Jeff Meadors: Education traditionalists have a lot to learn from the charter movement

Jeff Meadors

Jeff Meadors

Are free market enterprise and competition destabilizing to education traditionalists?

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey got excoriated for dropping the F-bomb, fascism, in his characterization of Obamacare.

"Creativity and progress are stifled when government regulations dictate the parameters of what health care plans can be offered," Mackey argued.

Minimum competencies set by public schools aren't dissimilar. Who wants to be minimally competent, and who is hiring the minimally competent?

Can education mavericks chartering flexibility from government regulations get better results?

In the public school arena, studies vary on performance and sustainability of charter schools, called "free schools" in Sweden and in the U.K.

Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes remains the largest study to date. CREDO found 83 percent of American charters provided learning opportunities that were no better or worse than traditional public schools in 2009.

Fast forward to CREDO's newly released 2012 study showing that charter schools in New Jersey tend to outperform traditional schools.

Michael Moroney, writer for The Hill, reports on a recent U.S. Department of Education study finding parents of charter students more satisfied with schools. They rate them higher than parents of students in traditional public schools and they report greater satisfaction with student academic and social development.

Matthew Wunder, executive director of Da Vinci charter schools in Hawthorne, Calif., a state that passed parent trigger legislation in 2010, said that despite debates on charter performance, parent demand for charters booms.

In fall 2012, the number of U.S. students served by charters jumped by 275,000 nationwide -- the largest one-year increase since the movement began, according to a report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The number of charter schools nationwide rose by 381.

Charters, whether local startups, conversions or commissions, enjoy flexibility in hiring. The expert electrician, auto mechanic, small-business owner, medical manufacturer, physicist and local judge all become teaching candidates -- theory moves to practice.

According to Wunder, "charter schools can and should be the research-and-development arm for traditional public schools. So it's not a competitive thing. We're a division that can move a little quicker and adjust a little faster ... All kids can benefit from the things we're learning."

Post-Katrina, New Orleans allowed public money to follow kids into private education. Winning support from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the reforms had begun before Katrina.

New Orleans is the only U.S. city where a majority of public school students -- about eight in 10 -- attend non-unionized charter schools enjoying operational independence.

John White, Louisiana's state superintendent of education, argues that decentralization has freed schools to act in the best interest of children. Charter schools, state-funded but independently run by nonprofit groups, enroll 78 percent of public school students in Louisiana.

White is uncompromising. "I think competition is always to some degree destabilizing to those who can't compete," he asserts. "I have no problem with a school that is failing parents and kids being essentially destabilized because parents aren't choosing it."

Neither do I, John White. Neither do I.

Jeff Meadors is the District 1 representative on the Newton County Board of Education. Readers may email him at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com.