There’s nothing progressive about strangling charter schools

THE MOST enduring — and unforgivable — civil rights offense in our country today is the consigning of so many poor, often minority children to failing schools. Among the more promising efforts to deal with this urgent issue have been public charter schools, which give poor families the choice in their children’s education that more prosperous parents take for granted. That makes all the more distressing the bid by some Democrats to blame charter schools for all the ills of public education.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a candidate to become the Democratic presidential nominee, launched a broadside against charter schools, calling for a moratorium on federal funding for all charter schools and a ban on for-profit charters (which account for a small proportion of charters). “The proliferation of charter schools has disproportionately affected communities of color,” wrote Mr. Sanders as part of his 10-point education plan this month.

Mr. Sanders is right about the outsize effects on minority communities — but those effects have been positive, not negative. Of the nearly 3.2 million public charter school students, 68 percent are students of color, with 26 percent of them African Americans. Studies indicate that students of color, students from low-income families and English-language learners enrolled in public charter schools make greater academic progress than their peers in traditional schools. Research from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that African American students in charter schools gained an additional 59 days of learning in math and 44 days in reading per year compared with their traditional school counterparts.

Charter schools are not a replacement for traditional schools, and not all charter schools are good. Bad ones should not be tolerated. But blanket calls to curtail charter schools are wrongheaded. There is a reason that parents line up on waiting lists for coveted high-quality charter schools. Like wealthy parents who pay for private schooling or middle-class parents who move to neighborhoods for better schools, poor parents want a good education for their children. Without it, they know there will be diminished hope for upward mobility and a better future.

The politics of charter schools have always been fraught for Democrats because of the influence of teachers unions — which oppose charters for reasons having nothing to do with the welfare of children. We hope candidates keep in mind the polls that consistently show support for charters among black and Hispanic voters. It’s easy to oppose charters if you are well-off and live in a suburb with good schools. We hope we will also hear from candidates who know about the value of charters from their experiences — including as a mayor who used them to begin to turn around a failing district, as a partner in an administration that promoted charters, as a schools superintendent who made a place for charters.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Why does the L.A. teachers union want to limit the options for poor children?

Letters to the Editor: Giving an F to a biased report on charter schools

The Post’s View: A D.C. charter school bill aims to fix a system that isn’t broken

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Watching from the sidelinesWatching from the sidelinesAnonymousWade StevensonWade Stevenson Recent comment authors
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Watching from the sidelines
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Watching from the sidelines

The mind-boggling belief that only the bureaucracy can innovate seems to seep into all sides of a complicated education discussion. Anti-charter folks refuse to see the many facets of the argument. Many of us agree that for-profit (and possibly non-profit chain) charters should not be allowed. But local charters offer options districts refuse to create. Rather than strive to engage parents in choice that embraces more children and invest in teacher-led innovation over administrative bureaucratic-think (there are more solutions to large class sizes than reducing numbers), districts who oppose charters simply want to demand that famiies be held captive by… Read more »

Wade Stevenson
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Wade Stevenson

As Nick Hanauer points out so well in his recent Atlantic article, what really matters in obtaining a great education for all our kids is a society that has more economic equality. Teachers unions, public schools, and teachers are not the problem, and charter schools are not the solution. The solution is a greater distribution of wealth. I would also refer anyone wanting to get a different perspective on how to analyze the good and not so good aspects of charter schools to the Jersey Jazzman blog.

Watching from the sidelines
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Watching from the sidelines

What we should do (economic equality) and what we will do (more inequality than in generations) are two different things. And I agree, teachers are not the problem – the myopic bureaucracy is the problem and teachers are as much victims as anyone else. The good ones ignore it as much as possible and innovate in spite of restrictions, but that’s not a viable system. And, until we even begin to move down the road to economic equality, charter schools are a viable option (and there are some great regular schools – just not nearly enough) for children who are… Read more »

Wade Stevenson
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Wade Stevenson

I don’t think Mr Hanauer, after decades of supporting what you are talking about, thinks that social leverage is going to come from the education sector. Perhaps we should all be spending more time working for a just economic system and less time bickering about education choices, although that will never happen because that is what we do and have always done.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

And, yes, people are desperate for addressing issues FOR THEIR own kids – while they are in school. Black and brown parents of kids in failing schools that have been classroom to prison pipelines have walked with their feet…desperate for anything that might be better and fed up with the idea that they should work within a system that has, essentially, been designed to do exactly what it does to their kids. Not maligning teachers – but the system.

Watching from the sidelines
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Watching from the sidelines

Why is it one or the other? Why can’t a person work for a just economic system and debate about education choices?

Wade Stevenson
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Wade Stevenson

Watching from the sidelines, I really wish you would read Mr. Hanauer’s article and then say you still believe what you just wrote with a straight face. If so , well more power to you.

Watching from the sidelines
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Watching from the sidelines

I’ll read the article, but still don’t understand why advocating for economic justice precludes debate over charter schools.