Last night, Education Week continued with a debate on the charter school system compared to the public school system, held in Lohrfink Auditorium. This event comes in a timely manner, as this past Tuesday D.C. Public Schools announced a proposal that calls for the closing of 20 D.C. public schools, most by the start of the next school year. The proposal will now be handed off to Mayor Vincent Gray, whose approval is needed to move forward with the school closures.
Dr. Douglass Reed, an associate professor in the Georgetown’s Department of Government, moderated the debate. Arguing in favor of public charter schools was Nathan Bu (SFS ’13). Gavin Bade (SFS ’14) presented the pro-public school argument. [Disclosure: Bade is News Editor for the Georgetown Voice.]
According to Professor Reed, 41 percent of D.C. public school students now attend charter schools. However, the proliferation of charter schools is a nationwide trend. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that the number of students attending public charter schools quadrupled from the year 2000 to 2009, and in the past few years the flight toward charter schools has continued.
The proliferation of these schools has sparked controversy in the education community, as charter schools are thought to take funding from more inclusive public schools and are often said to play a role in the closure of many public schools, which are often revered as a foundation of the community. On the other hand, charter schools are believed by many to offer a better education by empowering teachers and parents to be key players in the individual education of each and every student.
“There is a notion that there can be collective harms for things that can be good for individual students,” Dr. Reed commented. “Part of the debate intentioned here is, do we talk about individual kids being consigned to schools that may not be doing very well when that is perhaps better for the community? Is schooling about the community, or is schooling about children?”
In making his claim, Bade cited one of the more convincing arguments against charter schools, the idea that by focusing funding on these schools we have given up on the reformation of our public school system.
“It’s a gigantic cop-out,” he noted. “It’s saying that we don’t think we can fix our public schools anymore, so we are going to go outside the system and we are going to marginalize them. I think that’s a big big mistake.”
Bade also referred to what is known as the CREDO study, a report from Stanford University that researched educational outcomes at charter schools as compared to those of nearby public schools. The study found that 37 percent of charter schools produced educational outcomes that were worse than those of public schools in their vicinity, and only 17 percent produced outcomes that were better.
On the other hand, Bu made the claim that charter schools can act as an avenue toward much-needed education reform.
“If we accept the idea that there is something wrong with public education in the United States today, I think that the only way we can figure out how to solve that is by trying different things. That’s what I think the real pull for charter schools is,” he explained.
Bu noted that charter schools are more successful than public schools because they are able to have longer school days and more days in the school year. He also claimed that charter schools are better able to manage human capital and provide one-on-one tutoring services to their students.
Most importantly, Bu noted that charter schools were never meant to replace the public school system. Rather, public and charter schools are meant to complement each other by creating a kind of competition that holds each school accountable for its performance, thereby benefiting both school systems.
Georgetown’s debate on this issue is over, but it is clear that the nationwide discussion on this topic will carry on for many years to come, especially in the DC area. In the meantime, public and charter school students alike will continue to be affected by an education system that is drastically changing right before their eyes.
Photo by Lucia He