Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Last year, polls of public support for charter schools dropped. When asked whether they support “the formation of charter schools,” the percentage of people answering yes fell to an all-time low of 52 percent in 2017. That was a whopping 13 percent lower than the year before. Some attributed the drop Betsy DeVos's unpopularity and the NAACP's call for a moratorium on charters. This year's poll, however, shows a 10 point jump. Support for charters is now at 62 %, basically within the margin of error of the 2016 poll. So were the 2017 results a polling error, a blip on the radar, or something else?
My opinion is that the polls are asking the wrong question to begin with. The question is too general and decontextualized. It is like asking whether Congress should authorize the President to invade Iraq following 9/11. Most were willing to say yes but only on the assumption that weapons of mass destruction existed. But far fewer supported authorization to invade regardless of the threat the country posed to US interests.
Do people support the creation of high quality charters that don't increase racial isolation or harm public schools? Sure, why wouldn't they. The problem is that data shows us those facts increasingly don't exist. North Carolina, Minnesota, and New Jersey data reveal very troubling segregation trends. National studies reveal that the vast majority of charters are no better than public schools and that there are more low performing charters than high performing ones. Data also shows that communities that need the biggest improvements in education often have the worst charters.
Data also shows that the vast expansion of charters over the past decade closely correlates the the defunding of traditional public schools. At the same time states were cutting public education budgets by 10 and 20%, they were doubling the enrollment in charters.
Charter policy does not have to be a zero sum game. In theory, they can coexist with and complement traditional public education. In practice, they haven't.
The problem with these polls is that they ask a theoretical question to people who haven't been informed of the reality.
--photo by Peter Southwood