Charters: The Center Won’t Hold

I’m pleased to see more articles agreeing with my assertion that ed reform as we know it may be over.

But as I mentioned in the previous piece, charters live! Choice is good! Even the Trumpster, who clearly doesn’t much care, offers up choice like puppy chow and–wisely–using it in his appeals to black voters, as a contrast to Hillary’s doubling down on teacher unions.

Why, in the face of so much rejection, do charters still have such great numbers?1

I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around to corrupt their little tigers, much less black or Hispanic. (White parents don’t really want too many Asians around, either, but that’s the opposite of the “bad kids” problem.)

Parents don’t care much about teacher quality. They care a lot about peer group quality.

They are right to worry. Before I became a teacher, I’d read other teachers talk about how just a few kids can really disrupt a classroom, moving management from a no-brainer to the primary focus of the day. Now I am one of those teachers. I’ve worked in several schools in which the overwhelming presence of low income students who didn’t care about their grades has utterly removed the “stigma of an F” from the entire population, causing panic in the upper middle income white parents who can’t quite afford private school yet live in a district that worries about lawsuits if they track by ability. Their kids, particularly the boy kids, start to adopt this opinion, and white failure rates start rising.

So charters become a way for parents to sculpt their school environments. White parents stuck in majority/minority districts start progressive charters that brag about their minority population but are really a way to keep the brown kids limited to the well-behaved ones. Low income black and Hispanic parents want safe schools. Many of them apply for charter school lotteries because they know charters can kick out the “bad kids” without fear of lawsuits. But they still blame the “bad kids”, not the teachers, which is why they might send their kids to charter schools while still ejecting Adrian Fenty for Michelle Rhee’s sins.

As I’ve mentioned before, education reformers are now pushing suburban charters with strong academic focus, which are nothing more than tracking for parents who can’t get their public schools to do it for them.

I really can’t stress this point enough: charters have succeeded because of their ability to control students, not teachers. 1

Most people disagree with me on the purpose of public education. The entire discourse of education reform begins with the conceit that public education is offered to parents instead of taxpayers. I think we need to do more to support parenting, particularly in two couple, employed families, but public education is what we do to try, at least, to ensure that the subsequent generation is functional, while minimizing the impact on taxpayers.

Ultimately, charters will be bad for taxpayers. Yes, yes. I know that right now, they’re cheaper than public schools, because they use a lot of philanthropist dollars and teach cheaper students. They also save money by using and discarding new teachers, so salaries stay low. Many charters use the same pay scale as the local district, despite all their talk of merit pay.

But bet on charter teachers unionizing, despite best efforts to stop the efforts. Along with LA, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia and other cities, more charter schools are organizing. It’s going to be very difficult to stop charters from unionizing. What do charters offer? Maybe more pay if the principal likes you. But definitely longer hours. Moreover, if a charter school is short on teachers, it can just take away preps, add more classes to schedules without being the need for more pay. It’s no surprise that the charter union movement starts in urban environments. But it will spread, almost certainly.

And over time, charters will almost certainly be forced to provide more access, take more students who require mainstreaming, face legal action over expulsions. All the perks they now have will slowly siphon away, particularly in those areas that achieve their dream of total charter domination. Just ask the charter advocates in New Orleans, the first all-charter city. At first, charters were able to reject special ed students, or counsel them out. But a major lawsuit has set up some specialized schools and also required more of charters. Expulsions are down, too, once the process became centralized. More and more, New Orleans is facing questions about its “opportunity youth” (aka dropouts) and whether an entirely charter district makes it easier to lose track of students.

Charters simply can’t scale. Their success relies on traditional public schools picking up the slack. But their proponents are determined to kill those traditional public schools.

So urban public schools will continue to bleed the strongest students to charters, but will still face the higher costs associated with the most expensive students and the salaries that come along with teachers who stay put, rather than leave after a couple years. States will continue to foot the bill for both charters and district schools. So a state has X kids that used to be covered by A schools, B teachers, and C administrators. Now, the state will still have X kids, but M new schools, which means that B and C go up as well. Right now, some of those costs are covered by philanthropists, but that will change. Right now, some of those teachers are cheaper, but that will change. (The administrators get paid more than district schools.) Busing kids to their “choice” schools will cost more money if choice is required.

