Jackson Loze ’24
“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” These were the words of the Reagan Administration after conducting a thorough report examining America’s failing public schools, concluding that American students were worse off than they were 26 years prior.
Enter the charter school era. Charter schools are publicly-funded independent schools established by teachers, parents, or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local or national authority. The charter system was born to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles, innovate America’s education system, and create a pipeline for improvement strategies to help all students. Despite constant news coverage of bad apples, overall, charter schools are beneficial to the quality of education in the United States.
Charter schools have no choice but to innovate. Scott Ellison of the University of Kentucky explains that market forces spur experimentation in charter schools, given that a failure to innovate leaves charter schools outcompeted by those who do. But charter schools don’t just want to innovate, they have to. Robin Lake of the University of Washington finds that 72% of all charter school laws explicitly instruct charter schools to serve as “laboratories” for new models of education.
Indeed, Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Charter Public Schools finds that charter schools employ creative approaches to scheduling, teaching, and technology usage to individualize their instruction. She explains that charter’s structure the day around the needs of students rather than a strict bell schedule, offer intensive tutoring in small groups for students who need additional help, and incorporate digital self-paced learning to help students understand new content. This is why Edwin Eden of the Manhattan Institute quantifies that charter school students experience 32% higher test scores and a 19% higher college attendance rate than public school graduates.
This is why Rick Angrist of MIT empirically finds that charter schools break past the generic “teach to the test” method, increasing test scores while also boasting external benefits to education. Here’s the kicker: this doesn’t just help charter school students. District schools across the country have copied nearly every profitable measure implemented in charter schools.
Every few years, charter schools need to renew their charters. As such, charter schools that fail to meet educational standards get shut down. Donald Petrilli confirms that this practice ensures that only the best charter schools are able to stay open.
Charter schools don’t just face pressure, they exert it. Christopher Wees of the Reflective Educator writes that before the creation of charter schools, most students were forced to attend schools in their district. This unchecked monopoly left district schools with no incentive to innovate. Luckily, Todd Kominiak of K12 Insight finds that the growth of school choice options has forced district schools to find new approaches to education. That’s why Jones Holley of the American Educational Research Journal quantifies that over one-third of public school districts respond to competition by strengthening their own schools, while two-thirds collaborate with charter schools. Tara Mathewson in the Hechinger Report confirms that already 24 states have created innovation-based public schools to respond to charter competition. Thomas Finn of US News continues stating that, in the long term, this co-development pushes both sides to compete with each other, enhancing instructional quality.
For these two reasons, Mira Debs of the Credo Center for Research on Education Outcomes finds that when a charter school enters a district, students in neighboring public schools experience a 32% increase in math test scores and a 48% increase in reading test scores.
The state of education in America has shifted from a system that was slowly decaying in the 1980s to a world with charter schools where Elaine Allensworth of the University of Chicago concludes that graduation rates in the United States have increased by 22 percentage points over the last 16 years.