The Devil in the Details…..

Charter schools have become the flavor of the day for education reformers, and they clearly have some virtues. Unlike voucher programs that divert public school resources to private and parochial schools, charters are public schools, although operating under more flexible guidelines than their more traditional counterparts.

Philosophically, I have no quarrel with charter schools. (I have big problems with vouchers.) But I do have real issues with the very American tendency to prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions to complicated problems, and too many people have decided that charters are that quick and easy solution.

Charters were initially designed to be experimental–to try new approaches, to innovate in the classroom–and to offer parents a wider array of choices of educational philosophy. So far, so good. But as charters have proliferated without much in the way of accountability or evaluation, some of the reasons we need to tread with caution have emerged.  When Indianapolis’ Project School was closed for failure to perform, for example, parents who had chosen the school and were invested in its approach were furious and their children were uprooted. Ball State University, which had chartered some 20 schools, abruptly closed seven of them, with equally disruptive results.

And then there’s this…

While public schools must provide due process to students when making decisions about suspensions or expulsions, most states exempt charter schools from school district discipline policies. This lack of protection may have enabled some charter schools to suspend and expel students at much higher rates than their public counterparts. In San Diego, Green and his coauthors report, the city’s 37 charter schools have a suspension rate twice that of the public schools, while in Newark, the suspension rate in charter schools is 10 percent, compared to 3 percent for the city’s public schools….

It’s not just discipline, though; charter schools may be exempt from constitutional protections in areas like search and seizure and the exercise of religion. It’s obviously one thing for a Catholic school to require religion classes, but does the same logic apply to a charter school like Arizona’s Heritage Academy, which last month was criticized by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State for requiring 12th graders to read books claiming that God inspired the drafting of the Constitution.

So often, it isn’t what we choose to do. It’s how we choose to do it.

Charter schools–properly conceived, prudently financed and carefully monitored–can be part of the solution to our education woes. But they are not–and cannot be– a substitute for the hard work of fixing our public school systems.


  1. I know this may be stating the obvious but most of AZ’s population came from the Midwest to escape the snow belt. They brought their conservative thinking with them.

  2. I think it is important to make clear that the comment you quoted relates generally to disciplinary matters in charter schools. I don’t think those general principles, however, apply to Indiana charter schools which I believe are legally required to follow the same process as traditional public schools when it comes to disciplining, suspending and expelling students.

  3. Functional anything evolves from discussion among diverse viewpoints. Nobody knows it all about anything.

    Governments have to make profound decisions that effect a great number of people over long periods of time in significant ways. Their ability to do that successfully was always based on the statesmanship of civic leaders.

    Statesmanship has been sacrificed to simple extremism. My way or the highway.

    It plain doesn’t work.

    By the time extremism has run its course and common sense rallies again America will have wasted several decades locked in the doldrums of stasis. Or worse, dysfunctional undoing of what has worked fine.

    In education, that’s a whole generation who will have been deprived of existing under, and experiencing, functional government. At all levels.

    I’m no expert on educational process or institutions. Charter schools may well be a fine idea, as are public and private schools. To the degree they are, it comes as the product of diverse ideas and open minded, thoughtful, fully considered from multiple perspectives, negotiations.

    Our way, not my way.

  4. Yes, Stephen, and to segregate children once again. They started in the south after desegregation. But charter schools are just grand!

  5. When charter schools started in Indianapolis under Mayor Peterson, it was in each school’s charter that the schools were a “right to work” establishment, meaning if there was a teachers’ union the charter would be broken and the school closed. All applicants made sure to announce which law firms represented them. These firms were quietly politically connected to the Peterson and/or the democrats.

    This year a for-profit management company wanted to open a charter school in Pike Township. Their goal was to build the facility; as they were a for-profit business they would have to have a non-profit open the school. This company would be paid for managing the faculty and rent for the building. This company was from Florida and at that time ran an F-rated school in Indianapolis.

    Currently charter schools receive the same amount of money per student as traditional schools. Yet using the A-F grading system, traditional schools out performed charter schools (

    Charter schools are another means to privatize the educational system and pass tax dollars to corporations in return for favors.

  6. The trouble Ronald is you’re not comparing apples to apples. Students entering charter schools from traditional public schools (TPS) are on average performing more poorly than the students remaining at the TPS. Once they have a few years in charter schools, most have passed their TPS colleagues. You can’t just compare one to another without taking this factor into consideration, which when you do, show charter schools far outperforming TPS.

  7. Ronald, you’re also misstating by saying charter schools get the same amount of money per pupil as TPS. While it’s true they get the same amount from the state per pupil, you ignore the fact that charters don’t get any property tax dollars that pay for facilities and transportation.

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