Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Charter School News

It's nice to see that the ABJs economic woes haven't stopped Oplinger and Willard from continuing their excellent education reporting. Today they publish a detailed analysis of charter schools showing that 1) many charter students are leaving high-performing districts for low-performing e-schools and 2) many of these student are not the disadvantaged students.

A spokesperson for charter school champion (and coincidental recipient of David Brennan largess, I'm sure) Speaker Jon Husted falls back on the competition argument:

House Speaker Jon Husted, R-Kettering, a leading proponent of school choice,
said through spokeswoman Tasha Hamilton that the mission of charters is
``When you empower people to make choices about education, you
create competition, and that competition will improve all schools,'' she
As for families' opting out of academically excellent schools for
underperforming online schools, ``the speaker thinks that's what choice allows
individuals to do,'' she said.
And, ``if there is a bad charter school, he
would encourage those people to go to a different charter school,'' Hamilton

The competition model is similarly championed by Right Angle Blog in a hit and run piece.

Two problems with all this. First, many of the kids who are signing up for e-schools aren't moving out of a problematic environment, they are homeschooled kids who are getting e-instruction instead of parent instruction.

I personally don't mind having a taxpayer-supported program to make sure that homeschooled kids have access to professional curriculum -- their parents pay taxes, after all. But the State then has to face the reality that bringing in kids who have in the past opted out of the system will cost more. Instead, conservatives -- and again RAB does this -- believe that educating kids through charter schools or other privatization programs will cost less, because magical free market fairie dust has been sprinkled on the program.

As for kids who are actually leaving the school districts, I am skeptical that competition is providing good results. The problem, as long-time readers know by now, is that a school isn't necessarily attractive due to the rigor of its academic program. Au contraire. I believe we have happened upon additional proof of The Market for Bad Education. If a kid in High Performing High doesn't like the workload, has pliable parents and hears about a gut-ride e-school, what is he going to do? He's going to cagole his parents into enrolling him into the e-school. For less-than-diligent parents, its an attractive move. It doesn't cost any more and you don't have to bug your kid about doing homework if there isn't any.

RAB suggests that maybe the school districts in question aren't really that good. Aside from the unanswerable non-argument nature of the argument (yeah, and maybe they are! Nyah!), it ignores a basic problem with the competition model. The much-ballyhooed "monopoly" of public education only makes analytical sense as a monopoly when you are talking about a system serving people who cannot move out of it, i.e. poor inner city people or poor rural people. When you get out into suburbia, folks have lots of choices. If they don't like Tallmadge Schools, they can move to Hudson. In a lot of cases, they can live in Tallmadge and open enroll their kids in a nearby school district. Or, in a large percentage of cases, they can send their kids to private schools. The fact that parents of some means are sending their kids to low performing e-schools is a red flag.

It would be great to have some comprehensive study of all this, since Taft's education aid isn't even aware it is happening. But alas, the GA killed the agency that was studying charter schools, so we have to rely on the news media to dig this stuff up. If that doesn't keep you up tonight, nothing will.

It's not impossible to believe that some kids have legitimate reasons for signing up in e-schools, nor is it impossible to believe that e-schools, if run right, could educate those kids. But model Ohio has adopted for regulating its charter school program is one of no oversight and a childlike faith in the marketplace. The evidence is mounting that market competition alone will not assure quality in charter schools.

Note: The ABJ piece spawned a digested AP story that was picked up by the Canton Rep. and PD NewsFlash. The AP story was the one RAB cited, though I doubt his "analysis" would have changed. Meanwhile some bloggers responded to the RAB piece, but I don't understand their pieces. Once I get some clarification from them I may update this post.


Jill said...

Thanks for this post, Pho. I'm trying to learn about what happened at the state board of ed meeting yesterday. I've sent a couple of emails but do you have any suggestions for getting such info?