Betsy DeVos, nominated to serve as education secretary in the Trump administration, is an advocate of charter schools–and refreshingly so.
The public often confuses charter schools with the voucher program (DeVos supports vouchers, too). The Daily Signal has an excellent description of just what a charter school is:
Charter schools are public schools that are open and free to all students. They operate with a mix of local, state, and federal funding, based on student enrollment.
In exchange for more freedom to be innovative with decisions involving curriculum, culture, budgeting, hiring, and firing, charter schools are held to a greater accountability for performance.
Instead of being managed by a traditional school board, the majority of charter schools are run by a nonprofit, while 13 percent are managed by a for-profit company.
Charter schools have greater flexibility to hire and fire teachers and to create curricula– there are charter schools that provide a classical education and charter schools that specialize in technical training.
The Daily Signal notes that charters have recently come under attack by civil rights organizations, among them the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Black Lives Matter, who, according to the DS, view charters as part of a movement to privatize public education. The NAACP is demanding an immediate moratorium on expansion of charters.
The outgoing education secretary, John King, speaking at the Center for American Progress, a think tank allied with the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton campaign, however made a strong pitch for charters.
“If we believe that public schools will always be the bedrock of American democracy and opportunity—as I do—we should welcome good public charter schools as laboratories for innovation that can benefit all of education,” Secretary of Education John King said at an event Wednesday hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
King took note of the NAACP demand:
King, however, called the fight between charter and public schools “a false choice.”
“Let’s also resist a false choice between allowing public charter schools and supporting traditional district public schools,” he said, adding:
Our primary concern shouldn’t be the management structure of schools, it should be whether schools serve all students well. Some of the best schools in places like Newark, Los Angeles, and the Rio Grande Valley are public charter schools that are closing achievement gaps and preparing graduates to finish college.
Instead of fighting, King said traditional public schools and charter schools should join forces.
Already, he added, this is happening in some parts of the country, where charters and district schools are forming partnerships, “allowing them to learn and be inspired by one another.”
Charter schools in many urban areas have shown a remarkable ability to outperform traditional public schools and close the achievement gap between white and black students. But not every charter school succeeds, and for those that don’t, King said, they must be shut down.
“Supporters of public charter schools, myself included, must recognize the grave threat that ineffective charter schools pose to the entire sector. We must demand that charter authorizers set a high bar for granting a charter, rigorously monitor the academic and performance of charters, and close failing schools,” he said.
The idea is to educate children, and if innovative charters often excel, why not? In addition, a little competition from the uppity charters might be the impetus for improvement in non-charter public schools.