Why charter school opponents are clueless: you can’t argue with evolution

The new numbers are out: almost 3 million kids are now enrolled in 6,700 charter schools across the U.S. According to the report, if we don’t include charters that opened in Fall 2014, 4% of all charters were closed down last year (223/(6,732-501)).


Why did they close down? Simple: charter school opponents have ensured that charter schools face far more scrutiny in terms of how they operate and perform than regular public schools. Poorly-run charters tend to get shut down, resulting in a pool of much stronger charter schools (they also face great selection pressures in terms of getting permission to open).

Think of this as evolution by government mandate: because charter schools face more pressure to perform, the weak members of the herd are weeded out. In contrast, regular public schools rarely face the prospect of complete shutdown. (I’ve looked for comparable public school numbers and can’t find them; let me know if you have any good sources for these data. What happened in Chicago seems extraordinary simply because it is so uncommon.)

Charter school opponents should have pressed for no accountability whatsoever for charter schools. Then the charter arena would have been filled with fly-by-night operators intent on making a quick buck (somewhat like large swathes of for-profit higher education). Charters would have a terrible reputation, parents would be reluctant to enroll their children in them, and scholars comparing the two types of schools would fail to find that charters as a whole do better.

Opponents have unwittingly ensured that charters will triumph in the long run, because of the evolutionary pressures they face.