In Which the Author’s Secret Agenda Is Made Plain
As our regular readers will remember, on Nov. 18, the Show-Me Institute published a study that discusses recent research on the impact that charter schools are having on students’ academic achievement. At that time, we sent the study to newspapers across the state, along with an op-ed I had written discussing its findings. As is the case with any op-ed, my ability to address nuances in the research was dramatically limited by the need to keep it short enough for newspapers to consider publishing it. Thus, I was unable to go into great detail about the various studies and instead focused on the primary goal of the piece: making people aware of this new study so they could consider it for themselves.
When the Springfield News-Leader expressed interest in running the op-ed, they asked me to trim it down by 50 words so that it would fit their publishing parameters. As I hope readers will see, an op-ed’s final form rarely allows the author to offer a comprehensive picture of all the information they would convey if space were no constraint. Perhaps as a result of this necessary brevity, some of the News-Leader‘s readers have posted a few skeptical comments about my op-ed, so I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to the points they raise.
The first issue I’d like to address is that of my motives for writing on this topic. The commenter writing under the name “Ray Smith” suggested that I am part of a general effort to “undermine public education,” and that I have simply seized upon President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative (which, in part, promotes the expansion of charter schools) as an opportunity to promote my own agenda.
I do have one comprehensive, all-encompassing agenda when it comes to the subject of education, and I don’t care who knows it. I want to make sure that all parents have the greatest possible range of options when it comes to deciding where their children will be educated. While I, myself, am a proud product of an excellent public school system, it does not matter to me in the slightest if parents prefer traditional public schools, charter schools, parochial schools, or secular private schools. All that concerns me is that children get the best available educations — and I firmly believe that the greatest likelihood of achieving that goal is to fashion education policy in such a way that parents can vote with their feet if they decide a school is not meeting their child’s needs.
As should be clear, many parents do not believe that their local traditional public schools are the best educational option for their children — and, with that being the case, it makes the most sense to help those parents find alternatives that will serve their families better. I suggested in my op-ed that, to the extent that charter schools expand the range of options available to parents, they serve as a step toward this goal. Thus, expanding charter school availability represents good policy. In my mind, it is merely a bonus that the best academic research is showing that most (though far from all) charter schools are performing as well as or better than their traditional public school counterparts when it comes to certain measures of academic achievement.
Which brings us to Mr. Smith’s suggestion that I believe charter schools to be a “magic bullet” that will solve the education problems rampant in our state — and his intimation that I was ignoring evidence that I did not like. To the contrary, when writing the op-ed, I wanted to make sure that I pointed out the evidence in our own study that calls into question whether charter schools always generate better results than traditional public schools. Mr. Smith correctly points out that the Stanford study shows that a significant number of the nation’s charter schools appear to be attracting students, even though the schools do not currently appear to measure up to their traditional school counterparts in regard to academic achievement as measured by standardized tests. The reason I addressed the Stanford study in the op-ed was because the authors of the recently released Show-Me Institute study did not have access to research that isolated Missouri’s charter schools, and I believed that it would be valuable to highlight the fact that, in spite of the Stanford study’s broader findings, the data do suggest that Missouri’s charter schools are performing better than most.
Here at Show-Me Daily, I can address the Stanford study’s findings a little more broadly. For charter opponents, of course, the suggestion that some charter schools are not improving their students’ academic achievement is a clear signal that these schools need to close. Maybe … but maybe not. I have previously stated on this very blog that I do not generally oppose the closure of especially bad charter schools. But the facts also bear out that official action is not necessarily needed to close these schools, because in cases where the situation is truly bad, parents will voluntarily move their children to a different school and that bad school will fail for lack of funding (much as any other business would).
Also,as I note in the op-ed, parents consider a wide array of factors when deciding where to send their children to be educated — and, for many parents, academic achievement may not be the most important factor. So, if a charter school lags a little bit behind its traditional charter school counterparts in academic performance, but dozens of parents still want to send their children there, maybe government officials shouldn’t force its closure. After all, we don’t allow government officials to tell wealthy parents what factors they can consider in choosing a school for their children, so why should we assume that government officials are within their rights to tell lower-income parents what factors they can consider?
And, finally, I will add that I would actually prefer that Missouri not seek “Race to the Top” funding. In my opinion, the Tenth Amendment should preclude the federal government from interfering with educational matters, because they have always been reserved to the states. While I do think it would be good policy to expand the availability of charter schools in our state, if Missouri’s legislators are not persuaded that a particular policy is the best idea for our families, they certainly shouldn’t adopt it simply because the federal government is dangling money out there as an incentive.