The lawsuits on special ed access and expulsions will continue. Data tracking on dropouts and “lost” kids will improve. Ultimately, the abuses will be curbed. And of course, despite carefully massaged talk about improved test scores, the public will realize that black and Hispanic kids are still doing poorly on college admissions tests.

All choice won’t offer any cost or quality improvements unless a) teachers are banned from unionizing, b) parents and advocacy organizations are barred from lawsuits, and c) schools are allowed to let unmotivated, low-skill kids drop out.

Yeah, good luck with that.

New Orleans is a decent indicator of the future “all-charter” paradise. Once all the schools are charters, the charters are forced to acknowledge that their secret was “better” students, not “better” teachers. Autonomy, decentralization, higher standards, parental contact, “firing bad teachers”–none of those close the achievement gap.

In fact, “bad schools” exist because black and Hispanic kids, on average, get lower scores than white and Asian kids for reasons that don’t involve superior teachers or even superior parents, for reasons that have thus far remained unrelentingly resistant to change. Kids with lower scores, regardless of race, are harder to teach and less interested in education, on average, and more likely to disrupt classes. Therefore, schools with disproportionately black or Hispanic kids are going to have lower scores and more disruptive classrooms.

While the low test score problem isn’t, as yet, fixable, the disruptive student problem is a different story. That’s the problem that charters actually address, while bragging about improving test scores, which they don’t (in any meaningful way).

The entire charter narrative is written by people who realized that public policy wants to ignore reality. The policy makers are pretending that schools can be improved. Charters allow them that pretense.

Meanwhile, the parents are intent on improving their childrens’ peer groups, and, if they can’t afford to use private schools or geography to achieve this aim, they’ll grab happily at charters, even though most are aware that the policy makers are hyping false promises.

One way or another, I don’t see the center holding. I think the end of ed reform will tilt the balance of power to public schools. But if it tilts the other way, if more cities follow New Orleans to all charters, then I expect things to get much more expensive, teacher scarcity to become even more of an issue, and a greater willingness to let kids fall through the cracks.

I’m really fine with being wrong, though.

1This chunk of text through the second subscript was originally written as part of my response on the CTU strike, almost four years ago. The post is prescient, I dare say, in that I was starting to see the failure of the reform movement. But the second half of the post has nothing to do with the strike and is one I refer back to often. But I can never remember where I put it. So since it’s a slow month, I’m giving it its own post with some extra thoughts at the beginning and end.


About educationrealist

59 responses to “Charters: The Center Won’t Hold

  • AMSG

    I don’t understand the “greater willingness to let kids fall through the cracks.” part. It’s my understanding that teachers have little to no effect on student outcomes, and that IQ is the strongest determinant of outcome. So low-IQ students ought to be encouraged to stop wasting time in school past a certain point and start focusing on getting a job, no?

    To put it another way, saying the students fell threw the cracks makes it sound like the system failed them. And in a way, it did- the expectations and goals of the education system for them are utter fantasy. But is it not when the students have slipped through the cracks that we’ve actually just realigned them to reality?

    • educationrealist

      No, because the data shows that two kids, abilities held constant, do better with a high school diploma.

      Ideally, we’d help the kids learn more while in high school, even if it’s not high school level work. that’s what my second ed policy proposal is. But even if all they do is stick in school and try to apply their brain, data says they are better off.

      • Purple Tortoise

        An alternative possibility is that high school adds little of value, but a student who has the discipline to stay in high school also has the discipline to stick with a job compared to the undisciplined student who can’t stick with high school or a job.

      • educationrealist

        You mean the high school adds little “value add” in the way of test scores–that is, not any more or less than any other school–and yes, that’s my take, too. But simply by convincing the kid to stay in and comply and work in some way puts him in a better bucket.

      • Purple Tortoise

        Perhaps the high school diploma merely signals the possession of sufficient discipline to engage in boring tasks all day long even if absolutely nothing is learned. If so, why not develop a different sort of signalling mechanism that is cheaper in terms of time and money than four years of high school? Or provide more useful job and life training to low-ability students in high school?

