One of the greatest benefits that school choice gives to education is that it creates a field of competition and innovation that should, theoretically, raise the standard of education in every school, public, private, and charter.
Competition has been the motor that has driven innovation in this country for its entire existence. In the last two decades we’ve moved from cell phones the size of bricks to smart phones with more computing power than the first NASA space shuttle, because each company involved in that type of technology was constantly trying to find a way to outsell the others product. Without competition between companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google we might have reached this level of technology eventually, but it’s more likely that it would have been our grandchildren, rather than us, enjoying the technology.
Why should our schools do any less?
While in the last two decades we’ve moved from desktop computers that hardly anyone could afford to the tablets and laptops that almost every college student has in their backpack. Unfortunately our field of education has not had that same surge forward, except, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the geographic areas where competition through school choice has taken root.
One of the reasons for the success of charter schools is certain that, while public schools are generally kept open long after they have failed to improve themselve, charter schools can and have been shut down for underperforming. According to The Center for Education Reform, between the years of 1992 and 2011 around 1,036 charters were shut down. Charter schools have to provide a decent education to survive, insuring quality competition between them and the public schools in their area.
Now we aren’t talking about astronomical gains across the board (though many charter schools, like BASIS schools in Arizona, can claim remarkable results) but there is an upward trend being seen in a field where the trend has mostly been stagnation.
Franklin Center recently invited me to attend a conference on school choice in my state of Arizona. We learned a lot about the programs available in my state, but one thing that struck me was a teacher who had founded a charter school in a failing school district. The school has worked hard to prepare students for graduation through a variety of innovations that this school founder has seen spread to other area schools, increasing success at those schools as well.
This anecdote isn’t a fluke or a coincidence. This sort of competition between charter schools and public schools has already been shown to benefit the students.
There have been a multitude of studies that have looked at the correlation between school choice and the quality of public schools in the same districts. Many of the early studies show an increase in productivity, but they also show increased quality of teachers, and an increase in achievement for the students that are still in public school.
In Texas more recent studies (from 2007 and 2014) showed that the creation of charter schools had a positive impact on the traditional public schools in the area and, even more telling, that injecting the best practices of charter schools into the public school setting also showed increases in achievement for students in those schools.
Charter schools were never meant to be the death of traditional public schools, instead they may very well be their rebirth.