New report: Less support for charter schools but more for vouchers. Why?

A lot of folks are trying to figure out the drop in public support for charter schools revealed in the 11th annual edition of a well-regarded poll that examines current attitudes toward major issues in K–12 education. The poll by Education Next, a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School, goes deep and looks at results by political party.

In its exploration of the charter school question, Education Next found Republicans and Democrats were less enthused this year, as this chart from the report illustrates.

Here is what the report says about charters:

Thirty-nine percent of respondents say they support “the formation of charter schools,” which is down steeply from 51% in 2016, but still a bit higher than the 36% who express opposition this year. (Roughly one in four respondents takes no position on charter schools, perhaps reflecting the fact that many Americans remain unfamiliar with them.) Support has also fallen within the minority community—from 46% to 37% among blacks, and from 44% to 39% among Hispanics.

One might expect that this year’s decline in support for charters would be concentrated among Democrats, given the position taken by Trump, but that turns out not to be so. Support falls by 13 percentage points among Republicans (from 60% to 47%) and by 11 percentage points among Democrats (from 45% to 34%), leaving the partisan gap on the issue largely unchanged.

Public awareness of struggling charters within their communities and the wariness of the NAACP may have contributed to the slip in support. Nearly a year ago, the NAACP endorsed a moratorium on expanding charter schools until there is greater transparency and accountability. There was such an outcry about the moratorium that the civil rights organization created a task force to hold hearings around the country on how charters were faring.

Last month, after listening to proponents and opponents in seven cities, the task force advised continued caution around charters, concluding in this final report:

There are indeed some excellent charter schools – and where they provide high-quality education to all students without exclusions, they make a positive contribution. However, we also heard about the many poor charter schools that fail to serve children with the greatest needs, offer suboptimal education, and engage in financial mismanagement, sometimes pocketing public money to make a profit for private citizens. Further, we heard about the results of a loss of neighborhood schools when they are closed in order to create charters – the long bus rides for young children, the inability of parents to be engaged in schools far from their communities, and the loss of civil rights protections for children who cannot get into a school near their home and, in effect, have no real choice.

Parents and politicians have now had more than two decades to watch charter schools. Innovations in education are often met with enthusiasm and a bit of blind faith, which occurred in Georgia with charter schools and online instruction. I believe disappointing outcomes have diminished the initial zeal for both.

Yes, there are some strong charters in Georgia, just as there are strong traditional public schools. However, charters face the same challenges in high poverty communities that every school confronts. Operating as a charter doesn't automatically produce wondrous results, and that may be better understood now.

Here are some other interesting findings from the report: (It's a fascinating report with a lot of information so please read the entire thing if you can.)

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.