The political marketplace of charter schools

In his weekly “School of Thought” column on, Andy Rotherham considers the political backlash currently afflicting charter schools and walks away with two lessons that help explain the difficulty in having a nuanced and complex conversation about their role in public education today:

First, with 5,000 charters ranging from very traditional to completely online, the term ‘charter school’ is increasingly meaningless. After all, what does a network of schools like Achievement First really have in common with the mostly low-performing online schools run by White Hat Management in Ohio — the force behind the proposed deregulation there?

Second, the public can’t be expected to parse those distinctions, so the quality issue has more potency than many charter advocates seem to realize. The education marketplace is not an economic one with the best ideas winning out. Rather it’s a political one with the loudest or most organized voices usually carrying the day and the most compelling examples winning the public debate. So one spectacular charter screw-up counts more than 100 quiet successes, and the good and great schools can’t overcome the headwind created by the laggards.

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit