There’s No Success Like Failure
A court ruling on Monday likely means that Paideia Academy — a charter elementary school in Saint Louis plagued with low test scores — will close permanently. Missouri law requires charter schools to have a sponsor, and Paideia has not been in compliance with the law since losing the sponsorship of the Missouri University of Science and Technology, so the ruling seems completely appropriate from that perspective. Paideia’s closing also illustrates an advantage of both charter and private schools: They can fail! Public schools are rarely punished for poor performance, and this leads to stagnation. As with any other endeavor, education is an evolving process that requires experimentation to discover which methods are successful and which are failures, but if schools are never allowed to fail, teachers and administrators have little incentive to sort the wheat from the chaff.
The major problem I have with the Paideia ruling from a policy perspective is that the closing is the result of a judge’s ruling, not from a lack of demand on the part of parents. Paideia certainly suffered from low test scores, but as charter school consultant Richard Hay argued in the hearing, improvement on the tests may be a far better metric of school success than absolute scores. Furthermore, perhaps the public schools into which the kids will be reassigned are even worse (and very unlikely to be closed for poor performance).
In the overwhelming majority of cases, parents and students have more incentive and better information to determine which school best meets their educational needs, and their decisions are far better guides for which schools should fail and which should flourish.