If you want to kill a good idea just set impossible conditions for its success and it will die trying to meet them. That’s the apparent strategy behind the resolution adopted by the National Association of Colored People this fall calling for a moratorium on public charter schools until the following four conditions are met:
(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools
(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system
(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and
(4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.
These conditions are either unprovable, subjective or baseless so the call for a moratorium is essentially a call for no new charter schools until the NAACP changes its mind. It’s like some accountability opponents who insist they are not against testing but simply want “valid, reliable” tests, and then go on to argue that every existing test falls short of this “reasonable” standard.
Consider the conditions one at a time.
Are transparency and accountability standards different for charters than for traditional public schools? Charters and traditional public schools are both subject to the same open meetings laws and financial and academic reporting requirements.
Both public charter schools and traditional public schools are required to administer the same standardized tests and meet the same performance goals. And charter schools are closed down more frequently than traditional public schools.
When families are provided quality, accessible, and easily-digestible information about charter schools, charters also face organic accountability from parents seeking the best options for their children. They just leave.
In practice, many charter schools may face less scrutiny than traditional public school systems because the public and the media don’t regularly attend their board meetings, but the laws apply equally. Charter schools are also held accountable by their authorizers who, in a quality environment, are similarly watched and held accountable by an oversight body.
The second requirement is silly on the face of it. Charter schools are public schools and in our system of public education, most of the money follows the child. If a child switches from a neighborhood school to a magnet school, to another traditional public school, or if the child’s family moves to another school district, the school loses some funding tied to that child.
It’s no different for charters. Traditional public schools are not entitled to keep money dedicated to a child’s education simply by virtue of the the child’s address. Parents vote with their feet and the money follows the child. When school enrollment declines, for whatever reason, the system must adjust.
It’s important to note that, despite the fact that money should follow the child, charters get approximately one third less funding than traditional public schools. They’re typically provided only a portion of the per-pupil expenditure and have less access to facilities funding.
Regarding, the third issue, there is some data showing higher suspension and expulsion rates among some charter schools, but there are also places like D.C. and New Orleans offering positive alternatives to suspension and expulsion. Traditional public schools invented zero discipline policies and are plenty guilty of suspending and expelling students. Blanket condemnation of the entire charter sector is both unfair and false.
And let’s also remember that some charters, like some traditional schools, may not be right for some kids, but that’s a decision for the parent and the school to make together. If charter schools are systematically pushing kids out, authorizers should hold them accountable.
The fourth issue is especially hard to pin down. The NAACP implies that charters are “creaming” — screening out low-performing students in order to boost their overall test scores. Here again there may be anecdotes, but there is no data supporting this claim, and therefore no ability for the charter sector to “meet” this expectation.
What are the facts about creaming and what would satisfy the NAACP? Nobody knows. What we do know is that when applicants exceed the number of seats, charters hold a lottery and accept all kids who are selected. Magnet schools and gifted programs, which are in many traditional school systems, openly screen for higher-performing students. Is the NAACP okay with that?
In the end, quality must count most
None of the NAACP’s four conditions have anything to do with educational quality, which is, after all, the core reason we have charters. Parents want better educational options for their kids. Studies show that many charters, especially in urban areas, are doing very well and the best of them are closing achievement gaps.
Parents have a right to choose the school that best meets their child’s educational needs. People with money choose private schools or move to expensive communities with better schools. Charters empower low-income parents to make the same choice.
Public charter schools aren’t perfect and they need some oversight. But the NAACP’s four conditions fail the “reasonable” test and their moratorium will effectively take away a parent’s right to choice from the very people the organization exists to serve.A