Make Way for Charters
St. Louis makes an ignominious appearance in an article by Andy Smarick in Education Next:
Charter competition has caused one unexpected and fascinating phenomenon. When facing a growing number of charters, districts turn to advertising. […] In May 2007, the St. Louis district awarded a no-bid contract to a marketing firm to “drive the message of the negative impact of charter schools.” Seemingly unable to improve results, districts rely on public relations to stem the migration of students to other schools.
Kansas City also earns a mention, because 20 percent of public school students there attend charter schools.
Smarick raises the question of why districts don’t improve more in the face of competition from new charters. He concludes that traditional districts are so wedded to the old order that they can’t adopt innovations. The solution he suggests is to crowd out the districts by enrolling a majority of students in charters as is happening in New Orleans, where most public schools were reopened as charters after Hurricane Katrina.
I like the idea of all public school students (rather than a lucky few) choosing between competing charters. But I don’t think the transition will be as easy to effect as Smarick predicts. His idea is that when charters have a majority of the market, this is what will happen in the traditional districts:
As chartering increases its market share in a city, the district will come under growing financial pressure. The district, despite educating fewer and fewer students, will still require a large administrative staff to process payroll and benefits, administer federal programs, and oversee special education. With a lopsided adult-to-student ratio, the district’s per-pupil costs will skyrocket.
Wow, that sounds exactly like … what is going on right now in the city of St. Louis! According to Smarick, at this point everybody in the city is supposed to "demand fundamental change" and we’ll transition to an all-charter system. I’m not holding my breath. Public school monopolies are hard to shake. So far, the only public school district that’s given most of its market share over to charters is the one that was obliterated by a natural disaster.