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What is “free market” education?

February 11, 2017

You may have caught the story and video of a few people described as parents plus some Black Lives Matter sign holders attempting unsuccessfully to block Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from entering a school in Washington D.C.

If black lives truly matter, why aren’t these people picketing the failing schools in their districts?

The story mentions that some of the protestors were members of the teachers union. One woman reportedly even teaches at a DC charter school. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

The story goes on to note that some DC public schools have begin to climb out of their historical place as some of the nation’s worst schools, but perhaps inadvertently fails to note that the improvement came at about the same time school choice via charter schools and vouchers became available in the District.

So, what’s all the fuss about the new Education Secretary?

The usual liberal mantra is that Secretary DeVos is going to “privatize” schools by diverting public funding from traditional public schools to charter schools.

That misrepresents the Education Secretary’s position on education. In a Spring 2013 interview with Philanthropy Magazine Mrs. DeVos makes it clear that she is not for a one-size-fits-all approach to revamping childhood education, but she does believe charter schools have a significant role.

Since the left never lets fact confuse the issue, perhaps we should find out what charter schools are and more importantly, what they aren’t.

In actual fact, charter schools are simply another form of public school, not exclusive upper income campuses such as the high tuition military academies people often equate with “private” schools. Many charter schools do receive funding through nonprofits in order to provide the physical plant facilities or to offer scholarships to low-income students.

The Center for Education Reform, which  offers some basic FAQs about charter schools and funding, notes that while charter school funding varies by state, nationally it averages approximately 64% of the average amount typically spent per student by  traditional public schools. The rest is up to the individual campus to obtain, and the funds come from a hodgepodge of donations, student fees, government and private-source grants, as well as traditional bank financing to acquire assets such as buildings and equipment.

Secondly, charter schools are not created at the Federal level at this point in time.   Individual states create the legislative framework for them to operate within, and thus they tend to reflect the regulatory environment within which they operate.

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are typically held to contractual standards of performance.  If they fail to meet their contractual obligations they can be and are shut down, usually by a state agency, but sometimes by districts operating under state guidelines.

Since the quality of the education is measured against preset goals, the school may often have a higher standard to meet than public schools.

Charter schools are but one tool available to parents to raise the standards for the education of their children. Vouchers offer essentially the same choice of allowing parents to move their children from a bad public school to one that is performing well, essentially rewarding good public schools and penalizing poor ones.

Additionally, online K-12 programs may offer disabled students, students in extremely rural areas or areas of extreme poverty  that cannot fund good schools a chance at an education equal to that of their more economically advantaged peers. Many are free to attend and fully accredited.  In addition there are reviews available online allowing parents to compare features and successes.

In fact, one of the benefits of school choice is that it can often spur failing public schools to improve their own performance so that parents don’t choose to leave, and that seems to be one of the benefits on display in D.C.

It is hard to understand why parents would object to their children receiving a better education if the means to acquire it is made available to them, usually through some sort of school voucher program.

So, who is complaining and why?

The main opponents seem to be some civil rights groups like BLM and the teachers unions.

In nearly all cases, charter schools do not have labor agreements with the unions. Teachers are hired directly via  annual contracts and are subject to performance reviews to assess their classroom effectiveness.

Grades DO matter in charter schools, meaning that if you are failing and do nothing to try to improve, you may lose your slot. That said, the smaller class sizes allow for more individualized help than can possibly be delivered at the overcrowded public schools.

In addition many require parental involvement with the child’s education that goes beyond the semiannual parent-teacher conferences.

Classroom discipline is usually a hallmark of these schools.  Throw a pop can or a bag full of feces at a teacher there and you are likely to be out on your ear.

They also tend to allow and encourage varying points of view, rather than always adhering to the progressive mantra.

What Secretary DeVos may be going to implement at the Federal level remains to be seen.  So far we have not seen a statement of  department policy, much less implementation standards from her, given that she has held the post less than 48 hours.

Seven states (Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia) do not have charter school legislation, and thus there are no charter schools in those states.

It could be that she will work to be sure that school choice is made available under Federal funding guidelines for those states.  She could also work to standardize academic performance standards, or at least issue guidance that would publicize and rank the performance levels of all charter and online schools nationally.

Whatever her policies turn out to be, you can be absolutely sure that they will be opposed by the usual special interest groups whose interests are definitely not the children they use so callously for political benefit and ignore so often.

From → op-ed

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