Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Are charter schools a step in the right direction?

"Here are two things that everyone interested in education should know: some of the top performing schools in the country are charter schools, and, on average, charters do not perform significantly better than traditional public schools," Andrew J. Coulson writes.

Charter schools "might still be considered a step in the direction of educational freedom because they are modestly more free than traditional public schools," Coulson continues.

Might be, but perhaps shouldn’t be. The long term problem with charters is two-fold: first, they are cannibalizing the enrollment of the genuinely independent school sector; and second, they are likely to be re-regulated over time.

No system of government-funded elementary or secondary schooling in the history of the world has ever remained independent in the long term. Controls on who can teach and what must be taught are typical. For-profit operation is usually prohibited. Indeed, this was the history of America’s own public schools. In the late 1800s, public schools were generally more autonomous than charter schools are today. But, over time, the officials overseeing them sought and obtained ever more power at ever-higher levels of government. There is no reason to expect the trajectory of charter schools to differ appreciably from this pattern. So, a few generations hence, they should be expected to have subsumed most of the existing private schools and regulated them in much the same way as regular public schools are regulated today. They will, in other words, move us from a 90 percent government education monopoly to a 99 or 100 percent government education monopoly. Not an improvement.

Advocates of educational freedom would be well advised to look for alternative policies that can ensure universal access to the educational marketplace without using government dollars and without suffocating the independent education sector.

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