In honor of today's City Council hearing on charter school expansion in New York City, I'd like to take a look at Jay Matthews' column from last week. In his column, Matthews responds to several parents who took exception to his claim from a previous column that the DC voucher program should not be renewed. He nails that critique right on the head. He says that voucher schools only help an incredibly small portion of kids and that if we actually want to help improve the school system we need to look at some larger scope reforms. As he writes:
"... if you transfer students from a school with low standards to a school with high standards, they learn more. We have plenty of research showing this. So why not focus our efforts on creating more public schools with high standards, rather than hoping private schools will fill that role?"
That last line in particular is exactly what we should be looking to do. But then Matthews says that the way to get there is charter schools. WHAT?
Did he just finish writing that if we want to improve education we need to be looking at ways to raise standards and levels of achievement at all public schools rather than focus on a narrow, specialized program that only reaches a small percentage of the school population? Is that not what he was saying? Remember that even with all the laudatory press that charter schools like KIPP receive, they still only serve a microscopic percentage of the school population in the cities they operate. So we could go around trying to figure out how to open 5,000 new KIPP schools. Or we could look at the schools we have and find ways to bring them up to KIPP standards.
I've said this over and over again. The solution is not pull certain kids out of one school system and put them into another; it's to make sure that the schools we have are the best possible schools. That means focusing on reducing class sizes, improving teacher training and professional development, and ensuring that kids' basic needs are being met even if they live in underserved communities. If we do that we won't need to spend any more time hoping that private or charter schools will magically save our children.