptive students suddenly behave themselves and value education?

      1. What, exactly, is your underlying point?

        Just what I said. My point is that writers at Reason and school choice advocates more generally can’t seem to talk about K-12 education at all without finding a way to say that school choice will fix whatever the problem at hand is. But they never seem to acknowledge the limitations of school choice to address equal opportunity for all students, which means that it simply cannot be the only or even main solution.

        That, because Charter Schools can’t save EVERY student, they shouldn’t be allowed to save ANY student?

        That we should continue exclusively using a failing system until a 100% perfect system is fully developed?

        That is a straw man. I never said that, nor do I believe it. Or perhaps it is better described as a false dichotomy. One of those logical fallacies, at least. I just would like school choice advocates to be more intellectually honest and admit that their preferred public education policies are neither capable nor intended to actually fix everything wrong with public education. But, for political reasons, they sell it that way. They sell it to the poor and low income communities where reform is most needed as something that will work for all of them, when there is simply no way for that to happen.

        Bush called his plan “No Child Left Behind” for a reason. The idea that he and his brother Jeb! had been pushing was that every child had a right to a quality education, not that there would be a way for some parents to get their kids out of “failing” schools, leaving kids in those schools that are now even worse if their parents aren’t as motivated, or can’t get them transportation to the ‘choice’ schools, or whatever else.

        The school reformers on the right know that political reality is that only education policies that say they will address all children’s needs will get wide support. Trying to expand charters and implement vouchers is a distraction from addressing the core issues.

        In the interest of disclosure for those that don’t already know, I am a public school teacher and (voluntary) member of my union. I have taught in public high schools for 17 years in Florida. I have a lot of opinions and ideas about what is going poorly in education and what could be done about it. It has been frustrating for me to see Republicans and libertarians focus only on one policy as the solution while scapegoating and demonizing my profession because of their opposition to teacher unions.

    3. – Transportation – Here in Texas, public charters get 85% of the per pupil funding traditional public school students get. What gets cut? Buses. Maybe fund public charter students at 100% then we’ll talk.
      – Look at the Texas Education Association requirements for charter schools. They have to accept via lottery, anyone who applies. Anecdotal evidence of the schools speaking to parents to discourage them is not evidence.
      – Public charters do have the ability to expel students for disciplinary infractions but traditional public schools should have that ability too.

  7. [in the interest of disclosure for those that don’t already know, I am a public school teacher and (voluntary) member of my union. I have taught in public high schools for 17 years in Florida]

    I’m shocked. Would never have guessed.

    1. I’m shocked. Would never have guessed.

      If you aren’t surprised that I’m a public school teacher, then I should say that I am not surprised that you didn’t respond to anything else that I said.

      1. In large part because everything you said could only come from the prism of every teacher entrenched in their union prism. I suspect you’re largely concerned about your own welfare not that of the students trapped in that deplorable situation. Competition nearly always rewards the consumer, whether widget manufacturing or education, which is why parents of means flee the government schools. Why are you so adamant that the consumer be cut out of the education market for their children? Does it truly baffle you why over a million and a half parents of meager means disdain your system to the degree they homeschool? That number increases every year even though tempered by parents who must work. If you were forced to compete you’d be forced to address the poor public school quality, or consider to lose business, resulting in considerable pressure on your compensation and benefits, which I suspect underlies your position.

        1. In large part because everything you said could only come from the prism of every teacher entrenched in their union prism.

          Did I dismiss your opinions as simply being the product of your political ideology? Or whatever else? Do you disagree with what I am saying or who I am?

          I suspect you’re largely concerned about your own welfare not that of the students trapped in that deplorable situation.

          Right. After 17 years of teaching in public schools in Florida, I earn $50k a year because I am so self-interested. Just for kicks, I looked up on Payscale what an electrical engineer with 15 years of experience could expect to make in my city, and the median was $95k. Even accounting for the extra time off, that is a big difference. (I don’t get paid during the summer, so I can’t pay rent with extra time off.)

          I chose the path of being a science teacher (M.S. Physics) instead of going into industry with a STEM degree because I believe that it is important for at least some of the people talented in math and science to teach those things to the next generation. (In addition to liking teaching science, of course.)

          Competition nearly always rewards the consumer, whether widget manufacturing or education, which is why parents of means flee the government schools.

          You know what else parents of means can do? Move to where there are good public schools. You make it sound like all public schools are horrible, but that is far from the truth. Public schools in middle class suburbs are usually fairly well regarded by their local communities. Sure, parents that are exceptionally well off might send their kids to elite private schools that boast of how 99% of their graduates go on to 4-year colleges and universities, with high acceptance rates among top universities, and whatnot. But elite private schools typically have tuition far higher than what public schools spend per pupil. The top private schools in my metro area have between $15k and $20k a year tuition for high school, whereas Florida’s per pupil spending is well below $10k a year. Elite private schools in bigger cities with higher cost of living can be $40k a year or more.

          Public schools that struggle are invariably schools in poor or lower income neighborhoods. Do you think that maybe a large part of the reason they struggle has to do with poverty itself? Larger percentages of the students coming from single parent households, and/or that have parents with less education themselves, and/or they don’t have the means to provide good activities outside of school to help them develop good habits and reduce the drain of skills and knowledge over the summer, and/or living in neighborhoods with high crime adds stress that makes it more difficult for kids to do well in school. Larger percentages of students still learning English and with special needs that parents can’t get as much help for outside of school.

          How about how schools with all of those kinds of problems will have a harder time recruiting the best teachers because all of that makes teaching a more difficult and stressful job? Quite frankly, I already sacrificed a fair amount just to teach at all compared to other career paths. Teaching in a high-poverty school is just more extra stress than I could handle for no extra personal reward. (My school is a large high school with a wide mix of student demographics. Some students will be upper middle class, some come from low-income areas.)

          Viewing education only as a competitive market is flawed, because businesses choose which niche to fill. Not everyone can afford a luxury car, so auto manufacturers pick which price range to address before they even make any decisions about how to design a car. A market-based approach to education based on the means of the parent will inevitably lead to the lowest quality education being for the poor. Vouchers won’t solve that either, at least not as people on the right want to implement them. Vouchers will be just be a subsidy like what they argue against for higher education. Either the vouchers won’t be enough to increase the basic quality of the schools or parents will be asked to make up the difference.

          The vouchers are always no more than what public schools spend, and so private schools that rely on vouchers for the bulk of their students will never be able to attract better teachers than what regular public schools in the same area do. Unless, perhaps, you promise those teachers that you’ll keep out the students that make teaching more difficult, such as those with uninvolved parents, that are discipline problems, etc. Let the regular public schools deal with them.

          And I pointed out exactly how this works out in the real world here in Florida. You’ve accused me of basing my position on self interest, but you just repeat talking points based on free-market ideology and didn’t address any of the specifics of what I said. I don’t think I’m the one that is close-minded here.

  8. Autonomous schools like the nation’s more than 7,500 tuition-free public charters, which serve mostly low-income minority students, must be embraced as part of the solution—and not just by parents dealing with a political education vacuum https://place-4-papers.com/write-my-discussion-board-post/

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