Should all schools operate as charter schools?

A school choice supporter holds a sign at a rally at the state Capitol. TAYLOR.CARPENTER@AJC.com

Public policy expert David Osborne believes charter schools are our best hope for meaningful change in education. Yet, he understands many parents are leery of charter schools or confused by them.

His solution: Don’t make every public school a charter, but treat every public school like one.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are freed from many state and local rules and instead follow a contract designed by the school’s founders and leaders. Their freedom and decentralization carry conditions; charters must show academic improvement in a specified time frame or face closing.

Even while the number of charter schools in America grows, it appears skepticism does as well. In the 11th annual edition of a well-regarded poll by Education Next that examines current attitudes toward major issues in K–12 education,  39 percent of respondents this year said they support “the formation of charter schools,” down steeply from 51 percent in 2016.  (One possible cause: The NAACP called for temporary ban on new charter schools, citing concern about accessibility and accountability and diversion of funds from traditional schools.)

“Because charters have become so controversial, we can call these new schools something else,” said Osborne. “Call them innovation, renaissance or partnership schools. But use the same principles as charters.”

Osborne outlines those principles in detail in his new book, “Reinventing America’s Schools.” In Atlanta earlier this week, Osborne said all public schools would benefit by the freedom accorded to charters to set their own course, hire and fire staff and adopt instructional approaches that click for their students. Charters have the agility to pivot from those approaches if they see their kids need a different model; they’re not tethered to central office policies that force all schools to move in lockstep.

Focusing on New Orleans, Washington and Denver, Osborne said those cities have embraced charters and experienced more rapid improvement than other cities as a result. His book builds a case for charters as the best route to transform urban education. (He sees charters as less applicable to rural communities where are too few students to support a range of school choices and where smart young teachers are less likely to relocate.)

Washington witnessed both a thriving charter school movement and profound reforms of its traditional public schools. Osborne notes the district has done everything right with it own schools. “They pay their teachers better than anybody. They have a good evaluation system that weeds out weak teachers and reward strong ones. They have a world-class curriculum and a variety of other innovations,” said Osborne, who is director of the project on Reinventing America’s Schools at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Yet, while those sweeping changes have improved performance among Washington’s middle-class students, Osborne said poor students attending traditional schools still lag. It’s been the charter schools in Washington that have made the most progress with low-income kids. “If you stop and think about it, what good is a world-class curriculum when a kid is three years behind grade level. You have to be able break the mold, and figure out how to get them up grade level,” said Osborne.

The autonomy awarded to charters has to be balanced by true accountability; bad charters must be closed although he prefers that such schools be taken over by proven charter operators rather than return students back to traditional schools that were failing them in the first place, said Osborne.

He argues the accountability piece cannot be left solely in the hands of parents, opposing the push to allow the parent marketplace to serve as the accountability lever rather than academic performance. While he once would have argued that it could be left to parents, Osborne said he realized some parents lack the education to assess whether a school is effective or give the school a pass on academic excellence if their kids are safe and happy.

The main narrative of school reform casts teachers as the linchpin to school success. Osborne said we’ve ignored the influence of school design, assuming there is an immutability to both how schools operate and how they provide instruction. What charter schools have done, he said, is pioneer new design models.

While not all of them have panned out, Osborne said, “We have a lot different models. We should pay attention to the ones that work.”

Reader Comments 0

26 comments
feedback1
feedback1

Opposition to letting parents choose schools comes from the teachers' unions and their media allies, who are concerned more with maintaining union funding of Democrat candidates.

Charter schools are free to fire underperforming teachers. Fewer unionized teachers means less political cash.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@feedback1


Your thinking is off-base.  The charter movement has some political undercurrents, but not as you have assumed to be valid.

blindhog2017
blindhog2017

It appears that one problem will be political push back from parents when the charter contracts come to an end and the agreed upon results have not been met.

By that time parents are comfortable with the school,the kids have made friends and any disruptive change is unwanted.

 It will be interesting to see if the  charter commission and the state entities that deal with the opening and closing of the charter schools will be able to stand up to political pressure and close those that don,t perform.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Excerpt from the last letter to the editor of the New York Times, given in the link, above:


"My state, North Carolina, is one where the underlying philosophy of the G.O.P. is to starve traditional public schools for funds, call them failures for not rising to a bar set only for them, and then take even more funding away to offer “choice.”

LEE BEASLEY
KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C.

The writer is a teacher and president of the Dare County Association of Educators."

Ed Johnson
Ed Johnson

Point: “Focusing on New Orleans, Washington and Denver, Osborne said those cities have embraced charters and experienced more rapid improvement than other cities as a result.” Counterpoint: “The latest School Performance Scores for the state of Louisiana are in. And that makes now a pretty good time to finally come to terms with the fallacy of the miracle in New Orleans.” http://www.theneworleanstribune.com/main/faking-the-grade/

Yma Aubain Berrocal
Yma Aubain Berrocal

Most charter schools are not producing any better results than traditional schools, nor are they closing the achievement gap any better. The best thing parents can do is to be very proactive and vocal with their respective school boards; become an integral part of their school’s decision making process; and stay informed of new policies that impact their child’s learning experience.

Jennifer Kraften
Jennifer Kraften

Many charters have admission requirements and rules (such as parent volunteer hours) that would not be available to traditional public schools. Public schools don’t get to pick their students; charters do.

