Report Ranks States for Hostility to Parent Choice and Charter Schools
On Tuesday, the Network for Public Education (NPE), a policy group led by well-known school choice opponent Diane Ravitch, published a report grading the states’ education policies. Unlike the ALEC Education Report Card, which grades states on factors like student proficiency, educational choice and teacher freedom, the NPE report marks states highly for union-aligned teacher employment policies and hostility to parent choice.
The report grades charter school sectors negatively unless they have “the same regulations and oversight” as public schools, but this misunderstands the purpose of charter schools. Charter schools are meant to offer an alternative to heavily regulated traditional public schools, where union work rules and seniority pay scales punish the best teachers and prevent them from, to use just a single example, staying after school to help struggling pupils with homework.
If regulating charter schools like traditional public schools helped students succeed, the results coming out of charter schools in Arizona (which gets an F on the NPE report), where state regulators have taken an “only the basics” approach, are puzzling. Charter students in Arizona have not only substantially outscored other students in their state on the latest NAEP tests, but have scored comparably to the much more affluent students in national leader Massachusetts, which spends about twice the per-pupil funds.
Furthermore, contrary to allegations that charter schools “cream” the best students to produce their improved results, charters serve a higher-risk population than their traditional public school counterparts. Although many charter schools choose not to participate in Title I and therefore do not enroll their eligible students in the Free and Reduced Lunch program that researchers use as a proxy for poverty, charter schools still report higher numbers of FRL students than do traditional publics (63 percent compared with 48 percent in the public schools). They also report similar numbers of special education students (about 13 percent for both), and higher numbers of both African-American and Hispanic students than the traditional public schools. The notion that charter schools “cream” the most affluent students from the public schools is not just incorrect; the facts actually suggest the opposite.
Giving parents choices, whether through charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships or education savings accounts has not, as the report claims, hurt public schools. Twenty-two out of 23 studies examining the effect of choice programs on the nearby public schools saw better public school performance due to the competition from choice (the final study showed no impact). When parents choose and schools must earn parents’ confidence and money instead of being automatically awarded both, the result is improved education for students. Claims to the contrary just show how afraid the education establishment is of parents, and how little confidence they have in their own product.