Cosman: Charter schools are not a quick fix for America’s education problems

Though charter schools have lost a bit of their prominence, they’re still a popular answer when it comes to fixing America’s education system. They combine aspects of public and private schools, taking the best of both in an attempt to remedy a broken and declining institution of education.

The reality is, however, that charter schools are not the solution and have gained an unwarranted positive reputation. Charter schools are at best a short-term Band-Aid fix, and at worst an undermining of the public school system.

For one thing, they’re simply not as effective as everyone would like to believe. Only 17 percent of students at charter schools perform better than if they had attended a traditional public school, and 37 percent performed worse. There is no statistical evidence that charter schools work and yet they continue to be touted as a savior.

It goes beyond ineffectiveness, however. Charter schools do far more harm than good to America’s education system. Their implementation is misguided. I don’t see the point in spending the money to develop and execute a charter school. Why not use that money to fund an already-in-existence public school that can undoubtedly use more funding? If higher academic performance is the goal, increased funding to a public school will have just as much, if not more, of a benefit than spending the money on a new charter school.

The biggest problem with charter schools is their student selection process. They have to be selective of their students – there simply aren’t enough spots available to accommodate every student who’d like to attend. The most common way students are selected is through a lottery process. Students are given a number and then randomly selected by a lottery until all the school’s spots are filled. At the end of the day, hundreds of unselected students are left disappointed.

In what way is denying students access to a school a reflection of the democratic principles of this nation? The public education system exists so all students have access to a proper and effective education. Yes, the traditional public school is still there for the students who miss out on the charter school. The issue, however, is what happens to that public school. With the attention and funding focused on the charter school – and a portion of its student body gone – the public school is often left in a worse position than it was at the start.

As with anything, circumstances depend on the individual school. Yes, some charter schools are effective. But as a collective, there isn’t enough to justify their continued use. Why not take the time, energy and money that goes into a charter school and use it to fix existing public schools?

There are a lot of problems with America’s public schools and there is not going to be an easy fix, but I believe that these problems can be fixed. I’m not a fan of abandoning them in favor of “new” charter schools. Let’s stop ignoring what we have and do the work that needs to be done.