In May 2019, a story about a $50 million scheme involving several charter schools hit the news in California, erupting many people into frantically seeking to regulate charter schools. This scandal was the perfect event that anti-school choice proponents needed in order to reopen the debate on public schooling versus school choice, pushing the governor to sign legislation restricting charter schools through Assembly Bills 1505 and 1507. The backbone of these bills is that they restrict charter school openings if the programs offered are too similar to already existing public school programs, require teachers to adhere to the same credential standards as public school teachers, and move the authoritative body of approving charter schools to local school boards rather than the State Board of Education. While giving local governments more authority on schools is a good step for education, AB 1505 and 1507 are yet another afront to school choice and quality education due to their limitation of competition between public and charter schools and the increased burdens placed on charter schoolteachers.
AB 1505 and 1507 limit the competition between charter schools and public schools, thereby stunting the natural rise in educational standards that would occur to attract students. Like anything else in the market, when two of the same products are offered, the customer will try to select the best option. If a student has to choose between studying one subject at a public school and the same subject at a charter school, both schools will naturally compete for the student.
Since the rise in charter schools in the nation, public schools across the nation have advanced their curriculum to win over students. According to Education Next’s article by Marc Holley, a research fellow at the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and an evaluation unit director at the Walton Family Foundation, public schools improved their educational programs in order to attract more students: “we are starting to see a broadening of responses [to charter schools] perhaps fueled by...knowledge that charters are providing examples of ways to raise academic achievement.” In other words, public schools change the ways they attract students to make their schools academically competitive with charter schools. Some schools that have looked to charters as examples of ways in which to improve are a string of public schools in Denver. These schools, according to Education Week, “aim to recreate within its own buildings the innovation seen in top charter schools” by paying close attention to several things, including “excellence in leadership and instruction,” “increased instructional time,” “high expectations,” and “daily tutoring in critical growth years.” Thus, through competing with charter schools for students, public schools raise their own educational standards and offer a richer academic experience to the student.
Removing competition between charter and public schools because both might offer the same program maintains public school education monopoly over students and does not give public schools the push to raise their academic standards. Without school choice, presidents of public high schools, like Public School 125 in New York, wouldn’t be saying that they have to advertise their school to get more students: “We have to think about selling ourselves all the time, and it takes a concerted effort that none of us have ever done before.” This novel “concerted effort” is good and shows the student his value in his choice of education.
AB 1505 and 1507 additionally limit school choice by placing unnecessary requirements on charter schools--teacher credentials. Although some assume that a teacher’s credential ensures quality teachers, successful charter schools prove this wrong. The headmaster at my school makes sure that we understand that “Teachers haven’t taught until students have learned.” Numbers at numerous charter schools across the nation demonstrate that students learn, and learn at high rates, with uncredentialed teachers. For example, at the Great Hearts Academies, where I currently teach, students report high achievements in the classroom, including an average SAT score of 1267, 199 points above the national average; average 27 ACT score, 6 points above the national average; that 97% of students immediately attend college upon graduating, and 80% of students receive merit-based scholarships. These scores demonstrate that a teacher credential is inessential to qualify a good teacher as uncredentialed teachers achieve success without it.
Thus AB 1505 and 1507, adding more regulation to the establishment or maintenance of a charter school in California, attack school choice. Not only does eliminating competition between charter schools and public schools undercut quality education, but adding extra unnecessary steps for good teachers and schools deliberately weigh down charters and weakens school choice.
Let’s not let fear determine our actions. Instead, let us always use competition to push us towards excellence for our students. As Marc Holley explains, “Competition motivates districts to respond to the loss of students and the revenues students bring, producing a rising tide that, as the common metaphor suggests, lifts all boats.”
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.