      • educationrealist

        Wow, it’s as if I’d never thought of that.

      • Roger Sweeny

        I’m sure you’ve had thoughts about that. I know I have. But I’ve never really been able to go anywhere with them. What would this “different sort of signalling mechanism” be? How would we get to it? What would this “more useful job and life training” be? How would we get to it?

        You sorta kinda touched on some of these things in Education Policy Proposal #2: Stop Kneecapping High Schools but I’d love to see flat out answers (if there are any) to those 4 questions.

      • J Oliver

        It is a collective action problem. If they all dropped out of school at 16 it would not be a problem, but some do they end up at a disadvantage.

      • educationrealist

        That’s ridiculous. It is a problem.

    • Hattie

      “So low-IQ students ought to be encouraged to stop wasting time in school past a certain point and start focusing on getting a job, no?”


      It would destroy the labour market. Yes, immigration depresses wages, but what precisely do you think having a bunch of 16 (15? 14? just what does “a certain point” actually mean?) will do to wages? The whole reason child labour laws were introduced was to stop employers from being able to hire some teenager/child rather than mechanising or paying higher wages to someone who needed to support a family.

      If you mean that third level isn’t for everyone, fine. But let’s stop pretending that letting people drop out of high school is anything other than a disaster.

  • surfer

    I want choice. Even a limited one. Charters give me some of that. If it screws the public schools, so what. I’m not trying to milk my hours to collect a teacher pension…

  • Andrew

    Charter/ Voucher “choice” is a double-edged sword: sure, it gives some motivated families an option to enroll in a school with a more controlled (better) peer group, BUT it often kills the charter or private school receiving these new students.

    I’ve personally witnessed this three times with my own kids. As parents, we of course wanted a safe school with a good peer group, but living in an urban area, the regular public schools were not an option (let me say now that “teacher quality” was NEVER an issue). So we chose the nearest parochial (Lutheran) school that seemed to offer a decent education and had a good environment. Shortly after our kids started there, vouchers became available that paid nearly the entire cost of tuition, and the influx of kids from the public schools quickly degraded the academic and social qualities of the school. Classroom discipline now became a major drag on teachers’ time, and the academics suffered due to ill-prepared, ill-mannered kids who now made up a significant portion of the student body. Over the next year or two, the people who had long been a part of the school started removing their children because of weakening standards (it’s October and you’re STILL reviewing from last year??) and discipline problems. The new kids were often bullies, and our kids weren’t used to the rough behavior. In the fourth grade, my son’s best friend transferred out after he was assaulted and the administration did almost nothing (so as not to lose all that voucher $$). Many other families soon followed suit, so that the school was essentially became a public school, with the same environment & standards. We left at the end of that year, when a new charter school opened up across town.

    The new charted was very promising; it claimed that it would keep standards high, require participation from families, have a focus on character, and so on. And in the beginning, it WAS very good – the instruction was rigorous, the teachers were strict but fair and encouraging, and my children (as usual) did very well and enjoyed their new school. But the administration came under pressure, accused of holding standards that were “too hard” on some families. The very able principal quit at the end of the first year and the GYM TEACHER became principal. The slow descent into public-school-like environment was obvious to all of us. We saw good teachers leave, other teachers being abused under terrible working conditions, the administration siding with poorly-behaving students, and again, weakening academic standards and an increasing focus on attempting to maintain discipline. After the third year, we again had to transfer our three kids out and into a totally private school that did not (at that time) accept vouchers. Although we really couldn’t afford it, we felt we had no choice – I wasn’t going to make my kids suffer in the chaotic environment it had become.

    The private school was like an oasis – orderly, disciplined, well-spoken and behaved children, and featured strong academics along with solid Christian theology. But then along came state vouchers (to which we were not entitled due to where we resided) that covered practically the entire tuition. So again, a huge influx of public school students from the nearby inner-ring suburb. Now while these students weren’t as bad as the ones from the inner city, they still had a drastic effect on the climate of the school. The original sense of order and rigor of instruction faded away, to where the school is better that an urban public school, but it’s no longer the special place it once was. Many of the good administrators left, some good teachers were “not asked to return,” and the place just doesn’t seem the same as when we attended the first open house and decided it was the place for our children.

