This week in school choice: What’s next?

Travis Pillow

Earlier this month, charter schools turned 25.

What should the next 25 years look like?

First, we can’t imagine a future for chartering that spurns the no-excuses model and its variations — nor should it. Millions of poor and minority youngsters still need better school options, and this should remain a sturdy pillar of the charter sector. Making existing schools in this sector better — too many of them cannot yet claim to deliver a high-quality education—and replicating the best of them to serve more kids are important priorities. Infusing what they’ve demonstrated into district schools is important, too.

The question is whether American education would be better off if the charter sector had more pillars. We’re convinced that it would.

Second, restoring the broader vision of what chartering can do — without either forfeiting or complacently settling for its impressive accomplishments to date — requires resourcefulness on the part of policymakers, funders, and leaders of the charter movement itself. It’s a no-brainer to suppose that the future will simply extend the present, but it takes intelligence and a measure of courage — and considerable dollops of resources — to conjure a future that’s more than that.

It should include more (and better) specialized charters created in systematic ways: schools that focus on STEM, career and technical education, high-ability learners, special education, socioeconomic integration, and other realms within the K-12 universe that cry for better options than what’s there today.

Parents and educators, not bureaucrats, should control schools. But voters should have a say over how school systems in their communities operate. That’s a lesson from the first 25 years, as Andy Smarick writes:

We assumed that school results would be much better, and school politics much reduced, if we dramatically decentralized the system by handing authority to families, educators, and civil society. Teachers could start and lead schools, nonprofits could operate and support schools, and parents could match their kids to the programs that fit them best. We could rid ourselves of all the campaign nastiness and government sclerosis that comes with embedding public education within a political system.

But a curious thing happened along our righteous, electorally watertight path to greater choice: People decided that they liked democracy, too.

So today, in cities with too few options, families clamor for more choice. Charter waitlists overflow, and advocates lobby for new voucher, tax-credit, or ESA programs. At the same time, in cities where charter sectors have blossomed (e.g., New Orleans, Detroit, Newark), communities are demanding more democratic control. How to balance the two has turned out to be one of the most interesting and difficult quandaries in schooling today.

Charter school advocates and educators are gathering now in Nashville. We’ll be there, providing coverage Monday through Wednesday. We expect to hear more on these and other points about the future of chartering.


Charters are nothing like Uber. They’ve actually got it much harder.

Want another example of how zoned public schools help form an edifice of privilege?

The Massachusetts Legislature won’t allow one of the nation’s highest-performing charter school sectors to expand, so now it’s up to the voters. Indiana charters have doubled in size over the past five years. Change is coming to charter-heavy Detroit.

When charter schools fail, there’s an alternative to closure: The charter restart.

NPR takes a tough look at Rocketship charters … and bathroom restrictions.

Parents over bureaucrats.

Meet the new boss of charter school network Yes Prep.

Education savings account legislation dies in Delaware. The ACLU wants more time in the legal battle over Nevada ESAs.

Maryland’s new voucher program didn’t come soon enough to save this Baltimore Catholic school.

The Obama Administration opposes DC voucher funding increases in the federal budget. Vouchers in Indiana, Louisiana and elsewhere need time to work, John White writes for Brookings.

AEI weighs in on virtual charters.

ICYMI, the past week on redefinED:

What drives a school choice stalwart

Home education participation flat in Florida

Can educational equity be won through the courts?

From private-school scholarship recipient to award-winning foreign correspondent

Tweets of the Week

This Week in School Choice is redefinED’s weekly roundup of national news related to educational options. It appears Monday mornings on the blog, but you can sign up here to get it in your inbox. Did we miss something? Sends tips, links, suggestions and feedback to tpillow[at]sufs[dot]org.

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