March 27, 2023
Forget The Myths: School Choice Means Putting Students First
Recently, The New Yorker spotlighted the sitcom Abbott Elementary– a comedy about a Philadelphia public elementary school. Abbott Elementary School’s latest nemesis was the bright and shiny charter school down the street. This charter school draws away the “good” kids. They have the brand new building, the new textbooks, the fully equipped computer lab. Yes, the show is a comedy and the mischaracterizations about charter school education pokes fun with hyperbole as comedy often does. However, at the heart of Abbott’s story arc is an “us versus them” theme that still exists in the public education space. If you support public schools, you have to be anti-charter, and the reverse must be true as well. In truth, once the myths are dispelled about charter schools, there really is no need to choose a side.
Dispelling Some Myths
Myth: Charter schools don’t serve the underserved. A popular misconception and one repeated in Abbott Elementary is that charter schools target the privileged and shut out the disadvantaged. In reality, charter schools serve a higher percentage of students of color than traditional public schools. According to data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “In the past 16 years (2005-06 to 2020-21 school years), charter schools have consistently had a higher portion of students of color compared to district schools. According to the most recently available data (2020-21 school year), 69.3% of charter school students, versus 53.4% of district school students, were students of color. Charter schools have also consistently served a higher percentage of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL) from the 2005-06 to 2020-21 school years. In the 2020-21 school year, 59.6% of charter school students received FRPL compared to 53% in district schools.”
Myth: Charter schools “steal” high performing students from district schools. Charter schools are required to take all students who want to attend regardless of special learning needs, English learner status, or previous academic history. Many charter schools exist as an option for students and families who don’t want to be bound to zip codes determining their academic destination. LA School Report cites Stanford’s CREDO report finding that “the primary beneficiaries of charter schools in California are historically disadvantaged populations.”
Myth: Charter schools aren’t held accountable. Charter schools are held to a high standard in order to remain in operation. They are required to report to their authorizers as well as the Department of Education, bound to the same legislation as all public schools, and bound to further legal requirements as a charter school. Every five years, charter schools are required to apply for renewal through their authorizer and if not performing, any charter school can be closed down, which is the ultimate manifestation of accountability.
It's About Offering Choices
When all is said and done, it’s about the students. Public charter schools, like traditional public schools, have the extremely difficult task of educating our youth. Charters and districts both face obstacles and have difficult discussions surrounding funding, personnel, student achievement gaps. Both celebrate achievements graduating students, sending them to universities, preparing them for the workforce, and nurturing them to be productive citizens. Each group exists to serve students in their own way, so if you ask me what side I’m on in public education debate, I say I’m on the side of students.