Monopoly Games

By Larry Sand
December 8, 2020

With a Biden presidency looming, charter schools are once again under attack.

“I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one…and it said ‘We don’t care. We don’t have to.’ And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.” – Apple founder Steve Jobs in 1995

The education monopolists, who deplore any kind of competition, just can’t wait till Joe Biden is inaugurated in six weeks. No one really knows Biden’s exact position on charters, as he has had many over the years, but during the campaign he was toeing the teachers union line. And once in office, he will have those unions badgering him with numerous ways to kill off or neuter these public schools of choice. The unions, you see, are only pro-choice when the child is in utero. After birth, choice becomes a nasty word to them.

Right after Election Day, the National Education Association came out with a “policy playbook” which details specific actions the union wants the Biden administration to adopt. Among other stifling restrictions on charters, NEA opposes “all charter school expansion that undermines traditional public schools.” More specifically, the union asserts that “charter schools should be authorized and held accountable by the same agency that monitors and evaluates other schools in a public school district” – which is like saying, if you want to open a small independent convenience store, you must get consent from the 7-Eleven franchise.

Unlike traditional unionized public schools (TPS) – which constantly clamor for more money if they are failing – charter schools are actually accountable. On a regular basis, they must gain the approval of their authorizing body and, most importantly, they have to please their customers – children and their parents. If they don’t do a good job, they cease to exist. Additionally, charters must abide by all state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

According to a great majority of research on the matter, charter schools outpace TPS. Typical is a 2019 study from the University of Arkansas, which shows that in eight major U.S. cities, charter schools outperform TPS in productivity in all eight. Charter school students have higher NAEP scores, and the authors find that “each dollar invested in a child’s K-12 schooling results in $6.37 in lifetime earnings in public charter schools, compared to $4.41 in lifetime earnings in TPS.” Another recently released study finds that, nationwide, students in the charter sector made greater gains from 2005 to 2017 than did students in the district sector. “The difference in the trends in the two sectors amounts to nearly an additional half-year’s worth of learning. The biggest gains are for African Americans and for students of low socioeconomic status attending charter schools.”

The unions, which ignore studies and deal primarily in hyperbole and platitudes, maintain that charters hurt traditional schools. Not so, says the Manhattan Institute’s Marcus Winters, who has analyzed the issue in depth. “There is no distinguishable relationship between the percentage of students within a district who were enrolled in a charter school in 2009 and changes in the test scores of students enrolled in traditional public schools between then and 2016. Indeed, if a relationship exists but was too subtle for my model to detect, it is more likely that districts with high charter school concentrations made larger-than-expected gains over this period.”

Most impressively, while charters outperform TPS, they do so with much less funding. A study released last month by Corey DeAngelis, Patrick Wolf et al. looks at funding inequities between charters and TPS in 18 large American cities. The researchers found that during the 2017-2018 school year, charter schools “received an average of $7,796 less per-pupil than TPS – the largest funding disparity ever discovered by our research team – which represents a funding gap of 33 percent.”

Charters have also outpaced TPS during the current pandemic because they are typically less bureaucratic and more autonomous. They often recruit independent-minded teachers and administrators who are more adept at dealing with challenges, and these schools tend to rely more heavily on technology than TPS.

In a recently published New York Daily News op-ed, , two self-described “Black education leaders,” wrote that “Joe Biden must stand up for charter schools.” But Biden, who is fond of reminding us that his wife is an NEA member, has already announced his fealty to the teachers unions. As such, it is very difficult to imagine that a Biden administration will act in the best interests of the nation’s children.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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