Tag Archives: politics

Charter Market Share Moves in One Direction


I just read Will Marshall’s “How to Save the Democratic Party from Itself” (HT John Arnold).

Will’s piece is longer than it needed to be. You can skim it and get the gist. His basic point is Democrats need to capture more of the center to build a governing majority. This is not a novel strategy. Bill Clinton did it before. Perhaps it will happen again. Hilary Clinton may well determine if it does. George Bush’s brother might determine if she succeeds or not.

Democracy for the win.

More pertinent to this blog: just as political parties need a strategy to build a winnable coalition, so do political ideas.

Unlike many education reform ideas, charter schooling is a political idea that appears to be supported by a sustainable coalition.

To date, the coalition includes: far right + center right + center left.

This coalition has been remarkably stable.

How stable?

Since the first charter school opened in 1992, 100% of presidents of the United States of America have supported their growth (Clinton, Bush, Obama). This streak will likely continue with the next president.

The federal charter school funding program was first passed in 1994. It has been consistently funded ever since. In 2014, $250,000,000 in federal funds was allocated to support charter school growth. The House just voted 360-45 to raise this to $300,000,000.

Additionally, public opinion polls consistently find charter school achieving 55-65% support ratings.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, charter school market share generally only moves in one direction: up.

I can think of no major city in the United States that has seen a major reduction in charter school market share over a five year period.

Not one.

This is rather remarkable.

Last year, nationally, charter school market share grew by 10%.

All this being said, there are potential fissures in this coalition. The national right is often more supportive of charter schools than the local right. When a school system is the largest employer in a Republican’s district, charter school growth is very easily negotiated away. Additionally, the center left’s on and off again relationship with teachers unions presents another potential fissure.

But twenty years of consistent growth should not be ignored. Nor should getting 360 votes in the House in an era marked by hyper partisanship.

All told, it is highly likely that the charter sector will continue to grow.

Of course, this growth will only be of note if charter schools perform. Or, more specifically, if the great charter schools are allowed to expand, and the worst lose the privilege to serve students.

But, again, it is worth noting – to date, charter market share has moved in one direction: up.

Thoughts on Petrilli on Ed Reform Backlash


Mike Petrilli wrote a thoughtful piece on the current backlash on ed reform.

This is Mike’s argument:

  1. American schools aren’t failing.
  1. But American schools are often mediocre and lack urgency.
  1. The mediocrity in suburban schools (especially those that serve mostly middle to high income families) is not as dire because the kids generally have access to other supports.
  1. The mediocrity in urban schools is dire because these students already have so much stacked up against them.
  1. Solution for suburban schools: utilizes standards (such as common core) to create a sense of urgency and raise expectations for what student can accomplish. But ditch centralized teacher evaluations, etc.
  1. Solution for urban schools: be more aggressive; transform governance; let the best charter schools scale until they educate the majority of children in these settings.

Where I Agree with Mike

For the most past, I agree that American schools aren’t “failing” in the worst sense of the word. Some cities, such as New Orleans, have faced complete systems failure in the recent past, but most cities have not.

I agree that many American schools lack urgency. I felt this was the best part of Amanda Ripley’s narrative. And studies of American student television watching, homework, etc. seem to also paint this picture.

I agree that common core could raise expectations in suburban schools – but only if rigorous assessments accompany the standards (I assume Mike would agree).

I agree that urban systems should transform themselves into charter systems.

Where I Might Disagree with Mike

I think suburban communities would likely, over time, develop better schools if their systems were charter systems.

Recently, I wrote about the fact that suburban charter schools underperform traditional schools in terms of test scores. But suburban charter schools are small in number and I believe are currently being formed as an alternative to test based schooling.

My guess is that a more mature suburban charter sector would eventually evolve to include many Great Hearts type of schools – schools that exist to provide a more rigorous academic environment than the current system.

In a world without political constraints, I believe chartering suburban education systems would lead to better outcomes than simply implementing better standards and assessments in these systems.

We Each Have Our Own Political Problems

Here’s my political problem: trying to charter suburban school systems will be a wildly difficult battle.

The incumbents are wealthy, politically connected, competent, and providing a decent product.

Incumbents like this are extremely hard to displace.

Here’s Mike’s political problem: he’s saying suburban communities should get light touch reform but urban communities should get hardcore reform.

The race and class dimensions of such a proposal will be clear to all involved.

This doesn’t mean Mike’s proposal is wrong on the merits, but it does mean that (on average) white and black families will be treated differently by (generally) white governors and state legislators.

 Where to Go From Here?

Well, my time (and the time of many other great folks) will be spent trying to help transform the structure and performance of urban school systems.

Plenty of people’s time will also be spent on trying to implement common core.

So that leaves two questions:

  1. Will, per Mike’s suggestion, the reform community retreat from centralized teacher evaluation type reforms?
  1. Will, per my suggestion, a suburban charter school movement swell into a force that can provide much better choices for middle class families?

I’m not sure.