I’ve waited a very long time before writing about charters. Not sure why so long, maybe hoping for a non-conspiratory epiphany to my question, “Why Charter Schools?”. I continue to grapple with the concept. Actually, I guess what I want to understand is why charters were even allowed in the first place. No. Even that’s not my question. My question is, if they (you know who “they” are) really thought the charter concept could improve education, why not simply reform traditional public schools by adopting the perceived advantages offered by the charter concept. The questionable assumption long past debate is that our education system was not producing higher scores on international tests. It still isn’t as of 2012 and that after 20 years of reform. Most research finds that charter schools and traditional public schools perform similarly. Another assumption, more verifiable, is that an education gap exists between children of less affluent families and those of more affluent families. Back to the question. What if we look at each perceived advantage and consider whether it could have been readily adopted by traditional public schools.
- Operational autonomy: state and district waivers from procedural and administrative requirements such as staffing, curriculum, instructional approach, finances, length of the school day/year, discipline, etc. Wouldn’t this be great? Maybe even no common core.
- More innovative and flexible (an obvious result of operational autonomy in general).
- Create a unique school culture. Already being done to some degree or more by the majority of traditional public schools.
- Parental choice (eliminate geographical boundaries). Combined with unique school culture, every public school could be a type magnet school.
- Create a competitive environment among schools (not sure why this is considered an advantage but would be unavoidable).
- Increase opportunity for poor kids and children of color. Costly yet doable. Charters haven’t lived up to the promise.
- Less expensive. Not really when adjusted for services not performed; teacher unions, tenure, longevity, credentials, longer hours and turnover; selective enrollment; backfill policies; and donations (does the Gates fund contribute to poorer public schools?).
- Few or no unions. Probably not doable. Probably not advisable given that states without teacher collective bargaining laws tend to have lower levels of student achievement. Stronger teacher union states tend to have adequate overall funding levels. Stronger teacher union states tend to have fairer funding distributions. Stronger teacher union states tend to have more competitive teacher wages.
- No tenure. Obviously doable and in my opinion, advisable. However, concurrent with the elimination of tenure I believe that all teachers should be entitled to a presumption of continuous employment and dismissal only by due process. What I would add is a requirement for some form of profession self-regulatory body similar to the American Bar Association for lawyers and the American Medical Association for physicians.
- Smaller school/class size. Both tend to enhance student performance and are very doable but costly.
- No credentials needed. Ridiculous. If teaching is a true profession, which I believe it to be, there must be a right of passage and periodic recertification.
Another silly question: Once a district has converted to 100% charter schools are those schools now traditional public schools?