The charter school haters dig in

By Larry Sand
October 23, 2018

The education traditionalists’ attacks on parental choice are unrelenting.

All across Texas, children are hoping to get into a charter school. In San Antonio alone, 40,000 families await the chance to pick a school that best fits the needs of their child. Nationally, over 3 million students now attend these schools of choice, which get to free their teachers and kids from some of the one-size-fits-all traditional public schools’ (TPS) rules and regs and union contracts. (Nationally, just about 11 percent of charters are unionized.) While that’s good news for the 3 million, it’s sad for the million plus kids who languish on wait-lists.

There are many reasons why parents prefer charter schools – one being academics. In the most recent standardized test in New York City, for example, 57 percent of African-American charter students scored proficient in English as opposed to only 34 percent in TPS. In math, it was 59 percent v. 25 percent. The gap for Hispanics was comparable. In Los Angeles, the ethnic and poverty demographics are similar between independent charters and TPS, but on graduation rates charters win, even though many have a higher bar to graduate. As Reason’s Lisa Snell writes, while less than half of Los Angeles’ TPS students in the class of 2015 had passed courses needed to enroll in California state colleges and the UC system, 85 percent of LA charter students completed them.

In spite of charters’ success and popularity – no, actually because of these factors, the popular schools of choice are more reviled than ever by those who stand to lose when charters proliferate. The National Education Association instructs us on “How to prevent charter schools from draining away public school funding in your community” and cites a factually-challenged study by the far left In the Public Interest. “The Failure of Policy Planning in California’s Charter School Facility Funding” alleges a series of fiscal misdeeds by charters, which the California Charter School Association easily debunks here. For example, the report claims that charters spend too much on facilities. But charters would spend a lot less if their TPS brothers would obey the law. Proposition 39 requires that school districts make facilities available to all charter schools operating in their school district, and that those facilities must be reasonably equivalent to other classrooms, buildings, or facilities in the district. But because of pressure from the teachers unions, many school districts across the state still fail to allocate space equitably to charters.

In an awful opinion piece, college professor Mitchell Robinson asserts that charter schools have done more harm than good in Michigan. One of his fixes is to eliminate lotteries, which many successful charters must use to pick their student body. But if they didn’t do that, they would be accused of “cherry picking.” Stick this in the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t file.

Diane Ravitch, the reliable union mouthpiece, recently wrote an embarrassing article for The Washington Post, “Charter schools damage public education,” in which she claims that charters “drain resources and the students they want from public schools. When students leave for charters, the public schools must fire teachers, reduce offerings and increase class sizes.”

First of all, charters in many big cities are funded 29 percent less than TPS. And even if Ravitch’s claim was accurate, the response should be that traditional public schools need to do a better job if they want to hold on to their customers.

Which brings us to Los Angeles, where a teachers’ strike is on the horizon. One of the main bones of contention is charter schools. United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl continuously mouths the boiler-plate anti-charter buzz-terms: unaccountable, privately managed, billionaires this, hotbed for privatization that, etc., and the union is demanding to be an equal partner in the charter co-location process. The aforementioned Prop 39 allows charters to co-locate on TPS campuses if there is available space. Traditionally, these decisions have been made without formal union input, for the same reason the fox should not be allowed to hold sway or have any say at all over the henhouse.

At the end of the day, charters typically to do a better job than TPS, and do it for about 70 cents on the dollar. And if they don’t do what they set out to do, they are shut down. Most importantly, parents are flocking to them. Should they not be the ultimate deciders? As U. of Missouri Professor James Shuls writes, “We would never ask the farmers market to prove its tomatoes are bigger and juicier than Walmart’s as a condition of operation.”

We don’t challenge tomato choice, why must we do so for our kids?

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.