    • educationrealist

      Sorry I’m late to answering this. But yes, I think vouchers are goinig to be rejected by many private schools. Not catholic schools, though. The Catholic schools have been severely damaged by charters.

      Vouchers are of two varieties: one, specifically designed for low income people (read blacks and Hispanics) and two, the kind for whites who were going to send their kids to private schools anyway.

      For the first, since most private schools won’t want to accept all comers, you see private schools created solely to collect voucher money, just as there are charters set up solely to collect the money that comes with students now.

      The second, I find really offensive. Why not just make private school tax deductible?

  • Andrew

    Sorry for the typos – I should have read it one more time before hitting “Post Comment,” and there’s no editing here…

  • Mark Roulo

    “When parents are choosing a school, they are not only choosing a principal, a school facility, and a faculty. They are also choosing classmates — and potential friends — for their child. Our study suggests that it may be this aspect of school choice — the choice of a peer group — that may be the most important, and that parents should keep this in mind when selecting a school for their child.”
         –“Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform has Failed and What Parents Need to Do”, Laurence Steinberg (p155)

    My belief is that there will be a constant game of hide-and-seek between the parents that (a) want their kids to be in a learning environment that works (clean, quiet, non-violent, peer group trying to learn), but also (b) cannot/won’t pay for private school AND the folks who want these kids mixed in with kids who disrupt the learning and/or are violent.

    Charter schools (and maybe vouchers) are today’s escape tactic. When they stop working, the parents will move on to something else.

    We could put the kids who won’t play nice somewhere with other kids who won’t play nice (I think Ed has suggested this in the past?) … but we won’t, so the game of escape-and-capture will continue to play out.

    • educationrealist

      Yes, I have suggested this or even been quite explicit! I think what we call charter schools should not be used to skim, but to feed off “the bottom”–that is, the kids who don’t show motivation for school. Doesn’t have to be a dumping ground. Look for innovative ways to turn kids around, but also be pretty ruthless to the kids who don’t behave.

  • momof4

    Having lived in an area with a decades-long SES-integration program, which moved poor – disproportionately black and Hispanic – families from the inner city to affluent, highly-educated suburban areas, my observation is that race/ethnic status is not the reason those who can afford to rent or buy, at market values, object to these projects. The issues are dysfunctional behaviors (general deportment, adequate supervision of kids, “multi-partner fertility”, substance abuse, criminal acts, starting with vandalism etc), attitudes toward education and academic performance. Their impact on neighborhoods and schools was frequently immediate and negative.

    The stated rationale for such projects is to uplift the newcomers, with the “regular” residents providing examples of desired behaviors and taking advantage of higher academic offerings. It doesn’t seem to occur to those supporters that the reverse is at least as likely – and in my observation, more likely – to occur. The black and Hispanic families of my acquaintance found their kids teased, bullied, called “oreos’ and “sellouts” by those like-race newcomers who forcibly rejected any ideas of adopting middle-class norms, behaviors and educational aspirations. Several had kids picking up dysfunctional behaviors to the point that parents put them in private schools (which were at least as “diverse” as the public ones, but with stable families who demanded appropriate behavior and academic success). The saying about a few bad apples spoiling the whole barrel comes to mind. The white and Asian kids were likely to be ignored by the newcomers. I was able to see the impact of this program on my kids’ friends. listened to the serious concerns of their parents and seen the kids’ return to their previous, desirable behaviors when they were removed from bad influences. Naturally, the County admins did not live in affected neighborhoods and their kids did not attend affected schools.

  • ricardo

    The Marxist types want to destroy the schools, always have, and so mix behavior problem kids in until they overpower the rest along with lectures on how capitalism is evil, the middle class is evil, and the US founders hypocrites.

    The one thing they always oppose is schools specializing in bettering the social problem kids. I’ve seen several attempts in my city to create charter fundamental schools to help SPED/behavior problem kids torpedoed with arbitrary paperwork fails and the like by bureaucrats. They then complain charters live off the cream of students.

