American Elephants

Charter Schools Work. Improve Student Outcomes. by The Elephant's Child

Last Thursday night, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was invited to speak to students, faculty and others who were gathered at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “Shouts. Interruptions, Orchestrated chanting.” as AEI notes, were “the predictable convulsions of this contemporary university when a conservative comes to town.” Ms. DeVos spoke thoughtfully about “how school choice empowers families, creates room for healthy diversity and is wholly consistent with the historic aims of public education.”

We can rethink school. And, I posit, we do that by embracing the future of education as one that fully integrates “choice” into every decision we make. Not choice translated as vouchers, or charter schools, or private schools, or any other specified delivery mechanism. No. Choice translated as giving every parent in this great land more control, more of a say in their child’s future. More choices. The future of choice lies in trusting and empowering parents — all parents, not just those who have the power, prestige, or financial wherewithal to make choices.

The definition of public education should be to educate the public. That’s why we should fight less about the word that comes before “school.” I suspect all of you here at Harvard, a private school, will take your education and contribute to the public good. When you chose to attend Harvard, did anyone suggest you were against public universities? No, you and your family sat down and figured out which education environment would be the best fit for you. . . . Instead of dividing the public when it comes to education, the focus should be on the ends, not the means.

The first charter school opened in St. Paul, Minn. Twenty five years later there are 7000, successfully serving students. Charter schools are public schools. After four years in a charter, urban students learn about 50% more a year than similar students in a traditional school. New Orleans will be 100% charters next year, is the most improved and improving city in the country. Test scores, graduation rates, college attendance, all up. dropout rates down. In New Orleans, more than 80% of their students are African American. New Orleans became the first city to outperform the overall state.

Washington D.C.’s 120 charter schools educates 46% of public school students. As in New Orleans, the board promptly closes charters in which kids are falling behind, while they encourage the best to expand more new schools.

The American cities that have most improved student outcomes are those with charter schools. Denver has improved notably, New Jersey is hiring charter operators in Camden. Memphis has embraced charters and Massachusetts has created an “empowerment zone partnership” that  has its own nonprofit board much like charters. Bureaucracies, like people, age and get set in their ways, unable to innovate, and just try to wait for a magical cure. It sometimes takes far too long for recognition that things are stagnant and no longer working. Teachers unions hate charters, because most are not unionized. But successful students have a louder and more important voice.

What the Harvard juveniles thought they were protesting remains a mystery. The signs said “White supremacy,” but they were protesting the wrong speaker for that.

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