The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is calling for public schools to be schools of choice during National School Choice Week. It is warning lawmakers not to divert funds away from public schools in favor of unproven educational experiments.
Getting lost in the hype around National School Choice Week, school voucher legislation, and calls for expanded options for low-income students is the fact that public education already offers many options—including magnet schools and district-authorized charters. Further, some states are using taxpayer-funded vouchers and tax credits as an excuse not to fund their community public schools that educate all children, NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel said in a conference with reporters on Jan. 27.
“Public schools have a track record that we can be very proud of,” Gentzel said. It’s important to have innovations in education, he added. However, “experiments should not come at the expense of low-income children.”
Students suffer when “choice” schools go out of business, are shut down, or are allowed to continue to operate without any accountability.
In the call, Gentzel and other NSBA experts noted that:
- Not all school choice is equal: Some forms of school choice operate outside the public system with little or no oversight and accountability for student learning and fiscal stewardship of taxpayer funds. Gentzel recommended what he dubbed a “nutritional label” that would require any school that receives public funds to be required to show the same results as students in the community public schools.
- “Choice” is not a reform strategy: Research shows that the schools parents choose are more likely to be the same or even worse than the community public school they leave. Charter school successes such as KIPP Academies and the Harlem Children’s Zone are the exception rather than rule, Gentzel said, and many charter and voucher schools are performing significantly worse than traditional public schools.
- Local school boards are in the best position to oversee school choice options and hold schools accountable for student learning and finances. Gentzel noted that NSBA supports charter schools and believes local school boards understand local communities’ needs and look out for their interests. Further, according to the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO), a major education research organization, states that empower multiple authorizing agencies are most likely to report the weakest academic results for charters.
The February issue of American School Board Journal discusses the regulation of charter schools and how lawmakers should build policies to avoid abuses of the system and failing schools. For example, in Columbus, Ohio, a record 17 charters closed last year for poor performance. Many of these charters had only been open a few months. Ohio allows for multiple authorizers.