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School Choice & Charters Opinion

Two-Track Charter Expansion and More Cool Stuff From School Choice Week

By Rick Hess — January 27, 2014 2 min read
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This week is School Choice Week. I generally hate these designated “weeks,” as they’re mostly an occasion for p.r. extravaganzas and an opportunity for the faithful to bang the drum. And, for better or worse, that’s not really my scene. That said, it turns out that choice week is also the occasion for a cluster of pretty cool things.

Today, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the Charter School Growth Fund released a new report on replicating high-quality charter schools (full disclosure: I’m on the board of directors of NACSA, though I had nothing to do with the report and never saw it until I received the final version). Titled “Replicating Quality,” and penned by Public Impact, the report critiques the tendency of state policies to treat all charter applications the same--regardless of the applicant’s track record. Simply put, this is nuts. Whether we’re talking about SEC regulation of businesses, immigration, airline travel, or anything else, we routinely treat organizations or individuals with a track record differently from newbies, the unproven, or those sporting red flags. Doing so allows us to impose less pointless bureaucracy, while making it possible to target limited resources on those cases where it’s most useful. The report sketches a sensible vision for moving towards a multi-track approach to charter authorization, making it easier and faster for high-performing charter operators to open new schools.

In related news, U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tim Scott (R-SC) will be over at AEI on Tuesday morning to unveil ambitious new federal school choice legislation (for details, to attend or to watch, see here). It’ll be well worth catching as Alexander--former U.S. Secretary of Education and the dean of Capitol Hill Republicans when it comes to schooling--lays down a gauntlet on school choice. Among other things, the particulars of what Alexander and Scott propose for reducing programs and federal regulation will make clear how far apart (or not) the parties are on K-12 policy in the wake of the Obama administration’s waiver shenanigans.

And then, on Thursday, my colleague Mike McShane is hosting what promises to be a stellar AEI conference on School Choice: Encouraging New and Better Schools (for more info, see here). Mike’s premise is mine, which is that the presence of school choice is infinitely less important (or interesting) than whether choice systems are serving to allow and encourage the emergence of terrific schools and programs. As I’ve long argued, in most of life, market enthusiasts don’t assert that there’s some magic in giving people choices. Rather, they argue that markets can be engines of enormous good in particular circumstances. What are those? When choosers are empowered; suppliers are free to enter, operate, profit, and thrive; and all parties operate in an environment in which rules are stable, information on quality is available, and price can be compared. But even that’s not enough. As the papers at Mike’s conference explain, really taking full advantage of markets involves a number of actions by private actors, public officials, and investors and entrepreneurs. So, check it out. (For what it’s worth, if you want to see more of my thinking on all this, an easy primer is “Does School Choice ‘Work’?”.)

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