Brookings: Stop shortchanging charter schools

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The newest report on charter schools comes from a think tank that opens its executive summary with the following sentence, “Charter schools offer choice to parents who would otherwise be constrained to having their children attend a residentially assigned traditional public school.” This isn’t market-driven ideology from a libertarian institute. This comes straight from the center-left Brookings Institution, which is calling on the federal government to take the lead in promoting policies that stop shortchanging charter schools.

The institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy gathered seven scholars to study the federal government’s current role in charter policy. According to its report released today, the center found that the federal role is a “haphazard collection of laws, rules, funding preferences, and rhetoric that lacks coherence at the policy or action level.” There are now about 1.6 million students attending 4,900 charter schools in 39 states, the report shows, and those schools attract a disproportionate number of students eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.

As if to underscore the growing political consensus over the role of charter schools in the nation’s public education system, the Brookings Institution draws a conclusion that could just as easily be mistaken for the conservative Heritage Foundation: “Charter schools are by definition schools of choice. The promise of education choice includes improving quality and efficiency through competition among schools, enhancing opportunity for students of low-income families who may otherwise be trapped in ineffective schools, and spurring innovation. But the promise of choice in public education is constrained by the quality and timeliness of information on school performance that is available to parents.”

Regardless of the source, the call is to empower the parent, a cause that is fast emerging in public education today. President Obama has called for doubling the number of charter schools nationwide. Now Brookings has offered recommendations for federal action. They include:

  • Collecting and using more and better data on the performance of charter schools for purposes of authorizing, research, and informed parental choice;
  • Requiring states to provide equitable funding for charter schools relative to traditional public schools—including support for facilities;
  • Supporting higher standards for authorizing;
  • Revising rules and definitions that unintentionally disadvantage charter schools;
  • Promoting the growth as well as quality control of virtual charter schools;
  • And articulating and following through on a coherent policy with respect to charter schools.