Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Weak Defense Of Charter Schools

Charter schools are losing public support.  The editors of Bloomberg made a weak defense of them.
Some charter schools are performing better than some public schools, especially in urban areas with underperforming public schools.  Some are not doing better.  Especially, for -profit charter schools that are favored by Trump's Secretary of Education.

What is ridiculous about this defense is that it is meaningless to point out that some have been successful and that the primary opposition comes from teacher unions.  There is no magic recipe for charter schools that succeed.  Nor is there an explanation for charters that have failed.  We can say the same thing about public schools.  Some do very well and other do not.  When we try to understand the difference between successful public schools and low performing schools there is no clear explanation.  Its hard to separate what is delivered by the teachers and the many social factors which are at work in particular schools.  One of the factors that have contributed to the success of some charter schools is that parents are given the opportunity to select a charter school for their children.  Highly motivated parents are a contributing factor to success in any school.

The bottom line is that it is pointless to talk about the advantages of charter schools or the failures of some public schools.  Neither of them are well defined.  Is there any reason to expect that charter schools will provide superior administration or superior teachers than public schools at the same or less expense?  Some charter schools attract motivated teachers but the turnover is very high because the work is hard and they are not paid very well.  The same criticism can be made of charter school administrators.  Why should they be able to attract and retain top performers?  There is no discussion about these important variables.  The implication is there is a systemic failure in some public schools that is only explained by the fact that they are bound by rules that may not apply to charters, and that they are stuck with poor performing teachers that have been awarded tenure and are protected by unions.  That leaves us with no explanation for the success of high performing public schools.  I normally do not read any articles about the pros and cons of public and non-public schools in the press.  There is little helpful detail and a lot of garbage.  Its a lot easier to explain why Alabama and Ohio State have good football teams.  They have highly paid coaches who are also good recruiters.  Teams with excellent coaches and top recruits are bound to be successful.  Its also easy to keep score of the performance of their teams.  We don't know why some charters succeed and others fail.  We also don't have a real good way to measure their results.

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