A prodigal son of the charter school sector returned home on Monday, when Senator Cory Booker voiced support for charter schools in the New York Times, a notable shift from his criticism of charter schools back in May.
It was a bold move in some ways, especially given the precariousness of his presidential bid and the inevitable price he will pay with the teachers unions. It was also a strategic move to the middle as centrist Michael Bloomberg joins the race and underdog Pete Buttigieg builds steam.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker, photo by Gage Skidmore
It’s not hard to see the politics at play, but Booker deserves credit for calling out the Democratic party for being unresponsive to many constituents who support charter schooling. Booker takes fellow Democrats to task for not listening to the families who face “impossible choices” in favor of the more “privileged voices” in the party, a veiled reference to the omnipotent teachers unions, whose favor Senator Elizabeth Warren courted with her anti-charter education plan a few weeks ago.
Recent survey data on charter schools illustrates the misalignment between Democratic Party leadership and many of its key constituent groups, with higher levels of charter school support from African American and Hispanic subgroups than from Democrats and teachers.
Universal vouchers, which provide government funding to families to offset the cost of private school tuition, are generally favored by market-oriented school-choice proponents. So you’d expect charter schools, which tend to enjoy more bipartisan support, to be more widely popular.
According to the latest Education Next poll, in 2019, 55% of the public indicated that they support universal vouchers, an increase of 12 percentage points since 2013. Meanwhile, charter schools only got the support of 48% of the public, a slight decline of 3 percentage points since 2013.
Source: Education Next, “Trends in the EdNext Survey: Question wording and data over time,” 2019, https://educationnext.org/files/ednext-poll-question-wording-over-time-through-2019.pdf
Here are four key lessons from the Education Next poll that might explain why universal vouchers are tracking ahead of charter schools:
Over the past year, Kelly Robson, Brandon Lewis, and I visited charter schools in four rural communities across the country. As we drove into town to speak with school and community leaders, we expected to uncover challenges that rural charter schools face which are distinct from those in urban areas — and we did. Our findings are included in a new website and highlight some of the constraints specific to operating a charter school in a rural setting.
But we also found many commonalities between what make these schools tick and the characteristics of successful schools in more urbanized settings. These commonalities were a useful reminder of some fundamental elements of a high-quality school that too often get lost in the shuffle.
First, these schools were exemplars of consistent, local leadership.
Those we spoke to made it clear that their school’s success was enabled by local champions with sustained relationships to the community. The school staff had the community’s trust and confidence. Moreover, in three out of the four schools we visited, the school leader had been in their role for ten or more years, a startling contrast to the national average tenure of just over four years. Schools’ local leadership, and the stability of that leadership, helped the schools grow local roots and sustain their missions and visions.
I have a post up on the ExcelinEd blog today (co-authored with Victoria Bell), applying the takeaways from the report Bellwether released last week, “Working Toward Equitable Access and Affordability: How Private Schools and Microschools Seek to Serve Middle- and Low-Income Students.” The post explores how Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program improves access to private school education and how financial aid from private schools helps fill the gap between average scholarship amounts and average tuition. Here’s an excerpt:
As highlighted in the Bellwether report, participation in private school choice programs is one strategy to improve private school affordability. Florida’s choice programs make the state a strong example of how the private schooling sector can serve students from low- and middle-income families.
[…] Relatively low rates of tuition, combined with the support of private school choice programs, increase the likelihood that middle- and low-income families in Florida can afford a private school education if that is what they choose for their child. The average scholarship amount of $6,300 covers 84 percent of tuition at half of the private schools in Florida.
Read more at ExcelinEd here, and read our posts connected to the new report here.
Last week, I had a post on the Education Next blog about why we shouldn’t forget the needs of middle class students. The post was inspired by a new report from Melissa Steel King, Justin Trinidad, and me about how private schools seek to remain affordable for middle- and low-income families. An excerpt of my post:
Many education reformers focus their talents and attention on the most vulnerable children: low-income students stuck in the lowest performing schools. This focus reflects a dismay at persistent differences between students of different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds, a dedication to equity, and a belief in opportunity through education.
Alongside this focus on high-need students, however, we must not forget middle class students. In fact, there are at least three win-win opportunities for policymakers, advocates, and practitioners to support middle class students while also advancing the needs of low-income kids.