Bipartisan agreements could be making education innovators act like standard public schools.
This week, education reformers on both sides of the aisle are banding together to celebrate “National Charter Schools Week” in a bipartisan Kumbaya moment. President Obama issued an official proclamation stating that charter schools “can show what is possible â schools that give every student the chance to prepare for college and career, and to develop a love of learning that lasts a lifetime.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted a simple text picture stating “I support quality charters.”
The comity is so strong the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill Friday. The Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, (H.R. 10), is designed to provide federal funds for successful charter schools to encourage their expansion across the nation.
But before celebrating another expansion of school choice, there should be serious reflection from advocates for innovation in education about the compromises such expansion is requiring.
Charters were conceived as an alternative to underperforming public schools. This allowed educators and entrepreneurs space to create new schools and new teaching models. The fact that education dollars were now allowed to go to schools chosen by parents and children generated competition, better matched students’ interests and needs, and gave teachers the opportunity to exercise their own judgment and be accountable for the results.
Slow to grow at first, charter school enrollment has doubled since 2006. Today more than 2.2 million K-12 students are enrolled in the 6,000 charter schools operating in 42 states and Washington, D.C. across the nation and the District of Columbia. Ninety percent of students in New Orleans, and 43% in Washington, D.C. are educated in charter schools. Enrollment in charter schools could reach 5 million by the end of this decade.
Objective analysis has also found charter schools to be successful, particularly with students from low income backgrounds. In 2013, researchers at Stanford University studied charter schools in 27 states and found that, on average, students in charter schools outperform traditional public school students in reading, and do about the same in math. Students below the poverty line and African-American students were both found to fare better in charter than in public schools when their standardized test scores were disaggregated.
This is the happy story part. But creeping bureaucratization and regulation are endangering the entire charter school movement.
Consider: of the eight schools that applied for charters in Washington, D.C. this year, not one application was less than 200 pages. The longest was more than 700. Creeping paperwork paralysis is one way public schools lost…