Editor’s note: This commentary by Eve L. Ewing, a sociologist of education whose research focuses on racism, social inequality and urban policy and the impact of these forces on American public schools, appeared Monday in the New York Times.
As an education researcher, a writer, and a former teacher, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with people all over the country about public schools. And wherever I go, there’s one question I can usually count on being asked:
“What do you think about charter schools?”
I know people want a cut-and-dried answer. Unfortunately, the discourse about charter schools has become more of an ideological debate, split neatly into opposing factions, than it is a policy discussion informed by facts. As long as Democrats play by those rules, they miss an important chance to reframe the debate altogether.
Instead of splitting across dogmatic “pro-charter” or “anti-charter” lines, the Biden administration should take a simpler, more transformative stance: demanding high-quality, well-financed schools for all children.
The research on charter schools gives fuel to both sides of the debate. Studies have found, at varying times and in varying contexts, all of the following: Charters have improved in effectiveness, but are less effective than their non-charter peers — yet are effective for low-income students and students of color than for white and more affluent students. Charters are more likely to suspend their students than their non-charter peers.
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