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Charter schools are not the villain

It has become quite clear that our country’s public education system fails more students than it should. From test score results to stubborn academic achievement gaps to school safety issues, the shortcomings of the American public education system need to be remedied.

Unfortunately, the focus as of late—particularly by presidential candidates who are vying for union support—has been to attack a solution that was designed to help fix the failing status quo: charter schools. Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform, writes that instead of attacking charter schools, we should learn from them.

Charters were first designed nearly 30 years ago to turn the top-down, mismanaged, financially inefficient, and educationally failing status quo on its head. They give educators and citizens the ability to start new schools that are tightly regulated for outcomes and financial integrity, but free to operate – and innovate – in any way that faculty and parents believe works for their children.

The result? In almost every place they’ve opened, charter schools have created a revolution in educational excellence, especially for so many of our nation’s most vulnerable students. How? Because, among other things, charters are a parent’s choice, accountable for results, and able to be closed should they underperform. And that’s a good thing!

Between 1992 and 2011, only 15 percent of charter schools were closed, mostly because of financial challenges caused by state and local politics, not the school itself. Nevertheless, the indisputable academic results that charter schools produce in proficiency and progress have made them sensibly embraced by leaders in both parties.

So why, if charter schools have helped rescue many students from the trap of mediocrity, and are largely supported by families of color, do they continue to get attacked by those purporting to represent education? Allen continues,

Because charters work so well, and are subsequently so popular, defenders of the old public education empire have been losing their grip. Since it’s a bit harder to condemn parents who simply want the best for their kids and vote with their feet, the public school industry fights back by attacking the very schools that rescue kids and offer them bright futures. Over the years the attacks have only become nastier, with teachers unions smearing charter school proponents as everything from “anti-public education” to “fraudulent,” and worse.

The teachers’ unions have committed themselves to protecting, defending, and expanding the status quo, despite the numerous students who pay the price. If providing an excellent education for all students is the goal, then those pushing for charter moratoriums and over-regulating them, along with attacks on other educational options that provide student success, curriculum flexibility, and parental choice, should consider the millions of families they are working against who want to see these schools continue and grow.

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