Sid Chapman
Sid Chapman

Fully fund public schools— fund equally— recruit and retain great teachers ( try treating educators like professionals to start!) Let’s start there— oh— allow teachers to teach!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Moreover, I have written extensively on how to change the instructional design of traditional public schools in order to accommodate the fact that all students will never be on the same exact instructional level for their age groups.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

What I have been writing for years regarding how to improve public schools, as a result of my educational experiences and training:


(1) "Osborne said he realized some parents lack the education to assess whether a school is effective or give the school a pass on academic excellence if their kids are safe and happy."


(2) "Osborne said we’ve ignored the influence of school design, assuming there is an immutability to both how schools operate and how they provide instruction. What charter schools have done, he said, is pioneer new design models."


(3)  " 'If you stop and think about it, what good is a world-class curriculum when a kid is three years behind grade level. You have to be able break the mold, and figure out how to get them up grade level,' said Osborne."

Tom Green
Tom Green

All schools shouldn't be forced into becoming charters in order to cut bureaucratic red tape to free educators to plan, teach and assess. That should be the goal of all legislation and administration.

Laura Jajesnica Bottorff
Laura Jajesnica Bottorff

Choice simply dilutes resources. You have to replicate services unnecessarily (or simply not provide them). Additionally, all of the choices are financed from the same pot of money. All you have accomplished is making everyone's slice of the pie smaller. If you have $40 to feed your family of 4 dinner, and each member goes to their own "choice" of fast food restaurants doting the corners of an intersection, each person gets $10 to eat. But out of each $10/person must come the overhead expenses that are incurred to keep the restaurant open for business. You are now paying for 4 managers, 4 assistant managers, 4 sets of cashiers, 4 maintenance staffers to keep the building/grounds running, etc. Those costs take a bite out of the $10 you started with. And if you happen to have Celiac disease, either all 4 places would have to offer a gluten free menu, or you won't get to eat.

Katrina Bishop
Katrina Bishop

We are 10 years into the Charter rage— are we any better off? What we NEED is to allow professional educators to dictate education. We NEED professional educators to make the rules and quit deeming teachers as enemies. Give the public schools the same flexibility offered to Charters and Privates and see where we go. We NEED to quit writing rules that require money to implement and not attaching funding to the bills. We NEED politics out of education.

Kelly S. Moore
Kelly S. Moore

If you were given the opportunity to choose your clients/ students then you may not allow children of color, children with disabilities, children of low middle class income , etc. into your class. Would you?

Carole Ann
Carole Ann

Kelly S. Moore I’m pretty sure Richard was being sarcastic! IMHO teachers should get paid what they are really worth and charter schools won’t fix that!

Astropig
Astropig

No. Emphatically,no.Not all schools need to be charter schools."One Size" does not fit all,under every conceivable circumstance,everywhere,all the time.Anybody that believes that one solution works for every problem is not a serious person.


Charter schools are doing exactly what they should be doing-putting alternatives out there for motivated parents and students that can access them and doing the innovative work that zip code schools would never do on their own.Too many sacred cows are grazing in the zip code schools meadows for them to try the methods and policies of forward thinking charters,some of which work well,some of which don't.In a word,they are human constructs,run by humans,for humans.They're not perfect,but they are willing to improvise,overcome and adapt-characteristics notably absent with the educrat kingdoms in most big city systems.


Modern day consumers of just about everything have more choices in their lives than they could even dream of just a generation ago-TV,phones,travel,communications,transportation,and the biggie-information...You name it,and the world is in a vastly different place than it was in the 80's,90's and 'aughts.Choice (and choices) abound.I think that we can all agree that these things have made our lives easier to live,more convenient and demonstrably longer.But,it's astonishing to me that some people want fewer choices in secondary education for the kids that probably need it the most.This has a simple explanation-they're selfish and they benefit directly,monetarily,from denying choice to parents.The parents would not choose their system.It's that simple.


Traditional secondary education isn't really that different than it was in 1980-EXCEPT for the explosive growth of charter schools.Not one child has ever been forced to attend a charter school against his/her family's wishes.Not one child,anywhere has been forced to keep attending a failing charter.That's the "satisfaction guarantee" that acts as a magnet for good parents and students and the only sure way for charters to keep growing and thriving.



Robert Muzzillo
Robert Muzzillo

We have school choice now. If you're unhappy with your local school, move near a better school. That is what we did.

Kristin Gorder McMurtrey
Kristin Gorder McMurtrey

Not everyone has that choice. What if we wanted to guarantee quality public schools to everyone? What does America not want to let go of to reach for that?

MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger
MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger

Here in Indianapolis, the central city district Indianapolis Public Schools is rapidly following his advice, turning school after school into "innovation" schools over the last two years. They claim success by pointing to rapid improvements in state A-F grades, while failing to mention that the state grades were based on growth only in the new configuration (because the state agreed to consider these as "new" schools) versus both growth and test score pass rates in prior years. They only admitted that important fact after education advocates and then journalists explained the difference. Did Mr. Osborne use IPS as an example when he visited Atlanta?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Yes. he talked about what Indianapolis. His book focuses on New Orleans, Washington and Denver, but he discusses what other districts are doing including Hall County, Ga.

Another comment
Another comment

We need to get rid of these 100,000 student districts. What we need are local one high school large districts.