Some people think we have to live with having Charter Schools.. John Young just put forward a motion that was passed by the Christina School Board opening it up for charter applications 2017-2018.  Many members on that board have been anti-charter in the past so now might be a good time to examine the pros and cons for letting Charter Schools exist…

We’ll start with the perception.  Charter Schools have an overall decent perception for one reason.  When one looks at test scores rankings of a state’s schools, the top spots almost invariably are held by the same charters year after year.  Therefore that being the only acquaintance non school parents have with education, that remains their go-to opinion.

There is a reason that they lead.. These charters control who gets in; public school’s can’t and accept everyone. For the same reason it is why MIT is the smartest college/university in the nation; they select only from people who have perfect scores on their SAT’s.  So the reputation MIT has among colleges, is the best analogy to describe how most Delawareans unfamiliar with educational issues, view charters…

Not all charter schools are this good however. One charter is 103rd out of 106 schools. Another is 95th out of the same 106. Another is 92nd. Another is 90th…  So whereas we do have two good charters that lead the pack in state scoring, we also have at least 5 that have 90 public schools doing much, much better than them…

First lesson in dealing with charters is:  don’t generalize. Don’t think all charters are good.

When you say you want to get rid of charters, you never hear complaints from parents of those charters who have 90 public schools doing better than their child’s school. Those parents dream of a new entity coming in and taking over their charters.  No, you only hear from parents who support the two top schools, because having their child return to a public school, for them is a step down.

Charters take money from public schools.  Some quote this as a good thing and cite the scores of the top schools versus how much money they save the state.  They cherry pick their results and say, “see, we educate better for less”.  But charters also include those near the bottom. They educate worse for less.  And they take both money and children from public schools who ARE doing a better job at educating… and desperately need that money they are giving up.

When you look at the charter problem there are two ways to react.  One is emotionally. The other is rationally.

The emotional way is to say, “oh no, I love my kid’s charter; I’ll fight to keep it”.  It is not based on rationality at all, but an emotional bond one has with it because of one’s child…

The rational way is to say… ok, let’s look at the math.  One of every Delaware child is a charter students and some of those schools are great, and some are not.  (If curious you can go through here and peg them on their rank of all state schools).  But by default, 4 of every 5 Delaware students must remain in public schools.

So if you (assuming the charter is one of the good ones), take a child out of the public school and put him in a better charter school, you get a benefit.  Call it +1 student doing better than they would had they remained… But, that money leaving the school, means that there is less money now to be spent in the public schools. Christina leads the pack with $21 million flowing out of its district; $21 million which could otherwise be spent in its existing schools.  Therefore having the charter close by negatively impacts those 4 out of 5 remaining in public schools. Some cutbacks have to occur.

So when you look at programs, you have to balance the positives with the negatives. Charter supporters and charter lobbyists often use slight of hand to only show you the positives.  But one can’t accept only the positives and ignore the negatives if one is intent on making good policy. Therefore, despite the current myopia inside our DOE, the reality is that with Charters you could theoretically get a +1 benefit to one fifth of your students, but a negative -4  would occur for all those remaining in public school.

Bottom line of charter impact?  -04 + 01  =  -03…   Your net total if applying the impact of charters across all spectrums of your student body, is a negative number.  It is a negative number because you have to account for those hurt by an action as well as those helped.. For example if we only looked at those who are being helped, robbing banks would be a great career….

In every argument about charters… someone needs to bring up the question:  what is its impact on those remaining in public schools?

Balance could theoretically be leveled like this:

  • Charters have more student activities.  What is the impact of that on those remaining in public schools?
  • Charters have more going to college!  What is the impact of that on those remaining in public schools?
  • Charters have the top scores in the state!  What is the impact of that on those remaining in public schools?
  • Charters provide a choice. Parents should not be stuck.  What is the impact of that on those who are stuck in public schools?

This IS the million dollar question that must be considered for every positive a charter might have!   Because no matter how great that charter IS, it is hurting 4 others for every gain it gets putting society in the negative as far as learning goes.

This is not just an academic thought exercise.  Everywhere charters have entered a school district or system, the overall measurements of student achievements has dropped system wide.  Some schools develop to do well, but there are 4 times their number that are imploding from a gross lack of financial renewal.

To consider charters as a benefit, you have to close your eyes to the negative impact they create outside their four walls and simply just look at the inside parameters of that school.

A schoolmaster can well afford to do that. Same with a Charter school parent.  But no one at a district level, state level, or national level can responsibly ignore the harm that having charters around, does to a public school system…

So people can defend charters all they want. They can pretend that those against charters are pooh-pooh babies or whatever.  They can deprecate with slurs anyone who dares contest that charters are the sole white knight of education… (they are predominantly white)…

And if they are successful at swaying those in power, the entire system of education gets worse, and worse, and worse as time flies. Because you can’t go against math….

-4  +  1  =   -3……

There is absolutely no way you can win with an equation like that.