Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better, and that’s the case with improving charter schools. Instead of spending political capital trying to close weak charter schools, as many of the leading charter school organizations are now advocating, we should be focused on more quickly expanding the number of charter school seats, even if this rapid expansion increases the number low-performing schools in the short-term.
Allowing more low-performing charter schools in the short-term seems counterintuitive if our long-term goal is eliminating weaker charters, but one of the primary obstacles to strengthening charter schools today is insufficient supply. Parents in most communities have so few charter schools to choose from that weak charter schools are able to survive because parents have no better options. Consequently, significantly increasing supply is a necessary first step before market forces can begin forcing low-performing charter schools to close.
Concurrent with expanding choices, we also need to help parents become more effective consumers. Too many parents are placing their children in low-performing schools. Markets work best when consumers are making good choices, so helping parents make better school choices has to be a top priority.
Given the political hostility surrounding charter schools, I understand why many charter school supporters want to accelerate the closing of lower-performing charters, but this is the wrong approach. At the moment we need more supply, not less. And when the supply becomes sufficient, parents will close the appropriate schools through the choices they make.