NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charters Bring Competition To The Suburbs

December 18, 2000

Many teachers' unions and public education advocates grudgingly accept charters -- independently run, but publicly financed schools -- as experiments to help children in chronically underperforming schools. These are principally in urban areas, where two-thirds of the nation's 2,100 charter schools exist.

But some educational conservatives see traditional public schools as a stagnant monopoly, and charter schools as a vital means of shaking up the system by giving parents choices and public schools competition. Thus an increasing number of charter schools are being opened in suburban towns -- sometimes over the opposition of parents and teachers who think the public schools are good enough.

  • For example, Illinois officials seem to be encouraging charter schools in suburbs, against the opposition of many communities.
  • The state legislature approved a law allowing 45 charter schools, 15 each for Chicago, the suburbs around it, and downstate.
  • While the Chicago school board quickly approved 12 schools, two schools were refused by several communities and only opened after the state Department of Education intervened.

Similarly, in suburban Glen Cove, New York, a charter school was proposed over the summer.

  • Charter school supporters enlisted Edison Schools, a for-profit management company, to run the school, and planned to teach a back-to-basics curriculum to children in kindergarten through second grade.
  • State test scores in Glen Cove released last spring showed that in fourth grade, 34 percent of students fell below what the state considers acceptable in math; in eighth grade, 80 percent did.
  • Two school board members supported the proposal, but parent groups, the teachers' union and the city administration rallied against it.

"There's nothing wrong with our public schools," said one parent opposed to the charter school. However, a proponent says, "They misinterpret mediocrity for excellence," and don't realize Glen Cove's public schools have changed in the past few years.

Source: Kate Zernike, "Suburbs Face Tests as Charter Schools Continue to Spread," New York Times, December 18, 2000.


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