Sunday, March 27, 2011


Charter schools have become quite fashionable of late. Liberals even have joined conservatives in promoting them. But in what ways are charter schools actually better than traditional public schools?

Are charter schools better academically? No, they don’t consistently deliver superior results. Some do better than traditional public schools — at least as measured by standardized testing. But some traditional public schools also test better than some charter schools. In short there is no clear-cut winner.

We’re assured that  charter schools better expose the public schooling process to the cleansing fires of competition. But what sort of competition? Charter schools  operate with relative freedom while traditional public schools remain hemmed in by volume after volume of of government regulations? So competition between charter and traditional public schools  is like a race between a free running and a hobbled horse.

Charter schools do offer more curricular variety than traditional public schools. But there again, traditional public schools are limited in what they can offer. Plus some of the variety allegedly offered by charter schools is bogus. What is one to make of inner city charter schools claiming to emphasize architecture and design, folk arts or global leadership, for example? In practice that surely amounts to very little. After all, a lot of these kids can barely read.

If over-regulation is the problem, why didn’t public officials first try easing their regulatory choke hold on traditional public schools and then decide if we needed charter schools? Maybe that was less attractive because it wouldn’t open the public purse to as many private interests — some of whom could be counted on for handsome campaign contributions or jobs for the worthless relatives. 

We’re not talking about chump change either. More than $600 billion (Yes, well over a half a trillion dollars) is spent annually on public schooling. All sorts of people are eager to wet their beaks in this vast lake of public money and charter schools provide that opportunity. In fact, this is the one way in which charter schools are clearly superior to traditional public schools. They open the public purse far wider for private interests. That’s why the movement  attracts a disproportionate share of bunko artists, flim-flamers, shady politicians and a host of their work-shy relatives.

All of these ner-do-wells are intent on mining the charter school mother lode by fair means or foul. An exaggeration you say? Then explain this: Google “charter school fraud” and you get 1, 080,000 results! “Charter school corruption” yields 480,000. “Charter school swindle” produces 67,300 results. Consider these astonishing numbers and then realize that there are only about 5,400 charter schools in the entire nation! Enough said?

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