Charter Schools Aren’t Perfect, But They Introduce Some Necessary Competition

Charter Schools Aren’t Perfect, But They Introduce Some Necessary Competition

Arkansas Democrats support a bill to give traditional schools freedoms similar to those of charter schools. But only traditional schools that have to compete.
Rich Cromwell
By

“This is to help our jewels and to help our teachers in the total delivery of education,” says Arkansas state Rep. Reginald Murdock (D-Marianna).

Without Googling, guess what sort of bill Murdock is sponsoring. It’s obviously related to schools or education. Is it about universal pre-K? Or a pitch for smaller class sizes? Whatever he’s proposing, the safe bet is that it’s for increased monies. He’s a Democrat and it’s for the kids. It has to be spending, right?

Wrong.

Murdock was speaking in favor of a bill he sponsored, House Bill 1377, which would give traditional public schools the ability to petition for freedoms from state regulations that charter schools in their district have received. Charter schools are startup public schools that can be run by community organizations or local boards, and which can be and are shut down for poor performance. In exchange, they get freedom from some significant state and federal regulation, such as curriculum and teacher certification mandates.

Surely It’s Those Evil Republicans Pushing Evil Charter Schools

The bill’s sponsors were all Democrats. Nonetheless, the bill passed with bipartisan support. It still has to clear the Senate, but at the moment opposition is invisible. Since the Senate is majority Republican, and Murdock’s sponsorship indicates Democratic support, it appears unlikely opposition will materialize. Assuming passage and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s signature, traditional public schools will get new tools in their arsenal.

People say charters are bad for traditional public schools. Try the facts.

And people say charters are bad for traditional public schools. Try the facts.

Charter schools are oft-misunderstood. For fun, let’s go to the National Education Association’s “Charter Schools 101” for a completely unbiased introduction. From the completely unbiased NEA, we learn that charters tend to hire younger and less-experienced teachers. Moreover, charters’ parent companies aren’t always headquartered in the communities they serve. (For some reason, this qualification isn’t a big concern about health insurance companies, but I digress.)

Then there’s the fact that charters are mostly open-enrollment, but demand often outstrips supply, despite those aforementioned inexperienced youngsters at the front of the classrooms. This often requires the schools to employ a lottery system, which we must assume is used perniciously.

Finally, we find that charters often have weak oversight and limited success at increasing student academics, which explains the high demand and results like these recently published about schools in my neck of the woods.

The NEA Drops Truth about Charter Schools

What’s that? Oh, those open-enrollment charters tend to do a little better than the district at large, even the one focused on the arts. Granted, I’m a tad biased, as my oldest daughter attends one of those schools and my middle daughter starts kindergarten there this fall.

Even though our area has the best school district in the state, the waiting list for those charters continues to expand.

Some aspects of our school are entirely consistent, in a highly literal way, with the NEAs’ findings. The school’s headquarters are in Texas and my oldest daughter’s first-grade teacher is fairly young. She also doesn’t take any guff, runs a tight classroom, and gets results. Maybe her youth provides some extra energy and enthusiasm.

In any case, even though our area has the best school district in the state, the waiting list for those charters continues to expand. In other school districts, charters offer parents even starker choices. Given these results, legislators are now looking to offer some flexibility to traditional schools so they can offer similar programs to their students. Of course, this upsets some people.

Protect the Precious

Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock), for one, is not a fan of Murdock’s proposal. He says the bill could lead to reduced salaries for teachers and thus undo state education funding increases made in response to the 1983 Lake View case. That case found Arkansas’ school funding formula to violate the state constitution’s equal-protection clause. After a few decades of legal battles and a few missed deadlines, the legislature made the required funding changes in 2007. This included funding for salaries.

We can concede that salary is assuredly a form of competition, but successful organizations generally don’t compete by offering lower salaries.

I am not a legal scholar, but I’m not smelling what Walker’s putting down. Lake View found disparities in school funding, not teacher salaries. But the Arkansas Education Association opposes charters, citing teacher salaries as one reason, but teacher salaries are something state funds supply. If there’s one thing we should always remember it’s that won’t somebody please think of the children. We can concede that salary is assuredly a form of competition, but successful organizations generally don’t compete by offering lower salaries.

As such, it seems that we once again see the battle of the bureaucrats against the innovators, of the entrenched powers against the disruptors. This should give those fearful of living in newly minted right-to-work states solace, and highlights the most bizarre aspect of our education system. When the choice is between the gilding the careers of the professionals or freeing those professionals to actually achieve the results laid out for them, the establishment almost always chooses the former. Funny that. It’s almost as though they’re more concerned with their power and salaries than educators’ stated purpose.

Let’s Really Put Kids First

Nah, couldn’t be. Surely the goal is all about education. If it weren’t, would Murdock restrict his bill to districts that include charters and not to the whole state? But he did restrict it.

Charter schools create opportunities. They pressure traditional schools to compete for students, to focus on the best outcomes rather than on the status quo. They create incentives to think about children, rather than about teachers. As such, they are emblazoned with a scarlet target.

But we should relish that target. We should embrace elected officials who gleefully sport the scarlet target and ask why more educators aren’t hoping to affix such a demarcation to their own chests.

Richard Cromwell is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter, @rcromwell4.

Copyright © 2017 The Federalist, a wholly independent division of FDRLST Media, All Rights Reserved.

comments powered by Disqus