When I wrote Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform in 2011, the acceleration of charter school advocacy hadn’t quite gathered the momentum that we are experiencing at the end of 2013. If charter school advocacy has proven anything, however, it is that my basic premise has come to fruition:
Once again, the caution of evidence – advocacy is the enemy of transparency and truth.
Like medicine, then, education and education reform will continue to fail if placed inside the corrosive dynamics of market forces. Instead, the reform of education must include the expertise of educators who are not bound to advocating for customers, but encouraged, rewarded and praised for offering the public the transparent truth about what faces us and what outcomes are the result of any and every endeavor to provide children the opportunity to learn as a member of a free and empowered people.
Education “miracles” do not exist and market forces are neither perfect nor universal silver bullets for any problem – these are conclusions made when we are free of the limitations of advocacy and dedicated to the truth, even when it challenges our beliefs.
Data-driven analysis confronting charter school advocacy, then, tends to spur fairly predictable responses from those advocates. For example, when a charter advocacy group in South Carolina called for greater funding and support for charter schools, I offered an analysis from two years of data on charter and public schools, showing that charter schools tended to perform about the same and worse than public schools.
My resulting commentary refuting further investment in charter schools in SC has prompted a response that represents everything that is wrong with charter school advocacy.
Wayne Brazell, Superintendent, S.C. Public Charter School District, offers a predictable response, starting with an unrelated swipe at me:
It’s interesting that an education professor working at a private college where the tuition exceeds $40,000 per year has such insight into what is best for public-school parents, as Paul Thomas claims in his Dec. 12 guest column, “Charter schools not a smart investment for S.C.” Charter schools provide a valuable public-school option and operate with fewer resources, maximizing taxpayer investment and increasing innovative practices.
It seems more interesting to highlight that where I teach and what the tuition is at my university have nothing to do with the evidence I offered, but that this response is written by the Superintendent of S.C. Public Charter School District should raise at least some red flags about advocacy trumping a credible look at the evidence.
Next, Brazell offers a cursory nod to the main bulk of evidence in my analysis and then completely misses the point that when similar charter and public schools are compared, charter schools tend to be no different and worse:
While state report cards are an important measure to consider, schools also are rated on federal accountability measures. Eight charter schools received a perfect score of 100 in 2013, while 19 received A’s. With this measure, charters do get similar results to traditional public schools, but use fewer resources in the process.
Notably, Brazell does not refute my analysis, and offers only data from a different type of report card used in SC—not a comparison of like-schools and not a recognition that many public schools also excel under that report card system.
In fact, the SC Public Charter School District for which Brazell is superintendent received a C on that same report card. Wonder why he doesn’t mention that?
But let’s take the logic of this argument and apply it to traditional public schools (TPS): If some TPS achieved perfect scores and A’s on this report card, doesn’t that mean we should draw the same implied conclusion Brazell makes about charter schools? Well, they do, but Brazell makes no mention of that.
In fact, Brazell’s advocacy of charter schools depends on smoke and mirrors, lots of implications. As I have noted, implications and faith in market forces simply aren’t enough.
Instead of advocacy, we need evidence. So please consider what we know about some of the realities connected with charter schools that advocates refuse to acknowledge:
- Is “charterness” (something unique about charter schools) the key to providing better schools for all? No, see Di Carlo.
- Do charter schools do the same or more with less when compared to TPS? No, see Baker here and here.
- Are charter schools part of the rise of re-segregation by class and race in public education? Yes, see here, here, and here. And market forces appear behind that rise.
The evidence is clear: Charter school advocacy is failing the education reform debate in much the same way charter schools are failing students, public education, and the U.S.