Today, a new poll released by Education Next shows that support for charter schools has fallen, both overall and among communities of color.
You know it’s a bad day for your issue when President Donald Trump’s support for your side actually helps you out, even if only a little. The poll’s results suggest that Trump’s support for charters does somewhat offset the overall decline in support.
What does this mean? It means the war on charters from the left—teachers unions and the NAACP—is winning. We’ve talked here at Education Post before about the short-sightedness of these groups in bashing an innovation that, at its best, has shown real results in improving college completion and life outcomes for the kids who need it most. When 25 percent of Education Next’s poll respondents admit they really don’t know anything about charter schools, it’s important for us to keep showing the best of what charters can do.
But it’s also time to talk about a deeper problem—the failure of too many charter operators to live up to the highest standards of transparency, accountability and professionalism in running their schools. The war on charters wouldn’t be winning if so many charter operators weren’t adding fuel to the fire.
Virtual Charters Are a Problem, and That’s Not All
Virtual charter schools are prime targets in this regard. In 2015, the Center for Research on Educational Options (CREDO) at Stanford University released a report showing that virtual charter school students fall behind by a year’s worth of math and a half-year’s worth of reading when compared with similar students attending other public schools. Last year California Virtual Academies made headlines for taking in over $300 million in state funds and producing low graduation rates.
These virtual charter schools also hide financial information, making it easy for them to engage in fraud. In Pennsylvania, cyber charter founder Nick Trombetta pled guilty last year to a tax conspiracy charge related to siphoning $8 million from his virtual schools into straw entities as part of a scheme to hide his real income.
States can do more to hold virtual charters accountable for their financial management and for student performance. In fact, last year three pro-charter groups—National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 50Can and the National Alliance for Charter School Accountability (NACSA), wrote the instruction manual. Now would be a good time for virtual schools to up their game, and for state elected officials to get serious about holding those schools accountable.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the virtual charters that are giving the charter movement a bad name. Every time a corruption scandal, like this one from Florida, makes the news, it makes it that much harder for the general public to understand why charters are so important.
As a charter parent, I find this situation infuriating. At its best, charter freedom from district interference allows school leaders to create schools that meet community needs in unique ways. That’s what has happened at Namaste Charter School, which blends support for health and wellness, including bullying prevention, with a dual-language English-Spanish program. There’s no other school quite like it in Chicago or nationally. It is a perfect fit for my child’s unique needs in language, diet and social support.
Every family deserves the opportunity to choose a school that meets their children’s needs. That means our public schools—both charter and district-run—must work together to provide a range of high-quality choices that go beyond the basics to demonstrate what great education can be in a variety of ways. For the charter sector, that means holding ourselves accountable to the highest standards in instruction and financial management. If we want to win the charter war, we have to start by looking deeply at ourselves.