    Charters are not a magic wand, but a combination of choice and purging these Cold War leftovers in our education system would help.

  • Citizen of a Silly Country


    I’m no expert, but it seems that your articles and comments lend themselves to a German-style education system. Test the kids fairly early and move them into various tracks for their teen years based on their scores.

    Hauptschule (to grade 10) leads to vocational education, an intermediate Realschule leads to a technical or business school, and the academically-oriented Gymnasium that leads to the Abitur or Matura diploma and a university education.

    I’ve always felt that this system was both realistic and most kind to the the kids. (My understanding from friends was that you could switch from a lower track to a higher track if you could prove that you could do the higher level work, so it’s not as though the occasional smart-but-poor-high-stakes-test-taking kid was trapped.)

    Naturally, SJW/PC warriors would crush such a system because it exposed racial difference; regardless, it’s a system that teaches kids of various skill levels to their maximum potential. It’s a good system as far as I can tell.

    What are your thoughts?


  • J Oliver

    Their kids, particularly the boy kids, start to adopt this opinion, and white failure rates start rising.

    It seems to me that there is very little evidence that good students start to fail when they go to school with bad students. From what I have seen good students do well in “bad schools”.

    • educationrealist

      There’s tons of evidence that failure rates increase as schools become more socioeconomically diverse. That is, middle class kids become more anesthetized to failure. it may be anecdotal, but I’ve been at three different schools that tracked that data and determined it over a 10 year period.

      • J Oliver

        The moving to opportunity took students out of bad schools and put them in good schools and it showed no gains, so how could the reverse be true?

        There was a discussion on a post by Ezra Klein on the moving to opportunity study and a commenter mentioned a study that showed that good students do well in what we call bad schools (with a link) but I can no longer find it.

        Anecdotally, I went to a what folks call a bad school and the teachers there where mostly so very delighted find a good student willing and able to learn that they would lavishly helping him excel.

        I think Bryan Caplan has it right schooling above some minimal level of quality makes very little difference and that goes for quality of piers also.

  • J Oliver

    BTW if you are convinced that you cannot teach students more, as I am, then you should look really hard at what is most important for the students to know. Would you teach them Latin above basic easy physics and chemistry or carpentry and plumbing?

    As far as getting the value from schooling, I think that best would be to charge most parent (say all above the bottom 1/3 by income) directly for the costs of schooling each of their children in the Government schools. I see no way to get there though. We should not spend more on schooling students than the median parent would spend if they paid directly.

    It looks like by 1960 we had made students as smart as they can get. Since then we tried to make students smarter but it did not work, so let’s see how little we can spend without them slipping back.

    • educationrealist

      Parenting already costs a fortune. why make them spend more? School isn’t a service to parents, but taxpayers.

      • J Oliver

        The parents/students pay already pay just through taxes. The reason is to have them pay directly is to keep spending on schooling to the level that it should be. If the stats that I have seen are correct, we in the USA spend over 3x on schooling than we did in the 1960 with no improvement in outcomes. Not only that add in the lost years of work due to people staying in school longer. It is like everyone standing up a football game the costs are higher but no one sees better.

      • Mark Roulo

        “If the stats that I have seen are correct, we in the USA spend over 3x on schooling than we did in the 1960 with no improvement in outcomes.”

        For a labor intensive task (which K-12 education is …), you can’t just compare inflation adjusted prices. You have to compare something like “percent of GDP spent teaching each kid.” Or something like that.

        The *reason* for this is that is that the US is wealthier today than in 1960. Both as a country and per-capita. This is because the average worker is more productive — in the sense that the average worker today produces more “stuff” than the average worker in 1960. As an example, the US produced about as much steel in ~2005 as in the mid-1980s, but with only 1/3 the workforce. This sort of thing makes us richer (but is very hard on former steel workers).

        K-12 (and college) education has not seen this sort of productivity increase … we still have, basically, one teacher in front of 25 to 30 kids. The problem is that if we pay current teachers 1960 rates, then we’ll probably be paying something close to $10/hour … and we’ll get folks who can’t get jobs as Starbucks baristas. To maintain the skill level of teachers *relative* to other jobs we need to pay them comparably adjusted wages. Which means “more” even though we aren’t going to see a given teacher teach more kids than in 1960 or see the kids have significantly higher test scores than in 1960.

