Are charter schools good or bad? It’s an interesting question without a clear answer. Below, I’ll sort out some of the conflicting views.

Guilt by Association?

Betsy DeVos, the current secretary of education, is a strong proponent of charter schools. For many — teachers, teachers’ unions and liberals especially — that’s already a strong argument against them.

DeVos does have a certain ability to put her foot in it. Typical articles in opposition to her tenure in the Trump administration have alarming titles like these:

That and delivers somewhat clueless, , is, for many, sufficient reason to follow the major teachers unions in opposing charter schools categorically. But the reality’s a little more complex.

The Briefest Possible History of Charter Schools in America

It’s good to remember that the charter school movement a fiery, progressive reformer—one of several who saw charter schools as a way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America. Charters would make school more accountable to students and parents and would extend the benefits of education to all, particularly those students, largely minorities, attending underfinanced, often chaotic public schools.

Twenty years later, charter schools still had considerable bipartisan support. Campaigning for his first term, Barack Obama promised (with various performance strings attached) to increase federal support of charter schools and, once in office, encouraged various congressional initiatives, especially the Race to the Top Initiative, designed to encourage charter school expansion.

But by 2016, what began as bipartisan support for charters had begun turning into an early instance of the bifurcation of voters into angrily opposing camps. Increasingly, conservatives supported these schools, while liberals opposed them.

President Trump put down a clear marker of conservative ownership of the movement by appointing DeVos as his secretary of education, a billionaire without any sort of professional education credentials and whose intemperate trashings of public schools over a period of several years were well-known.

Then came , where teachers opposed to the expansion of charters faced off against Eli Broad, another billionaire supporter of charters.

For a while it looked as if Broad and his conservative cohorts had won—Broad’s money supported a slate of conservative Board of Education members, which, in turn, appointed a conservative investment banker with no prior education experience as school superintendent.

With that, the teachers took to the streets, with support from a significant number of parents. The outcome, in 2019, was a clear win for teachers opposed to charters: a chastened school board agreed to put a cap on charters in Los Angeles.

By 五星彩票平台官网, charters had become an election topic throughout the country, where nearly all Democratic candidates campaigned against them. When elected, they began carrying out their promises to limit or even freeze charter school expansion. What began as a bipartisan education reform movement had turned into another bitter us-against-them campaign issue.

But Wait — There’s More!

Let’s go back to the beginning. Public schools in America vary widely in quality, the direct result of the connection between school district tax dollars and available education funds. Rich kids who attend public schools in communities like New York’s Scarsdale, where the population is predominantly white and the median income is more than $250,000, get a K-12 education costing more than $25,000 per pupil each year.

In Perlita, Texas, median annual income is just a little over $16,000 and minority students comprise 92% of the student population. Available education funds per pupil each year in Perlita are about a third of the Scarsdale amount. In some states, funding is even more sparse: .

This inequality has vast, obvious consequences. If you’re unlucky enough to live in one of these underfunded school districts and are a caring parent, being able to get your child of out of that underfinanced K-12 school and into a charter—over which you have some measure of control—becomes extremely important.

African Americans themselves are sharply divided over the charter issue, with some fed up with education funding inequalities and strongly supportive and others, deeply suspicious of the alignment of conservative forces and charter schools, seeing it as just one more bait-and-switch avoidance of an equal education for everyone.

In the Best of All Possible Worlds…

The decision to tie education funding in this country to specific school districts was never a great idea. Since the 1970s, as inequality in this country has sharply increased, it’s become a terrible idea. Charter schools are a patchwork attempt to provide parents with some plausible way of getting their kids a decent education.

There are numerous opinions about whether charters do a great job or a terrible job of achieving this goal. In reality, some charters are great, some are so-so, and others are just as bad as the teachers’ unions say they are. But arguing them out of existence is not the answer.

Before most American children can receive a good education, the way public schools are funded has to change. Public schools can do a great job—but only if they’re given the money to do it. Meanwhile, charters will remain a controversial alternative, one, like the K-12 schools they’re designed to replace, that sometimes offers a great education and at other times decidedly not.