By: Joseph Rovito
More teachers, funding and policy flexibility have done little to narrow achievement gaps systemic to the nation’s education system.
Sixty-three years since the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. the Board of Education, the NAACP has blown the whistle on charter school programs that have seemed to maintain inequality trends rather than be solutions to the problem.
Without context, charter schools seem like a hopeless policy gambit hoisted by politicians who lack the financial and moral wherewithal to fix the country’s public school system first, leaving federal and state educators hung out to dry.
Despite this, the public narrative on the issue lacks pragmatism as more funding for public schools too often lines the pockets of underperforming teachers and calculating union bosses.
With public sector union reform very far out of reach, private sector solutions are often the only ones state officials can run to. However inconsistent, charter schools often represent the only fighting chance underprivileged communities have in offering quality education as constitutional and bureaucratic limitations stifle plans for effective primary education reform.
Opponents of charter schools forget that funding the public education system promises only disappointing results. Increased funding for public schools does not lead to higher test scores as the United States fails to compete with countries that have lower per capita funding.
U.S. taxpayers pay for an education system that consistently performs under the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development average while forking over the European funding equivalent.
Furthermore, even when test scores rise, a significant portion of purported test score gains stem from relaxed test standards, not increased teaching performance. Due to wide-ranging bureaucratic inefficiencies, federal and state education departments linger in internal waste, forcing politicians to either spar with union officials over increased oversight and accountability or take the private option.
The former hemorrhages political capital and wastes legislative effort on a failing education system whose exploits are guarded by union protection. Although charter schools may provide inconsistent results, they are frequently the only answer to the nation’s education woes.
Taking New York as an example, the state offers both some of the highest union protections for its teachers as well as payrolls. Hosting the highest average salary for public school teachers in the nation, New York remains in the bottom 25 states in math and reading proficiency.
The same goes for states like California, where a public school teacher’s salary averages roughly $70,000 while granting the performance equivalent of a cash-strapped nation like Greece. Meanwhile, charter schools offer parents a competitive alternative that can lead to world-class access to educational resources with a public school’s funding equivalent.
Success Academy, one of the major charter school operators in New York state, produces double-digit test score improvements for minority students that are unparalleled, raising the bar for U.S. education standards well over what public institutions can offer. State officials cannot be blamed for running to the private option that is far more alluring than duking it out with politically powerful public sector unions.
Increasing parental flexibility may force public institutions to pick up their slack while too much decentralization would lead to inefficiencies and the potential for increased segregation. While school choice should be a right for parents, tax credits for private schools would deprive public institutions of funding, forcing a potential bailout of some government departments. Placing more pressure on cash-strapped municipalities would do more harm than good.
Given the circumstances facing federal and state legislators over primary education reform, charter schools are often the only answer officials can offer.
Unless the public education dynamic were to change overnight, permitting the appropriate reforms to increase bureaucratic efficiency, charter schools will remain the go-to rallying cry for U.S. education reform.
Joseph Rovito, a sophomore, is pursuring a major in Finance in the Zicklin School of Business. He is a frequent contributor to The Ticker.