The White House is clamping down on charter schools at the behest of teacher’s unions, and in direct contradiction to the wishes of most parents, according to the data.
The GOP has a golden opportunity to capitalize on mounting dissatisfaction by branding itself as the “Parents’ Party.”
A solid majority of American parents back charter schools as an alternative to traditional public district schools, with even higher numbers among black and Hispanic parents, according to a survey by the Harris Poll released in May.
Parents cited reasons including safety, quality of instruction, individualized attention, teachers’ flexibility and adaptability, school or class sizes, and “culturally affirming environments” as reasons to seek alternatives to traditional public district schools.
In March, the Department of Education proposed new rules that would delay the formation of new charter schools and make it harder for existing charter schools to receive federal funding, as mandated by the Charter School Program established by Congress in 1994.
- The revised rules would require groups trying to found new charter schools to demonstrate “unmet demand” for the schools and “over-enrollment” at existing district schools, among other new conditions.
- The requirements would make it more difficult to establish new charter schools in areas with declining overall enrollments, including most big cities, even when education quality, not overcrowding, is the main parental concern.
- The rules would also require charter schools to “collaborate” with district public schools, potentially compromising their pedagogical independence and latitude for innovation — two main reasons for their existence.
BEHIND THE TREND
Critics have argued the Biden administration is clamping down on charter schools for the benefit of powerful teachers’ unions, whose donations to parties and candidates go overwhelmingly toward Democrats.
- Experts say teachers’ unions view charter schools as unwelcome competition for students, sapping traditional schools’ funding.
- Another reason teachers’ unions aren’t thrilled about charter schools? Faculty members at charter schools are less likely to belong to unions and thus unions’ bargaining power is weakened at such schools.
- Existing budgetary concerns were amplified by the drop in public school enrollment during the pandemic, when more than a million students left public schools, while charter schools gained around 240,000 students.
Teachers’ unions may have good reason to worry about competition from charter schools, judging by the results of the first long-term study comparing student performance at charters and traditional public district schools from 2005-2017.
- Students at charter schools showed faster progress than district schools over this period, with the biggest gains for minority and disadvantaged students when the researchers controlled for demographic characteristics and other factors.
- The researchers concluded that the difference in results was either due to charter schools attracting “more proficient students” in a way that somehow eluded statistical analysis, “or because charter schools and their teachers are doing a better job of teaching students.”