The Right (and Wrong) Way to Look at Charter Schools

In a scathing critique of Obama’s education policy, Diane Ravitch lays into charter schools:

Charter schools on average do not get better results than regular public schools, yet Obama and Duncan are pushing them hard. Duncan acknowledges that there are many mediocre or bad charter schools, but chooses to believe that in the future, the new charters will only be high performing ones. Right.

Ravitch’s view portends a post-apocalyptic winner-take-all showdown between public and private education.  In reality, the two can co-exist with charter schools helping to improve public schools.

A nice analogy is the co-existence of public and private methods for treating cancer. There are private clinics using experimental treatments and public  hospitals or insurance plans using standard treatments. Not all the experimental treatments will outperform standard treatments, but some will, and over time these treatments will become the new standard treatments.  The flexible experimental capabilities of the private institutions are used to improve the more-public institutions.

Right now the bureaucracy of public education means that charter schools are the only locations where easy and effective experimentation involving education can take place. To be fundamentally opposed to charter schools is to be fundamentally opposed to innovation.  It would be helpful critics were more open minded and understood that charter schools are the best hope for improving  public schools.

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