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Will America vote for failure again?

August 29, 2016

In this election, a lot of ink and hot air is being expended to defend existing old and ineffective programs.

One particularly threadbare talking point is to pour even more money into the public school system.

That’s a very popular theme with Democrats, but it’s running on shorter and shorter legs.

Nevertheless, the left (and some on the right as well) nearly had a collective stroke when Donald Trump pointed out that Hillary Clinton and some of her traditional backers are against improving educational outcomes through the use of school choice.

Unfortunately , that appears to be true.

With that in mind, this next example calls into sharp focus why people supporting Donald Trump think that nothing will change in a Hillary Clinton administration.

Although it isn’t quite the breaking news your favorite national news personality would have you believe, the NAACP has come out against allowing any more charter schools to be formed.

Charter schools are often portrayed as the backbone of the school choice movement.

Why would the NAACP or any other group be against allowing different and in many cases better school alternatives (relative to traditional public schools) for any kid of any color?

What exactly is it about public charter schools (which are privately managed)  that makes them a danger to any student?

Incidentally, note the phrase “public charter schools”.  These schools are not super-elite high-tuition private academies, nor are they religious schools.

The NAACP has stated that these schools contribute to segregation, get away with doing it because there is no government oversight, and also take money out of the traditional public school system.

On the contrary, charter schools are specifically forbidden to discriminate on admissions and are subject to the same civil rights law as is any public school.

Taking just those talking points in order, what about the  demographics of these schools?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) states that charter schools have generally followed the same racial trends as traditional public schools between 2004 and 2014, as follows:

“Between school years 2003–04 and 2013–14, charter schools experienced changes in their demographic composition similar to those seen at traditional public schools. The percentage of charter school students who were Hispanic increased (from 21 to 30 percent), as did the percentage who were Asian/Pacific Islander (from 3 to 4 percent). In contrast, the percentage of charter school students who were White decreased from 42 to 35 percent. The percentages decreased for Black (from 32 to 27 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native (from 2 to 1 percent) charter school students as well. Data were collected for charter school students of Two or more races beginning in 2009–10. Students of Two or more races accounted for 3 percent of the charter school population in 2013–14.”

That would seem to contradict the claim that these schools are any more or less segregated than other schools.

What about oversight?

The same source (NCES) states that these schools have a charter that must be approved by  a state or jurisdiction. While they may be exempted from some regulations, particularly regarding  staffing , they must prove that they meet the terms of their charter periodically, and their charters can be and have been revoked if they fail to meet the terms of the charter.

There is an association that issues guidance for authorizers, i..e the chartering authority in states and districts although it stops short of having national legislative authority.

Remember, these are still taxpayer funded schools. They may be run by  non-profit (87%) or for-profit(13%) companies.  They all are run through a management structure that is independent from the local school boards.

They do not take Federal money from the students remaining in the traditional public schools, because that funding follows the student.  What they “take” is the funding that applies to the transferring student. It has the same effect financially that it would if the student moved out of the local district or dropped out of school.

Another subjective complaint is that they use “harsher disciplinary methods”  leading some states to call for lowered academic and behavioral standards.   Given that in some traditional public schools there are virtually NO enforced disciplinary procedures, it seems likely that just having to follow rules and meet academic standards might be deemed to be harsher.

Also, many charter schools have a policy requiring parental involvement. Although the level and extent may vary from school to school, parents are usually held accountable for seeing to it that their child follows the lesson plans and actually attends the school each day. Parents of failing students are expected to meet with the school and take steps to participate in assuring the child’s success.

For parents who are used to using school simply as a place to stash their kids for a few hours each day, that would seem harsh.

One of the anecdotal measures of the success of these schools is that most have a waiting list of students and parents hoping to be able to attend.

Unlike traditional public schools, charters only have a set number of spaces, allowing for smaller class sizes and presumably better teacher-student interaction.

A reasonably recent study conducted  by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, reportedly  found that charter schools do a better job of educating low-income, minority and ESL students than traditional public schools.

If you take the NAACP’s part in this discussion, you then have to ask what is so great about traditional public schools?

If you judge them by their ability to graduate 90-plus percent of the kids with an education sufficient to either go on to higher education or at least get a meaningful job, the answer is “not much.”

One complaint about charter schools is that they kick the underperforming kids out and drop them back in the laps of the traditional public schools.

That may well be true.  But if the traditional schools just let them quit school as soon as they legally can,  it’s hard to see how the public schools are serving them better than a charter school.

Some states have dropout rates for low-income students over 40% (Alaska and Washington D.C.). You can’t educate a child who isn’t there.

The United States spends more per capita on each K-12 student ($12,296) than almost any other nation on the planet, and still only manages to achieve about an 80% high school graduation rate nationally.

What about charter schools? There doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive single study of the success of charter schools nationally. There are however, over a dozen state and regional surveys and reports such as the Stanford University report referenced earlier in this post that indicate that the results are indeed superior to traditional schools.

Certain reports such as this one reported on by Forbes indicates that charter students have higher “go-on” college enrollment rates, by 7 to 11%.

If you examine the NAACP’s position, you have to ask why an organization that says it is for the advancement of colored people would object to having better educational alternatives for their kids.

Surely the answer can’t be more money. If a child can’t be educated to a functioning level for more than $12,000 a year, it’s unlikely that adding more money will get the job done.

The answer actually seems to be “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” In 2016 America, that simply isn’t good enough anymore.

And that may explain better than anything else why liberals and establishment conservatives alike hate and fear Donald Trump.  Whatever else it is, his campaign is all about changing the status quo.

From → op-ed

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