Spare a thought for the lonely, excellent charter school: Roger Ruvolo


You might think students, their parents and teachers are important stakeholders in public education. But you would be wrong. You know this simply by listening to the vitriolic, big-money opposition to charter schools.

Try as they might, public school systems do not deliver equality-of-opportunity educations for lower-income and so-called minority students. Some of the problems – gangs, bullies, drug use, even less-accomplished faculties – impede classroom learning and have proven nearly impossible to overcome.

For families with students in such schools, alternatives are few. Many are working and cannot homeschool. Others don’t have the money – after paying all they pay in taxes for public schools – to also pay tuition for a private or parochial school. About the only alternative they have is a charter school, whose students far and wide outperform students from the same demographics in public schools.

Guess who doesn’t like charter schools? Democratic politicians, school systems, and unions.

Those are the real stakeholders in public education and their priority is protecting their power, incomes and pensions. They pay rhetorical lip service to people they supposedly support and defend, but the mere fact they oppose charters reveals their true motives.

Thomas Sowell, the economist and scholar who has spent decades studying and commenting about public policies, has a new book, “Charter Schools and Their Enemies,” that methodically lays out the wide gulf in student achievement between charters and regular public schools.

In New York, because of enrollment declines, dozens of public schools have opened emptied wings of buildings for charters. Students for the most part come from the same neighborhoods and match demographically, with most being Black or Hispanic. Sowell compared math and English test results for students in both environments at numerous grade levels. Charter students outperformed their mates in regular public schools, most by magnitudes.

The gulf is so wide that despite organized opposition, tens of thousands of families are on waiting lists to get their children into New York charters, but the Democrats, school districts and unions have done all they can to keep new charters from opening and take every opportunity to badmouth charters.

In California, the badmouthing includes some very loud voices in the Legislature, all of whom are Democrats and many are former union activists. Charters siphon money from regular schools, they complain. Over the years they’ve attempted to limit charter locations, create state and local caps on their numbers, and give local school districts sole power over whether charters can even open.

They don’t stop there. Gompers Preparatory Academy in San Diego County was once a union-dominated, poor-performing public school of low-income and minority students. One of its teachers says the school was “crippled by gang violence, little discipline and teachers too terrified to open their doors to students.” Since 2005, when it became a charter, it has been churning out high achievers.

In 2018 new faculty members encouraged by the union circulated a carefully worded petition that most teachers signed and without so much as a vote of teachers, Gompers was unionized. Pretty slick, but since then, numerous teachers have resigned and others are finding 15 years of successful Gompers traditions have either been undermined or scrapped. Student performance will soon decline if it hasn’t already.

As Sowell details in his new book, these actions are going on all over the country. True, if more charters open, that’ll likely mean fewer union members. Each public school teacher, according to a breakdown by teacher-turned-commentator Rebecca Friedrichs, pays at least $1,000 a year to the union.

Also true, charters may not embrace the politically imposed curriculum Democratic legislators are demanding, although they’ve proposed laws requiring it. This includes, sadly, the depraved requirement, codified into law with help from unions, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, to teach little kids how to perform sex acts.

But most of all, this troika doesn’t want competition. Look at the argument over whether to reopen, as most regular people desire. The Los Angeles school union chief is demanding Medicare for all, higher taxes on wealthy people, a federal bailout (to firm up pensions), and, naturally, imposing a moratorium on charter schools.

That demand wasn’t just hiding in the weeds amid all those other grandiose demands. Charters are the existential threat and the “stakeholders” are using their money and power to wage a one-sided war against them. For low-income and minority parents – indeed, for all who care about the quality of their children’s educations – it’s time to resist.

Reach Roger Ruvolo at rruvolo@att.net

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