Selected readings on US charter schools
Try a little thought experiment. Suppose somebody invented a new kind of hospital. At first, nobody — not even the inventors — knew if it would work. But gradually the evidence showed the new hospitals working better than the old ones. Not all of them, and not all the time. But most, and more often than not.
In the new hospitals, patients got better faster. Not only that: The new hospitals worked wonders with the sickest patients, the poor and minority cohorts traditional hospitals often wrote off. To put a cherry on top, the new hospitals usually charged less, too.
Naturally, word got around. More and more of the new-format hospitals opened. Yet demand for space in them grew faster. People joined lotteries and waiting lists. They held rallies demanding more new-format hospitals and wrote to politicians, asking for help in getting one in their neighborhood.
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 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 to destroy the traditional system.
Confronted with an argument like that, most people would scratch their heads. Just whom is a hospital supposed to benefit, anyway — patients or employees? If old hospitals don’t want to lose business, 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. 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 leave traditional public schools in the dust.
A 2013 study by Stanford University, examining charters in 27 states, found that charter-school students did roughly as well as their public-school peers in math and considerably better in reading.
A follow-up study 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 in math. The biggest gainers: black and Hispanic students, students in poverty and middle-school students.
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.”
Naturally, traditional public school interests have not taken this lying down. In New York, Mayor Bill DeBlasio waged a strident campaign against charters. In Illinois, the state legislature considered almost a dozen bills to restrict their growth. “Charter schools are being used to destroy traditional public schools,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. Chicago parents feel differently; hundreds flocked to the State Capitol’s Rotunda to denounce the anti-charter legislation.
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 “fiscal concerns.” 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 six of the country’s 6,440 charter schools, lawmakers have imposed high hurdles to creating new ones, and 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 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.
Source: Tricities.com – by A. Barton Hinkle