Demanding schools

The Economist aimed its reporting lens last week on charter schools in New York City and Chicago. In the Big Apple, demand for charter schools has overwhelmed supply, especially in Harlem: at the Harlem Success Academy Charter School lottery, 3,600 applied for 600 available spots. The city's schools chancellor, Joel Klein, has announced a plan which, according to The Economist, "would ‘charterise' the entire New York City system." In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley's Renaissance 2010 program promises to bring 100 new schools to the city's bleakest areas. "At the core of Ren 10," The Economist reports, "is the desire to welcome ‘education entrepreneurs'... Ren 10 lets them start schools and run them mostly as they choose." Chicago sets academic standards that new schools must meet, but it removes from the schools' governance much of the bureaucratic hassles that bedeck regular, district facilities--i.e., the city pushes autonomy with accountability. Both articles illustrate the deep craving that families in low-income neighborhoods have for such schools; unfortunately, both cities are struggling against legislators who want to regulate charter schools and cap their numbers. These policymakers ought to heed the demands of their constituents, not the demands of politics.

"Harlem parents are voting for charter schools with their feet," The Economist, May 8, 2008

"Red ties and boys' pride," The Economist, May 8, 2008