Opinion
School Choice & Charters Opinion

Let’s Get Past “Charter” vs. “Traditional” and Think About High-Quality Supply for Communities

By Sara Mead — September 06, 2011 1 min read

Dana Goldstein often has insightful things to say about education, but I don’t quite think this piece about co-located charter schools supports the point she thinks it does. Dana writes:

Visiting only co-located public schools would bias any reporter against traditional public schools. Why? More successful neighborhood schools are better able to resist co-location with charters, both because they tend to be oversubscribed ... and because successful schools also tend to have more politically active and connected parents, teachers, and administrators, who are able to lobby against co-locations.

Fair enough, lousy neighborhood schools are more likely than high-performing neighborhood schools to be subject to co-location. So what? The point of profiling a high-performing charter school alongside a low-performing traditional public school with which it shares a building isn’t to argue that “charters are great and all neighborhood schools are bad.” It’s to show that there’s variation in the quality of options available to kids in a particular community. And to show that the charter school is providing a higher-quality alternative to kids who would otherwise be stuck in a school that parents who have options choose to vote with their feet to leave.

This is another example of why it’s dumb to talk about education policy in terms of “charter schools” vs. “traditional public schools.” Ultimately, there’s huge variation in the quality of both district and charter schools (although the evidence from New York City suggests there’s less variation, and higher overall performance, in the charter sector there), and the question shouldn’t be “charter or traditional?” but rather “How can public policies ensure a supply of good schools—charter, traditional, or something else—to meet the needs of kids in each community in our city?” Part of the answer to that has to involve making good use of limited public resources, such as buildings, which means taking space from schools parents want to leave because they are bad, and giving it to schools that are oversubscribed.

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