Charter Schools: Efficient Education or Financial Mess?
Jeb Bush, one of the front runners for the Republican nomination, has repeatedly championed charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schooling methods.
Amidst a bustle of shots fired over immigration, social change and international politics, some domestic matters aren’t quite getting the attention they deserve, which is why we’re going to focus on Bush’s tentative education proposals.
Throughout his current campaign, and prior to his official announcement of candidacy, Bush extolled on his education experience with low-income communities while he was governor of Florida. Bush has touted improved Advance Placement Test scores and the introduction of a program that graded schools upon their performance, in a state not known for stellar scores.
Bush was, and remains, a big proponent of cutting away at government regulation and oversight of education in order to allow schools to run themselves. Bush’s time in Florida shows that he is a big supporter of expanding charter school programs, but, what exactly is a charter school, and how would it fit the framework of a state education?
Educational Capitalism: Competition Drives Efficiency
Essentially charter schools operate as independent education entities, which are publicly funded, but largely free of public school regulations and supervision. In theory, this allows a charter school to educate without a broad and standardized method, experiment with new teaching methods and offer smaller class sizes than your average public school. Additionally, it allows a parent and student to explicitly choose a school based on its merits and education system rather than simply being assigned to one based on their districting.
The business-based methodology at the heart of charter schools means they break with the standardized mold you’ll typically find in state-run schools. This collection of factors means that charter schools can vary in design and effectiveness in a manner you could loosely call “educational capitalism.”
Proponents of the system, Bush chief among them, believe this allows schools to operate more efficiently, with competition driving schools to better performance.
Liberty City: When Charter Schools Fail
As for the potential drawbacks of charter schools, Liberty City Charter School, the first of its kind in Florida back in 1996, serves as a cautionary tale. Bush was a co-founder for the privately managed charter school and it initially was successful in providing quality education to the city’s low-income African-American community. The candidate paid many visits to the school during its early days, but eventually political responsibilities pulled his attentions elsewhere.
By 1999, the school earned a “D” grade on Bush’s new standardized Florida test, known as the “FCAT,” and by 2008, with no political support and poor academic performance, the school closed. Charter schools have to walk a delicate line between educating their students and attracting customers for-profit.
Competition and the ability to innovate can allow for better education than at a typical public school, but opponents say that Liberty City, among others in Florida, shows how a for-profit mentality can ultimately prove destructive when it comes to education. From their point of view, a business has less interest in maintaining the highlights of academic excellence over making a quick profit.
To be fair, Bush hasn’t been actively pushing for a national overhaul in which all schools would become copies of Florida’s charter schools.
That said, his sentiments at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference seem to suggest that his principles haven’t changed too much from his governorship of Florida. “Federal government has no role in the creation of standards,” Bush said at his CPAC appearance. “The role of the federal government, if any, is to create more school choice.”
Bush hasn’t yet rolled out an education proposal as comprehensive as the tax program he offered a few weeks ago. But when he does, it will be interesting to see how large of a role charter schools play.
What do you think about charter schools? Are they a good alternative to our current mess or just part of another education strategy doomed to fail? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.