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Understand the charter school debate in just 2 minutes

My colleague Nick Anderson, the Post's national education reporter, has done a terrific job summing up the complex debate over charter schools in his story about two recent charter studies with very different results. This is the best 800-word update on charters I have ever seen, and frees me from my promise to bring you up to date on the reaction to one of the studies, by Carolyn Hoxby. I was too lazy and confused to get that done. Nick saved me. To make up for that lapse, I will be writing much about charters soon, including a blog post tomorrow on a way President Obama could bring both sides of the charter debate together in a joint effort on a particular issue that would help everybody. There is other good stuff on our education page right now.

By Jay Mathews  | November 30, 2009; 12:14 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Carolyn Hoxby, President Obama, charter schools  
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Next: Mr. President: Be the bad guy, start closing schools.


A few days ago I looked at per pupil spending (PPS) of Oakland's charter schools vs. the traditional public schools (TPSs). The Average PPS at the charter schools was $8740. At the TPSs it was $6506. The range of Total PPS at the charter schools was $5931 to $13290. At the TPSs it was $4630 to $8886.

In our city, the big, pro-charter venture philanthropy foundations, and charter school founder and board of director connections, are responsible for most of the additional funding used to tempt families away from the TPSs. Charters have extras, like smaller class sizes and longer school hours, along with screening processes to exclude the students who are dregs. It's probably this way everywhere, so how useful is it to compare the two types of schools?

By the way, the strongest reason families seek charter schools is because they want their children to be segregated from the barely manageable “street culture” students who belong to America’s large and steadily growing “incarcerated class.” The fleeing from traditional urban public schools has more to do with school climate than academics.

We need to deal with the real reason why most people badmouth, sneer at, and shun the traditional public schools, namely the unpleasant atmosphere caused by the presence of a small-but-mighty set of extremely difficult kids who have incredibly ineffective parents, in mainstream culture terms. These kids are the ones who need the extra resources and help, not those with parents who have their acts together. Unfortunately, most people spouting off about ed reform don’t intimately know the urban public school landscape, so they continually ignore this important dynamic.

If the kids who are members of this difficult, aggressive, and dominating subgroup were specifically identified and better managed and provided for, in the way of very low adult/student ratios, mental health services, and special enrichment programs, urban public schools would be able to function a lot better and our nation’s extremely costly incarceration rate might start to decrease. This issue is the elephant in the room.

Jay, I hope you spend time exploring this topic in 2010.

Posted by: pondoora | November 30, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

charter schools = problem and disruptive students immediately sent back to public schools

public education = charter schools + public reform schools

Posted by: bsallamack | November 30, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

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