School choice is suffering in California, and a district public school monopoly could be the culprit. Whether parents realize it or not, public school monopolies threaten educational quality, K-12 costs, and school choice. Worse yet, they snuff out the learning options that are available to your child.
In this article, we examine whether there’s a monopoly stifling online charter schools and where California public education is headed.
A Brief Look at Monopolies in the U.S.
Need a refresher on monopolies in the U.S.? Some of the most common monopoly cases popped into the spotlight in the late 1800s. You may remember learning about massive companies, such as Standard Oil Company, Andrew Carnegie’s Steel Company, and the American Tobacco Company in history class. Ultimately, these businesses grew so big that they gained full control of their respective markets. That meant they were able to keep prices of oil, steel, and tobacco high with little consequence. Consumers had no choice but to pay what the companies asked.
In response, the government enacted the Sherman Antitrust Act to regulate monopolies that put consumers in an unfair situation. These antitrust laws are still in motion, with high-profile cases recently hitting the likes of Google and Facebook. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is in charge of regulating businesses and preventing monopolies from holding back free markets.
How Do Monopolies Hurt Consumers, Employees, and Education?
At their core, monopolies limit choice and eliminate competition. As a result, the entity in power has little incentive to improve in quality or reduce costs. In the case of public education, a district public school monopoly is a scary idea for parents who care about their student’s education. If public schools are unfairly stacking the deck against competition, there will be no market incentive to lower costs and improve the quality of education they offer.
Do Traditional District Public Schools Have a Monopoly on Public Education in California?
How real is the public education monopoly in California? It appears that traditional district public schools have a stranglehold on public education power ... at least when it comes to setting up rules.
In California, district schools are using laws to increase power and stop charter school momentum. For instance, with online learning skyrocketing in popularity, California recently passed legislation that prohibits any new charter schools that offer nonclassroom-based (NCB) instruction from starting up through January 2022.
In another example, California’s recent AB 1507 charter school legislation places additional restrictions on public charter schools, including a performance-based renewal process and new charter school teacher credential requirements.
What’s worse, powerful public school unions throughout the state are displaying strong bias against public charter schools. And some of the biggest unions are actively working to damage charter schools outright. According to The Sacramento Bee, California’s biggest teachers union spent more than $1 million per month, from April to August of 2019, to push lawmakers to pass anti-charter school bills.
When pressed, lawmakers defend some recent charter school restrictions, such as the California Bill AB 1316, by citing a high-profile charter fraud case where a corrupt charter school organization pocketed public funding. However, this excuse exposes a double standard within the current lawmaking process. There have been plenty of fraud cases and misuse in traditional district public schools. Yet, those cases don’t seem to be inspiring legislation.
Here are a few examples of mismanagement that has taken place in traditional public schools recently:
- Fraud in California's Sweetwater Union High School District
- Financial mismanagement claims in Mill Valley Schools
- Questionable enrollment reporting at LAUSD
Free Markets Are Choosing Charter Schools Despite Education Monopolies
Even as traditional district public schools shape laws, it appears parents and the markets are choosing online charter schools.
From 2008 to 2018, charter schools more than doubled in California. According to the latest estimates, there are charter schools in all but four of the state’s 58 counties, and they serve more than 600,000 students.
In spite of unfair laws, traditional public schools also look to be gradually losing market share to charter schools. For instance, in just a decade since 2000, charter schools in Oakland more than tripled.
A likely factor is that charter schools have proven to produce meaningful learning results. In fact, in a head-to-head analysis by Education Next spanning more than a decade, student cohorts in charter schools achieved higher education gains than district student counterparts.
In addition to offering quality education, online charter schools also provide several added learning advantages:
- Flexibility: Online charter schools often offer flexible learning schedules. That way, student athletes, performing artists, and other active students can learn when and where they’re most productive.
- One-on-one learning: Advanced online charter schools focus on small classrooms and individual attention. With more personalized learning, students are less likely to fall behind and have a greater chance of advancing quickly.
- Self-paced coursework: Online charters that include self-paced coursework adjust classes to the needs of the student. That allows students to spend more time on difficult subjects, catch up faster, and accelerate based on their learning abilities.
What the Future of Public Education Could Look Like in California
Even as a public education monopoly dampens school choice, momentum is favoring online charter schools in California. During COVID-19, online learning has exploded. In fact, nearly 93 percent of parents who have school-age children say they’ve experienced some form of distance learning.
These trends add to a push toward online learning that has been growing for years. Even before COVID-19 restricted in-person learning, the remote learning market was expected to increase by more than $100 billion by 2025.
Now, as more and more K-12 schools rush to offer online learning, those online charter schools that have been at it for years already are staffed with distance learning experts and have mastered online instruction. As traditional public schools struggle to provide meaningful online learning experiences, online charters are positioned to rise even more rapidly in demand.
See What Online Learning Looks Like in Action
Even though monopolies threaten school choice, parents in California still can give their children a quality, online charter school education. Method Schools is a fully online charter school that has spent years crafting a caring online learning community.
Here are a few advantages of learning with Method Schools:
- We’re accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
- Curriculum is approved by the NCAA and the UC a-g system.
- Coursework includes engaging, self-paced learning programs.
- We focus on small class sizes, personalization, and targeted direct instruction.
- Our instructors are distance learning experts.
Want to discover more about learning in an online K-12 school? Read our complete guide, What to Expect from Online School.