Charter Schools or Public Schools—Which Model to Choose?

Many people believe there are major problems with our education system, and these problems are contributing to the teacher shortage.  I’ve spoken about teacher pay and teacher respect being major reasons why teachers are leaving the profession and why students are not pursuing teaching as a career, but many believe that these problems are merely a symptom of the underlying, systemic problem: that our education system itself needs a dramatic overhaul.

People ranging from parents to lawmakers believe that charter schools are the answer to the systemic problems in education, but those that fear this shift toward a private model of education argue that supporting charter schools comes at the detriment of traditional public schools.

Some people like charter schools because they lack the chains that hold back traditional public schools.  A recent opinion piece from the Seattle Times says that it’s time to embrace charter schools, stating that they demonstrate “what’s possible when schools are freed from certain rules and regulations in exchange for being held accountable for student outcomes.”  These schools have been allowed the space to practice innovative educational policies, which are unlikely to take root in the rigid, prescribed structure of traditional public schools.

Charter schools are growing because many people find their specialization and smaller bureaucracy liberating and more appealing than traditional public schools.  More and more schools are converting to charter schools, and a larger percentage of students are being enrolled in them.  A recent San Jose Mercury News article stated that in 2015, “Nationwide, the number of charters rose 7.3 percent.  There were 436 new schools and 288,000 students added, for a total of 6,440 schools educating more than 2.5 million students.”  The growing numbers only serve to bolster the claim of charter school supporters that the private model of education is better than traditional schools—that is to say that growth, in their minds, equates to a sign of success.

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According to a Poll from Education Next, an education policy analyst group, teachers are actually most opposed to charter schools of any other group interviewed.  This isn’t all that surprising, as charter schools represent the private model—one that doesn’t support teachers’ unions.  Teachers are also quick to point out that charter schools offer less pay than traditional public schools, or that charters promote a performance based pay system, and some would say that this is actually an appealing aspect of charter schools, because many people are paid this way, and why should teachers be any different?  Those with more egalitarian motives counter that argument by saying that such a competitive environment will result in a stratified education system, where the best teachers go to the schools that can pay the most, which due to schools being funded in part by local property taxes, means that the wealthy benefit while the poor do not.

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One question that puts a damper on people’s appreciation of charter schools is their funding source.  Charter schools draw from the same source as traditional public schools, meaning that as charter schools grow to use up more of that funding, traditional public schools are left with less funding.  People don’t like this, and according to a PDK/Gallup poll, 65% of Americans say they would oppose charter schools in their area if it meant reducing the amount of funds available to regular public schools.  Since charters draw from the same funding as traditional schools, but their competitive model also tends to draw in the talented teachers who have become disenfranchised by the bureaucracy, its easy to see that traditional schools will suffer when a charter school is established in the area.

Charter schools represent a privatization, and some good comes with that privatization along with some bad.  But the question is: does the good outweigh the bad?  Quality education for students is at stake, but it may mean sacrificing things like teacher pay, which could lower the quality of education students receive in the long run.

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