Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Do You Favor Charter Schools? Why Are We Still Asking?

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Do You Favor Charter Schools? Why Are We Still Asking?

Article excerpt

That's the wrong question. Instead we should ask why we allow deep inequities to persist.

When we tell people that we work in education--one of us as a superintendent and the other as a professor--charter schools often emerge in the discussion. After the usual opening chitchat, the conversation shifts to the unsettling state of city schools. As Margaret Raymond's article (2014) illustrated, the charter school debate is heated, polarized, ideological, and strays far from evidence on charter school quality.

Our answer? We support good schools for all kids. We believe we can learn much from the charter school experiment. But charter schools are no silver bullet for what ails American public education.

Lax oversight

Charter school research is inconclusive. Most studies show that simply being a charter school is no guarantee of quality. Examples abound of charter schools with poor financial management, outright theft by administrators, inadequate facilities, and incompetent teachers. But there are also excellent charters producing good outcomes among the most disadvantaged populations who have been ill-served by the traditional system.

Charter schools were designed as a resource for traditional schools, but they've become a thorn in the side of school districts. They've siphoned off precious resources, increased workloads for already overburdened districts tasked with approving and overseeing charters in addition to improving their own schools. Not surprisingly, oversight is lax. Into this vacuum, ill-prepared administrators and fly-by-night charter operators have set up camp. Without a strong system of checks and balances, financial mismanagement and poor educational practice can and do occur. Strong oversight is essential to any system; without it abuses will occur.

Limiting bureaucracy

Charter school advocates argue that bureaucracy weighs down traditional public schools. Cut free, the argument goes, school leaders and teachers will have the autonomy necessary to innovate and improve. Here, perhaps, we can learn from charter schools.

Size matters. As one teacher at a high-performing Philadelphia charter school said, "The thing about a charter school is that if you want to make a change, it's easier to do because it's one little entity . …

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