Let’s set aside the poor box office results for Won’t Back Down (which set a record for the worst film opening ever). There are still as many as twenty states considering legislation that would enact the parent trigger that inspired the film. Hollywood may not have the mojo to move these measures along more quickly, but there are many lawmakers who remain convinced that parents should be empowered to fire a school’s management if it’s failing their children or hire a charter provider who may do the job better.
Parent-trigger laws ought to give parents as many tools and options as are available.
For a law like this to succeed—and it remains far from clear whether it can—it ought to give parents as many tools and options as are available. That’s why it was troubling to see the trigger’s most evangelical supporter, Ben Austin, take an ideologically rigid stance against the role that for-profit educators might play in these turnaround efforts.
Austin heads up the Parent Revolution in California, which was the first state to pass a trigger law (it did so in January 2010) but he’s been busy lobbying for the trigger outside the Golden State and he’s been arguably influential in getting more states to take this policy seriously. His opponents have been busy as well, however. And it doesn’t matter whether Austin served in the Clinton White House or if he remains a committed Democrat. Teacher unions,
Advocates for choice and competition in American education have for years encountered the straw-man argument that charters, vouchers, and the like are ineffective because standardized-test performance in these sectors is mostly indistinguishable from that in public schools (the reality is, of course, more nuanced, but more on that later). But Marc Tucker of the National Center for Education and the Economy has taken a more extreme path: He has made the bogus claim that no evidence supports the theory that school choice has any merit at all.
The claim that choice and competition have produced no evidence of success is, at best, disingenuous.
In Tucker’s world, school choice and market-based incentives do nothing to raise student achievement or lower costs for public education—two of the most common claims of choice advocates. Moreover, he wrote in a post for the Education Week blog Top Performers, school choice has done little to close bad schools; parents tend to choose safe and comforting environments where they find responsive principals, he claims, not schools with records of high standardized test scores.
This not only is patronizing, it’s wrong. It’s true that parents don’t always choose schools in order to maximize their child’s achievement in the here and now, but enough research has shown that they generally want schools that push kids to succeed and go on to college. And this conviction has informed a lot of school choice research that has yielded the evidence Tucker
A moratorium on charter schools in New Hampshire may end well after all. The state Board of Education, which is the only active charter authorizer in the Granite State, said about a week ago that it would stop creating new charters until the legislature would adequately fund them. The eight schools the board had approved during the last two years had consumed an additional $5 million in state aid, the board’s chairman argued. There was no money left to fund any more.
This is the second time this month that we’ve seen a public board charged with authorizing charters flouting the law.
Fifteen charters had applied to the board at the time. Seeing the urgency, legislative leaders acted to assure the Board of Education that they would free up money necessary to meet the costs of new schools. That could end the moratorium later this fall, but that still leaves a problem unresolved, one that an editorial today in the Nashua Telegraph pointed out: “We always thought it was the responsibility of the state Board of Education to approve or reject new applications for charter schools based on their merits …”
That is exactly what New Hampshire law says the board must do. No charter authorizer in New Hampshire can set aside its responsibilities to consider an application because it thinks the legislature will ultimately shortchange the school. But this is the second time this month that we’ve seen a
The first union to ever organize a Massachusetts charter school has disbanded. What was once hailed as a “historic organizing victory” by the American Federation of Teachers has dissolved after what yesterday’s Boston Globe described as “a long stretch of diminished activity.”
Unions are a poor fit for charters anywhere.
But conditions at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, Massachusetts, have never been good for the union, and they highlight why unions are a poor fit for charters anywhere.
When teachers first organized at the Brighton school four years ago, Marc Kenen, the executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said that he doubted unionization would work. “Generally, charter school teachers join charter schools because they don’t want to work in a unionized atmosphere,” he told the Globe.
Indeed, nearly all of the teachers who established the union left after just a few years, and the Globe reported last year that newer faculty members debated whether to dissolve it. Some said they saw the merit in having a contract but thought the American Federation of Teachers, with whom they were affiliated, cared more about its own agenda than the needs of the charter school.
Even the contract itself was unique: It contained not only a provision on merit pay but secured an active role for teachers to help design the curriculum. These are elements, however, that make charters special without the unions. The best charters work because management and faculty
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
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