A Moody’s report confirms the worst fears of teachers’ unions: charter schools do, in fact, hurt traditional public schools. In a report examining the finances of Philadelphia’s school district, the credit rating agency found that the growing numbers of charter schools in the city are taking district resources from their traditional counterparts, hurting the finances of the district in the process. A similar process is taking place in a number of other cities as well.Moody’s breaks the problem down into three basic steps: First, the number of students in charter schools is rising, diverting resources away from traditional schools. Second, cities have been slow to adapt to this change, often paying to keep half-full public schools open as students leave for charters. Third, state policies favoring charter schools are encouraging more kids to switch to charters and exacerbating the first two trends.The second problem is in many ways the most interesting one. The Washington Post reports:
The problem, Moody’s says, is that urban public school districts have trouble adapting. Parents, for one, can pressure districts to keep schools open. Even when they fail at that, as they did in Chicago, they can still stymie district plans. Despite that city’s effort to consolidate students there, thousands are shunning their newly assigned schools, the Chicago Tribune reports today. And unions can similarly stand in the way of quick changes, too.And then there’s the very nature of the problem. Charter schools don’t suck up enrollment from just one school. They pull from schools across a district, meaning each takes a slight hit while none loses enough students to justify substantial restructuring.
No doubt many will come forward to say that this report lends credence to the unions’ charge that charter schools are a covert attempt to dismantle public education. But where some will see conspiracy, we see merely the inevitable consequences of public schools’ inability to adapt to competition and change. Charter schools really do appear to perform better on a few key metrics, so it shouldn’t be in the least bit surprising or mysterious that politicians favor them, or that parents choose to enroll their children with them. The only way this looks like a dark and diabolical conspiracy is if you think the whole purpose of the public school system is to sustain itself as long as possible, while changing itself as little as possible.Many of our public school systems have serious problems; cutting back on charter schools certainly isn’t the solution to them.[Closed school image courtesy of Shutterstock]