By Andrew Pillow
Think about the most recent charter school criticism you have heard. What was it?
“Charter schools under perform academically.”
“Charter schools suspend and expel too many students.”
“Charter schools create segregation.”
Ignoring the fact all three of those criticisms could be levied against traditional public schools… all of those criticisms, if valid, would only apply to some charter schools, not all of them.
The statement “not all charter schools are the same” shouldn’t really be a controversial or polarizing opinion, but unfortunately in this divided political climate “school-choice” has become a four letter word and charters have become a de-facto boogeyman for school choice opponents.
Like all political boogeymen, charter schools have been reduced to one-dimensional tropes by their opponents. Even though there are over 6,900 charter schools in the United States, school-choice opponents often represent all of them by using the worst examples they can possibly find, which leads to a very predictable outcome: Misinformation.
They cite the standardized test scores of one underperforming charter school, and hold it up as an indictment of the entire school choice system even though many studies indicate charters in-fact outperform public schools.
They take a legitimate case of a charter school’s over use of suspensions and expulsions and postulate that this is a symptom of all charter schools. Even though that is not the case.
If you look hard enough, you will find a family with a story about how or why a certain school didn’t work out for them. There is a simple reason for this: Every school is not the right school for every child. That includes charters. Ironically this is the precise reason school choice is important. If families have choice, they can find the school that best fits their needs and desires. School choice opponents frequently use these anecdotes from parents as evidence in their narrative about why “all charter schools are bad” when the real narrative is “all schools are different and each family needs to find the one that works for them.”
For example, some parents criticize the lack of transportation service from charter schools. While this is a perfectly legit complaint, school choice opponents like to exalt that complaint without mentioning there are plenty of charter schools that DO provide transportation (In spite of the fact that the government doesn’t subsidize it like they do for public schools).
Some charter schools are not living up to the high academic expectations we should have for them and school choice advocates need to own that. MANY more are giving are students viable alternatives to failing public schools and school choice opponents shouldn’t leave that out of the conversation.
As a general rule of thumb, broad sweeping generalizations can only be wrong. We recognize this fact when we are talking about people. It’s time we accept it’s also the case when talking about schools.