        The US spends 3x as much (in inflation adjusted terms) to keep even.

        Sorry about that.

      • J Oliver

        @mark Roulo
        If you look at the chart here:
        The number of employees has rises by 80% since 1970.

        And there have been some innovations that could help reduce employee per student ratios.

      • Roger Sweeny

        My impression, though eastern Massachusetts may be unusual, is that each teacher now has fewer students. Along with that has come a substantial increase in the number of specialized teachers, aides, counselors, etc.

    • educationrealist

      There’s lots of reasons why costs have gone up. Mostly, Congress and the courts have put huge mandates on schools, particularly in the area of special ed, immigrants, and bilingual education.

      Scores actually have gone up in various subgroups, and we’re keeping more kids in college.

      ANd then, as pointed out, the costs of paying teachers has gone up. But teacher salaries aren’t a big part of the increase.

  • Ben A

    I understand the facts you present. But I don’t see why an argument against charters follows. Stipulate that charters only succeed because they can expel kids. Ok, some parents seem to love the environment that creates and will choose it in great preference to their current alternatives. Why isn’t that a sufficient argument for charters? You seem to have two arguments against charters:

    1. The model can never scale because as charters approximate 100% coverage, people will sue them to stop them from bouncing kids out.
    2. They’ll end up soaking the taxpayer because it will require a parallel set of fixed costs (administrative and other) and will never escape the cost bloat of the public system

    My response to argument one would be: we’re a long way to 100% charter coverage and we can deal with that when we get there. Worst case scenario, after we get to high charter penetration and lawsuits neuter their ability to expel, we’re back at the status quo ante.

    My response to your second argument has two parts: First, the cost equation is uncertain. Second, charters might have non-test score benefits taxpayers are happy to pay for.

    To elaborate the first — it seems like the conclusion that charters will drive up overall costs is highly speculative. Perhaps charters end up with the exact same cost structure as the publics. But it’s not clear that this need be so. To know this, we’d need to know how much fixed cost a parallel charter system entails. It might take very small improvements vs. public sector variable costs to cover these elements of fixed costs.

    To elaborate the second — taxpayers already spend a ton of money on schools. It might be that there are benefits *to the non-parent taxpayer* of having kids be able to escape awful peer environments. Maybe those benefits are worth some per-pupil increase in spending. If Illinois is spending $12K/kid on education, maybe all the taxpayers would be happy to spend $14K/kid to give them access to a charter system.

    • DensityDuck

      Edreal isn’t arguing against charters, they’re arguing that what makes charters outperform public schools is that they can boot out the problem kids, and if a district says “ok every school is a charter now” then they won’t be able to kick kids out because there’d be nowhere for them to go.

      • Roger Sweeny

        Unless you say, “let’s create someplace these kids can go that isn’t academic but that will help them succeed as adults, because this sort of school isn’t helping them.”

        Of course, in 2016, that is heresy.

    • educationrealist

      (and of course, if we could do what Roger suggests, we wouldn’t need charters!)

      “we’re a long way to 100% charter coverage and we can deal with that when we get there. ”

      By the time we get there, it means comprehensives are dead (as Density Duck points out) and then it will be too late to deal with itl.

      Moreover, if you ever get there, it’s on the back of a lie. Charters claim to be succeeding because of superior pedagogy and instruction, but in fact are succeeding because of students. So you’re basically saying yeah, let us lie.

      “It might be that there are benefits *to the non-parent taxpayer* of having kids be able to escape awful peer environments.”

      Except there’s not much evidence that there are benefits. Motivated kids who don’t make it into charters don’t do substantially worse, if at all.

      • Ben A

        Parents desperately wanting to get their kids into charters is evidence of something. Are all of these parents just *deluded* in your view? Are all the parents who pay higher home prices to get into “good districts” (= peer selection) deluded? Let’s even stipulate the strong case and that peer environment doesn’t matter to achievement at all. Maybe motivated kids in terrible schools do ok, but are miserable. Isn’t that enough reason to give them another option? If not, why not?

