Institutionalizing Failure

From the New York Times:

As advocates of charter schools, including the Bloomberg administration, try to persuade legislators to lift the limit on the number of such schools in the state, no one is as likely to stand in their way as Mr. Perkins, whose district encompasses nearly 20 charter schools. Several more are planned next year.

Over the last decade, as charter schools have multiplied, Mr. Perkins has undergone a dramatic shift and emerged as their most outspoken critic in the Legislature, writing guest columns in newspapers and delivering impassioned speeches criticizing the “privatization” of public schools.

First, calling charter schools “privatization” is a lie. They’re publicly approved, publicly financed, and publicly supervised. The only way they’re “private” is they are free of the education bureaucracy and the grasp of teachers unions.

There are two main arguments against charter schools, which are logically inconsistent. First, there are those who say that charter schools don’t improve educational outcomes, while conversely arguing that charters ‘”eave some students behind.” If there’s no benefit to charter schools, what are the students who stay in public schools being left behind from? In Mr. Perkins’ words:

“If there are people fleeing from something, it is cause for alarm,” he said in an interview in his office. Using an analogy he favors when talking about charter schools, he said: “That should tell you there is a fire, and those who are responsible should find out what is causing that fire, not just create a new place for those who flee and leave the rest inside to burn there.”

The analogy is apt; public schools are failing students at catastrophic rates. Students and parents are fleeing, with good reason. Mr. Perkins, however, is firmly blocking the door. I’ll never understand people that refuse to accept choice and freedom because of some unpredictable future. Is the devil you know really better than the chance at something better?

Interestingly, Alex Tabarrok points to the NBER Digest‘s summary of recent research on the schools in Harlem:

Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer find that in the fourth and fifth grade, the math test scores of charter school lottery winners and losers are virtually identical to those of a typical black student in the New York City schools. After attending the Promise Academy middle school for three years, black students score as well as comparable white students. They are 11.6 percent more likely to be scoring at grade level in sixth grade, 17.9 percent more likely to be scoring at grade level in seventh grade, and 27.5 percent more likely to be scoring at grade level by eighth grade. Overall, Promise Academy middle school enrollment appears to increase math scores by 1.2 standard deviations in eighth grade, more than the estimated benefits from reductions in class size, Teach for America, or Head Start.

Those numbers indicate that the failures of monopolistic public education are so institutionalized and ingrained in students, it takes years of instruction and adaptation to the new institutional arrangements of charter schools to rehabilitate students, and then they can begin to blossom.

However, the article notes that Mr. Perkins decided charter schools were unsatisfactory after… a few months.