Stanford CREDO Director: Free Market Doesn't Work in Education
Considering that the pro-market reform Thomas B. Fordham Foundation paid for this study and Raymond works at the Hoover Institution at Stanford -- a free market bastion, I was frankly floored, as were most of the folks at my table.
For years, we've been told that the free market will help education improve. As long as parents can choose to send their kids to different schools, like cars or any other commodity, the best schools will draw kids and the worst will go away. The experience in Ohio is the opposite. The worst charter schools in Ohio are growing by leaps and bounds, while the small number of successful charter schools in Ohio have stayed, well, a small number of successful charter schools.
Raymond made the point too that parents are not informed enough to be true market consumers on education. Websites like Know Your Charter can help with that educational aspect of the parental choice, better arming parents with the necessary information to make a more informed decision. But to hear free market believers say that 20 years into the charter school experiment its foundational philosophy -- that the free market's invisible hand will drive educational improvement -- is not working? Well, I was stunned to hear that.
Raymond also made the point that the states that are seeing the best charter school performance are states whose charter school authorizers are focused on quality and have robust accountability measures -- in other words, well-regulated. Yesterday, when the CREDO report was released, it was discovered that if online and for-profit charter schools are taken out of the equation, Ohio charters don't perform all that bad. Problem is that more than 57% of Ohio charter school kids are in those schools. In fact, at Know Your Charter, we found that less than 10% of Ohio's charter school kids are in schools that score above the state average on the Performance Index Score or have an A or B in overall value added.
The point is that there are a few very high-performing charters in this state, like the Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland, or the Toledo School of the Arts, or Columbus Preparatory Academy. While these schools represent a smattering of Ohio's 400 plus charter schools, the state's failing charter schools are legion.
Here's another sort of bombshell from me, to counteract the free market one: I'm not convinced that the free market can't work for education.
But it can only do so if the public is fully informed, parents are armed with good information and make well-informed, thoughtful decisions while the state and its authorizing groups focus like a laser on quality, not quantity, of choice. The way Ohio's charter school laws are currently drafted does not allow that to happen. Sites like Know Your Charter can help, but the state needs to have a better mechanism in place to ensure that parents and kids can make truly informed and good decisions for their future.
It's not like buying a car where if you buy a lemon, you can just go try another one. It's a pain, but not the end of the world.
If parents choose a lemon of a charter school, their children may never recover.
That isn't a pain.
It's a tragedy.
Stephen Dyer is a former Pulitzer-nominated reporter with the Akron Beacon Journal, currently the Education Policy Fellow at Innovation Ohio. He also practices law in the Akron, Ohio area.
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