        “Let us lie”

        Hey, I’m all for the truth. But I don’t think a good policy becomes bad policy just because proponents lie about it. If parents prefer a charter option and it’s an expense taxpayers are willing to bear, isn’t that what matters?

      • educationrealist

        ” But I don’t think a good policy becomes bad policy just because proponents lie about it. ”

        Kind of a crazy statement, really.

      • Roger Sweeny

        If parents prefer a charter option and it’s an expense taxpayers are willing to bear, isn’t that what matters?

        Yes. But if taxpayers are willing to bear the cost because they have been lied to (deliberately or not deliberately), I think that makes things more complicated. If they knew the truth, would they still be willing to bear the expense?

        Since I’m “pro-choice,” I hope they would. But I’m not at all sure.

      • Ben A

        But if taxpayers are willing to bear the cost because they have been lied to (deliberately or not deliberately), I think that makes things more complicated. If they knew the truth, would they still be willing to bear the expense?

        I totally agree with this. But I think the argument is not simply “charters are instructional magic” but also “charter give kids with horrendous options an out.”

        Kind of a crazy statement, really.

        Is it? I guess I go under the assumption that proponents of policies gild the lily *all the time*, so the fact of their being bad, dishonest pro-charter arguments does not mean that the good, honest pro-charter arguments cannot be compelling. But I agree (as I say above to Roger Sweeny) that any policy that only derives support from lies deserves to go down.

        But I do feel a bit that you are glossing too quickly over one the fundamental issue here: it seems like there are lots of parents clamoring for charters, saying that their current options are inadequate. I’m still unsure why you think this is. Maybe they are all fooled by false claims about magic instruction, but maybe they are saying “the neighborhood school looks broken, this new one doesn’t.” Maybe they really want the bad kids kicked out and don’t see a process for getting a safe environment in their local public. I’m sympathetic to that.

        Above you say “if you want choice, pay for private.” But the way most parents pay for choice is by shopping districts to find schools (=peer groups) they like. I don’t see why we should manage school choice solely through the housing market.

      • educationrealist

        “Maybe they really want the bad kids kicked out and don’t see a process for getting a safe environment in their local public. I’m sympathetic to that.”

        No “maybe”. That’s what it is.

        ” I don’t see why we should manage school choice solely through the housing market.”

        Because otherwise it won’t scale.

    • Ben A

      Because otherwise it won’t scale.

      What do you mean by this? I am not understanding why a district couldn’t get to 20-30% of kids in charters. Sure, that will mean the public schools have a concentration of the kicked out kids. And that will create its own problems. But I don’t get why that is prima facie untenable vs. the status quo.

  • 57dimensions

    I can definitely attest to the importance of peers from my own recent experience. During high school I attended an extremely selective prep school in New England and my local public school. The public school was in the same town as the prep school and that town’s school system frequently ranked very high in the statewide rankings (Massachusetts), so we are talking about a very “good” public school here.

    The difference between those two schools was enormous, even though both student populations were mostly white and upper (middle) class (the prep school was more diverse racially), the difference in average intelligence levels was very apparent. The kids at that public school were by no means dumb, but their main motivation in school was to minimize the amount of work and thinking they had to do. The teachers, while very capable, seemed to have accepted that the students wouldn’t work hard, and had very low expectations for what the students could do.

    I was expecting the schools to be different, but I was surprised at how different they ended up being.

    • educationrealist

      How do you know the other school was that bad? Stats don’t bear you out, by the way. Private schools and public schools, held constant for population, produce the same results.

      • Floccina

        In the following video they contend that lesser peers are better:
        I think it can go either way depending on the student and generally balances out.

      • 57dimensions

        As I said in my comment I attended *both* that private school and the public school, so my comment was from experiencing both schools as a student. The difference was very noticeable. I was basically bored to tears at the public school honestly.

        But that’s anecdote not data, so I’ll list the stats for the schools as well.

        Private (~1150 students, 75% boarding)
        Acceptance rate: 14% (436/3040)
        Mean SAT: ~2100
        AP: 97% scored 3 or higher (900 exams taken)
        Colleges: 1/5 of class goes to an Ivy, nearly everyone goes to a school in the top 50 of the rankings, schools like Stanford, UChicago, and Georgetown are also popular, in a 3 year period 225 students enrolled in an Ivy.

