Even in Reforms, Central Planning Rears Its Head
Maybe I’m getting crotchety in my middle age, but this sort of intrabureaucracy debate strikes me as precisely the species of meaningless and unnecessary noise that obfuscates public discourse while raising doubts about public management of anything:
What is the point of a charter school — to be a laboratory for educational innovation and provide families with school choice, or to be the best school in its community?
This question takes on urgency as Rhode Island prepares to double the number of these alternative public schools, buoyed by millions in federal funds and a commitment by Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist to expand charter schools “with a proven track record of success.” …
In the meantime, the state’s education leaders can’t seem to agree on the purpose of charters.
Are they meant to take risks, try novel approaches and create strong communities? Or must they be “centers of excellence” that outperform traditional public schools even as they serve low-income, at-risk students?
The first problem with the faux debate is that it glosses entirely over the concept that a charter school that achieves the same result at a lower cost is an unmitigated benefit in the short term (by saving money) as well as in the long term (by freeing up resources for other purposes, as effective strategies permeate public education). A second problem is that it ignores the central point of school-choice, which is to put pressure on schools system wide by making it possible for parents to redirect resources away from those that they find undesirable.
A third problem is that it gives unelected state bureaucrats the authority to determine what communities must value. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist argues that, “If their performance isn’t where it should be, it’s an indication that the model they are using didn’t work.” With multiple criteria of what constitutes “performance,” the proof that a school’s model hasn’t worked should be that it’s unable to attract students.
And a final problem is that charters are being worked into the corner by establishment organizations like labor unions set up reforms to fail:
Nora also said that holding charters to a higher standard falsely “assumes we have complete autonomy.”
Apart from Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley, a mayoral academy charter school that is not required to pay its teachers the prevailing wage, offer tenure or pay into the state retirement system, the state’s 14 other charter schools all must adhere to those requirements.
We can only expect so much out of “experiments” that can’t adjust some of the larger costs and restraints that hinder the system.