GOP owes charter schools some tough love
Since their inception in 1997, charter schools have been at the center of some of the most politically contentious debates in Ohio. The charter debate too often has been characterized by two competing camps. One side typically has been organized labor (the teacher unions), many Democrats, or citizens uninformed about school choice but believing it represents a threat to “public schools.” The other side tends to be business –represented by large profit-making school management companies, free-market oriented individuals (often Republicans), as well as activists of all political stripes who advocate for educational equity.
Interests on both sides of the debate have poured money into
political campaigns over the years and have treated the politics of charter
schools as a zero-sum game in which a gain by either side must come at the
expense of the other.
This political polarization has led pro-labor Democrats to support anti-charter legislation while pro-business Republicans have fought to protect extant school operators and have resisted accountability measures that they perceived as anti-charter. True to form, in his first budget in 2007 – and again in his second budget in 2009 – Governor Strickland proposed legislation that would have banned for-profit charter operators, cut charter school funding, and buried the schools in costly regulations.
The long political struggle around charter schools has hurt charter school quality in the state, made it difficult for Ohio to improve its charter law, and retarded the power of charter schools to meet their potential. According to new state charter law rankings by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), Ohio’s law now ranks number 27 out of 41 states with charter laws.
In contrast, the states with the best charter laws – Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York – have made steady improvements over the last few years through bipartisan legislative action. According to NAPCS, these improvements include both the removal of constraints on charters (e.g., lifting of charter caps and moratoriums) and the strengthening of charter school accountability. Florida, for example, made the biggest jump in 2010, moving from number 11 to number two. Florida’s rating leapt because lawmakers there embraced quality control provisions that included adopting model charter school applications and requiring high-quality charter school application evaluation forms and performance-based charter contracts.
Republicans now control state government in Ohio and have promised to remove caps and moratoriums on charters. This is a good start, but removing barriers to new schools must be balanced by improvements to the state’s charter quality control mechanisms. Ohio should build on the lessons from Florida and other high-performing charter states.
Specifically, Governor Kasich and legislative leaders can help promote charter school quality by crafting policies that ensure would-be school operators are carefully vetted in advance of opening; that all schools are thoroughly monitored by responsible authorities for their academic performance; and that poor performers exit the market in timely fashion.
| Parental choice should be encouraged, but in tandem with rigorous accountability for results.
Failed schools should not be able to skirt academic
accountability, whether they are traditional district schools, virtual charter
schools, or charter schools operated by for-profit management companies or
non-profit ones. The theories behind the school choice movement – that parents
will vote with their feet and that the market will hold schools accountable –
are imperfect and in reality all too often leave poorly performing schools in
place. Parental choice should be encouraged, but in tandem with rigorous
accountability for results.
The states with the best charter schools also have the strongest charter school laws. According to Peter C. Groff, president and CEO of the NAPCS “High-quality charter schools start with strong charter school laws. Our state charter law rankings describe how laws can ensure charter schools are able to innovate in ways that boost student achievement while being held to high standards of academic, fiscal, and operational performance.”
For too long, charter schools have been a political battlefield on which powerful political interests have waged war. As such, charter quality has suffered and children who badly need better educational options have all too often bounced from troubled school to troubled school. Governor Kasich and Republican lawmakers should break the cycle of political acrimony around school choice. This means resisting the temptation – and the encouragement they will surely receive from some in the charter sector – to push for more charter schools while also scaling back on school accountability. This would be a grave mistake.
The challenge facing education reformers in Ohio isn’t so much to add yet more school options, but to ensure that those available to families are in fact educationally sound. This is both the lesson from Ohio’s rocky history with charter schools and the lesson from states with higher performing charter schools.
blog comments powered by Disqus