Don’t conflate vouchers with charters
The signs carried by the hundreds gathered to protest the nation’s education secretary, Betsy Devos, in Denver last month expressed my own sentiments exactly.
“Quality Public Education is a Civil Right”
“Public Dollars for Public Schools” However, some of the speakers I could not applaud. Here’s why.
The demonstrators, led by the teachers union, deliberately conflate vouchers, which send money to private schools, with public charter schools that keep public money in the public system. They are not the same!
True, both programs encourage “school choice” and granting to parents the right to make them. However, whereas the first could completely destroy public schools in America, the latter aims to build them up.
But enough of protestors, unions and systems!
It is children we are really talking about. And most public charter schools are showing positive results for the children who attend them, whereas negative results often occur for those who use vouchers.
A recent Colorado Department of Education report reveals that in Colorado, children in public charter schools — those schools freed from union rules and some administrative demands — to follow their own goals consistently outperform those in traditional district schools.
In English 44 percent of charter school students, compared to 37 percent of those in traditional schools, met or exceeded grade level. Special education students and those from low-income families also did better in charter schools.
Charter schools, which are free to experiment with teaching techniques and learning styles, often operate with strict discipline, dress codes, longer hours and the goal of the students attending a fouryear college.
In 2016, the 69 percent of Denver School of Science and Technology Students who qualified for subsidized school lunches scored higher on state standardized math tests than non-subsidized lunch-eligible students in all Denver Public Schools. The DSST Charter now operates on 12 different campuses. (Disclaimer here: My daughter, Heather Lamm, is an employee of DSST.)
Other cities parallel Denver’s success with charters. New York Times writer David Leonhardt reports on how Boston charters are outperforming traditional schools.
Leonhardt cites researchers form Columbia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and Berkeley, who looked at thousands of charter school students in Boston and found that those who attend are: more likely to take AP tests and do well in them; achieve SAT scores 51 points higher than for similar students elsewhere in the system; attend four year colleges more often than those at traditional schools.
The studies also show that many groups that struggle academically are among the biggest beneficiaries. The most striking observation comes form MIT researcher, Parag Pathak: Boston charters eliminate between a third and half of the blackwhite test score gap in a single year.
In contrast, children who take their taxpayer-funded vouchers to private schools tend to be flailing and sometimes failing.
A February Los Angeles Times article by Michael Hiltzik cites studies from Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana which found huge declines of academic achievement in voucher programs in these three states.
In Indiana particularly, where voucher programs were passionately promoted by then Gov. Mike Pence (now the vice president), two researchers found that “voucher students in private schools experience significant loss in mathematic achievement and no improvement in English compared to their records at their former public schools.”
I would not for a minute say that all voucher programs will damage children, any more than I could maintain that public school charters are a panacea for every educational ailment.
Still, my commitment to charters remains strong. They are by far the best way for poor families, children of color, and those students with different learning styles to realize their potential.
As former Massachusetts union organizer, turned researcher and public charter school advocate, Susan Dynarski, proclaims: “The gains to children in Massachusetts charters are enormous. They are larger than any I have seen in my career. To me it is immoral to deny children a better education because charters don’t meet some voters’ ideal of what a public school should be. Children don’t live in the long term. They need us to deliver now.”
Dottie Lamm (firstname.lastname@example.org) former first lady of Colorado, is the grandmother four of children who attend Denver Public Schools, one in a charter, three in traditional.