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The Charter School Debate

April 23, 2010

Democracy – ain’t it grand!  Yesterday in New York City, a public hearing on charter schools turned into food-fight for the better part of eight hours. To some, this raucous scene might be a source of concern, but not to us.  We think it’s great.

Why? Because rigorous public debate on our educational system is sorely needed.

Virtually every other sector of the economy has seen dramatic technological change and productivity enhancement over the last decade, but not public schools in New York. They are still operating much has they did a generation ago.

In fact, the only meaningful challenge to the status quo in education is the charter school movement. We don’t know if charter schools are the answer, but we certainly support the movement as an experiment that should be given a fair chance to succeed or fail. And that raises a key question from yesterday: Are charter schools being given a fair opportunity, or are teachers unions and others actively seeking to undermine them?

This particular public hearing seemed rather orchestrated, with the teachers unions decrying a lack of financial oversight of charter schools in front of a state senator who is a staunch opponent of charter schools. Alas, the effort would appear to have backfired as even the New York Times questioned the veracity of reports of malfeasance at certain charter schools.

Ultimately, this issue turns not on issues of financial oversight, but on how well the students perform. And here we need more data to determine whether charter schools are actually better at educating our kids.

In the meantime, it’s a good thing to see a movement arise to truly challenge an existing institution. Too bad there isn’t something akin to charter schools to challenge the health care system and to challenge state government itself.

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