Charter Schools: Are We Fooling Ourselves?
Today, The New York Times published a poignant editorial on the inconsistencies between American perceptions of charter schools and the reality. Many arguments for charter schools operate around the premise, or at least theme, of increased agility as compared to traditional public schools. In particular, charter schools, without a web of bureaucracy and regulation, could adapt faster. Underperforming schools could be closed, focusing resources on the charter schools that were able to outperform traditional schools and systems.
In reality, the Times argues, this is not the case. As the rate at which charters up for renewal are shuttered has decreased since 2008, a significant number, 37 percent, a new study shows, are performing worse than their traditional counterparts. The problem is not that charter schools are underperforming; they operate around the idea of innovating quickly, failing quickly, and adapting. The problem is that too many states are either not recognizing when and how they are failing or are too hesitant to deny renewals on underperforming charters.
The Times notes, however, that these figures vary across the country - by district and state.
As someone working to improve efficiency in the way we make decisions about learning opportunities and choices, I’m curious to see a more in depth study on New York charters.
With only 13,000 available charter school seats for the 2011-12 school year, over 64,000 students applied for one of those spots. Since 1999, an average of 11 charter schools have opened a year in New York City. There is certainly no lack of student interest or organizational initiative to create new charters.
Charter schools in New York began to take off in the late 1990s, and while similar to trends around the country, seem to have a unique relationship with New York City. As the financial bedrock of the United States, New York is rife with investment bankers, hedge fund managers, and traders that preach “creative destruction:” the idea that regulation leads to stagnation and that unbridled innovation, while pushing the unfortunate out of the market, is key to economic success. These ideas and arguments parallel many made about charter schools. It’s no surprise that financiers were proclaimed the “New Cheerleaders” of charter schools.
By supporting charter schools, financiers could, without any cognitive dissonance about bureaucracy, become involved in the public education space by fighting unions and advocating an approach that frees the real innovators from encumbering institutions. The public relations bonus, and they need it, is a clear draw too.
So, has New York City, been true to its own innovate fast, fail fast, adapt fast creed? Charter schools, in the past decade, have taken a key role in improving public education. It’s vital that the city’s Department of Education take this to heart and overcome its apprehension about shuttering underperforming charters so it can better manage the reality of charter schools.
-Alex Bargmann, Product Associate