The cacophony of parents talking about their great charter school is really disheartening. There is no evidence that charter schools work. And the reason for this is that no one knows how to reform schools effectively and charter schools are schools.
So before you put your child in a charter school, consider this data:
1. Charter schools are not inherently innovative.
There is widespread agreement that public schools don’t work. But charter schools are supposedly different. Except that Fast Company reports charter schools have done little to reform the problems inherent in public schools. “When you look around the country at the charter sector, they’ve been pretty absent from the conversation about innovative school design,” says Matt Candler, founder and CEO of 4.0 Schools, a nonprofit foundation for reform.
We have identified fear of unemployment (of teachers and administrators) as the driving force for decision makers in public education, and the same problem underscores the charter school movement. Candler says the question charter school professionals ask themselves most is, “Is the authorizer going to punish me if this model doesn’t work?'”
2. Charter schools have no record for success.
While public schools that are failing get shut down, there is no such system in place for charter schools. Many charter schools are in the bottom 15% of all schools, but they have no mandate to either get better or shut down. Additionally, extensive government studies find there is no significant difference between fourth graders educated in charter schools and regular public schools.
The most successful charter schools are for young children and are based on a specific teaching philosophy, such as Montessori or Waldorf. However those schools succeed primarily because kids do not need school in the primary grades, and Montessori and Waldorf are based on play more than proscribed learning.
Additionally, those philosophies do not extend beyond grade school. For teens, magnet schools work better than other schools, because kids who specialize perform best as adults. In fact, it’s the specialized schools that routinely churn out the most successful students, but those school options don’t emerge until high school.
3. People with real choices don’t choose charter schools.
Giving people a false sense of choice undermines their whole participation in the system. And historically, the more you can make people feel like they have a choice, the more complacent they will be.
Once you tell yourself that your kids must be in school, you take the choice out of your children’s education. Because school is school. The range of schools is a range of false choices. What do people do who perceive they can choose anything? They take their kids out of school—from NYC, to Hollywood, to Silicon Valley.
The only thing worse than having bad schools is having complacency about bad schools. That’s all our charter system is doing for public education.