So it’s not a coincidence that states with the most laissez-faire charter rules have had the most abysmal results. In Nevada, which until recently approved charters with near-abandon and then let them operate with little accountability, charter students lost more than half a year of learning each year than if they’d stayed in the regular public schools. […]Charter schools in Washington, D.C., which are held to higher accountability standards, give their students the equivalent of more than half a year of extra learning in math and 11 weeks in reading over traditional schools, the study found.
A completely unregulated free market approach may not be a silver bullet, but it’s also clear that the hidebound traditional public school system is resistant to reform even with improved standards. While the data shows that charter schools can be every bit as poorly run as their public counterparts, charter schools’ increased freedom to experiment, if channeled properly, is producing measurable improvements.So how best to channel this freedom? Rather than focusing solely on top-down oversight from the state as the Times editorial does, we’d like to see more of this oversight being done by the parents. Voucher programs would be one way to accomplish this, but the key is parental choice. Giving parents the ability to choose between competing schools would provide strong incentives for schools to post measurable results—pressure that should over time translate to even greater performance gains for charter schools. The competition would also lead traditional public schools to do a better job; the goal of school reform should not be to favor one type of school over others but to push all schools toward better performance.A government-provided checklist of standards is certainly not without its uses, as it provides a base acceptable level of performance against which to clear away the most incompetent institutions. But as a driver of actual educational improvements, empowering individual families with a modicum of choice would in our opinion go a long way to improving outcomes across the board.[Classroom image courtesy of Shutterstock]