        Public (~1800 students)
        Mean SAT: ~1700
        AP: 80% scored 3 or higher (750 exams taken)
        Colleges: in the last 5 years ~200 students went to UMass Amherst (state flagship) and ~50 went to Ivys. 90% go to a 4 year college.

        I’d say those schools look pretty different, even just going by the numbers. And from my experience, I had a much better (more intellectually enriching, academically challenging) time at the private school.

      • educationrealist

        Yeah, you’ve got what I’d call a first world problem.

      • Mark Roulo

        ~1700 is not a particularly high SAT score for a public high school. Two localish public high schools with which I am familiar run about 2,040 and 2,100 (Palo Alto and Gunn).

        And a prep school that sends 1/5 of the class to Ivys has to be close to the top.

        Comparing a middlingish public high school to an elite private prep school doesn’t provide much that is new. It DOES (maybe) illustrate (but not prove!) the importance of a peer group.

      • 57dimensions

        Oh I’m well aware this is a “first world problem”. I wasn’t trying to make a case for my own personal suffering, just trying to corroborate the importance of peer groups in schools. There was a big difference between sitting in a class with kids who would sit quietly and with kids who are genuinely interested in learning and discussion.

        And to Mark, using a school in Palo Alto as a comparison is not exactly helpful in terms of understanding what the norm is across America. Those schools are literally some of the best public schools in the country and are in very wealthy districts. The national average SAT score is just under 1500. The public school is in an upper middle to upper class suburb and does very well by state metrics, but definitely not the best. I never said it was an exceptional public school (like the ones in Palo Alto are), but that it was a “good” public school, which it is.

        And like I said in the first paragraph, not trying to prove anything, just providing my personal experience at the schools. If I was trying to “prove” anything it would be that if you are passionate about learning and education you will have a more enjoyable and rewarding experience (not talking scores or stats here, just personal enjoyment) in an environment with like minded peers.

      • educationrealist

        My point was actually the opposite of Mark’s–while it’s true that there are public schools with higher SAT scores, there’s nothing you can’t get at a school with an average of 1700. That’s what “average” means.

  • 57dimensions

    I guess I would also add that the private school is not really comparable to the average private school, it’s at the top of the heap in terms of elite prep schools, so I would generally agree that private schools aren’t going to be that much more effective, but I think in this case there is a big difference between the private and public schools.

  • Jardinero1

    I think you miss important two aspects of charters that are important. The first aspect is that demand for charters by parents is actually quite small. In a state like Texas, where there are no legal roadblocks to establishing charters, plus unions are weak to non-existent to oppose them; charters handle only a very small minority of school children. In Texas, we likely are at peak charter, and there just aren’t that many kids enrolled. The second aspect of charters is their incredible utility to district administrators in dealing with certain kinds of parents. You have a counselor or administrator meeting a parent who complains that their kid needs a special something-something, then they say, “There is this charter over here that might be a good fit. Go have a look.” Voila, one less troublesome parent to handle.

    The best example of charters in action is not New Orleans, but Houston I.S.D. H.I.S.D, found that the best way to maintain enrollment and manage all the disparate needs of its parents and children, was not to manage them at all, but instead embrace school choice. The district operates the largest assemblage of charters in the state, as well as a large number of magnet schools. The district hosts a convention every year where all the schools are represented and parents can shop. “Stop complaining and send your kid anywhere you want,” is their motto. They embraced charters and choice not because it produces better outcomes but because it keeps parents at bay. Charters are also a useful tool for funneling off competent but nettlesome teachers who want to do it their own way.

    I think New Orleans is a bad example of charters because New Orleans was always a unique outlier, in education, in the first place. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had two sets of schools; an enormous set of parochial schools where the middle class sent their kids, and the public schools for anyone who could not afford a parochial school. The public schools were always horrible because the best students attended the parochial schools and they still do. Any reform in the New Orleans public schools will always fail because of that unique dynamic of the parochial schools funneling off the better students.

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