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[Excerpts] Chester Finn on Charter Schools

Charter Schools, School Choice

Manasi Bose

Chester Finn, President of the Thomas B Fordham Foundation in the US and a renowned expert on charter schools was at the CCS office this Thursday to discuss the charter school movement in the US. Following are some excerpts from his talk.

“Charter schools are public schools. They are paid for with public funds and do not charge fees at all to students. They are open to anyone who wants to come to them, there are no pre-requisites for admission or entrance. These schools are accountable for their academic results as measured on the same standards and tests as traditional government schools. They are therefore public in three ways: publically financedopen to the public and publically accountable

“Charter schools are like an outsourcing – instead of building fifty identical schools for the children of the community and having the government run them, you contract with private operators to create and run schools for 300 children between the ages of 6-12 and you give them public dollars to pay for these schools. They are seen as vehicles for creating diversity, choices and competition; also efficiency and accountability.”

“Charter schools are different from private schools. Private schooling must be approved to exist by the state and must follow certain basic rules of safety, fireproofing and so on in order to be licensed to operate. However, with very few exceptions, these schools do not get public money and they do not have to follow the state curriculum or give the state tests. They don’t have to employ certified teachers; they can employ anyone who they want to teach.

Historically, the revenue of private schools has been either parents pay or wealthy individuals (or alumni who previously attended schools) make gifts. There is quite a lot of freedom attached to the private financial support and very few obligations to the government The big shift over the last 20 years has been the beginning of voucher programs and similar initiatives that provide financial subsidies/scholarships to children to attend private schools, who wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.”

“Charter schools faced resistance, and still do to a degree, from the educational establishment – those that benefit from the current hierarchical bureaucratic structure. This includes teacher unions, the school board association, the administrator’s association, even textbook publishers, the bus drivers – anybody that currently has their job, their status or their income based on the current system.”

“This was all part of the aftermath of the 1983 report ‘A Nation at Risk’, a National Commission study on the performance of American primary and secondary education, which said it was not doing a good job. We spent most of the 1960s and 70s working on issues of equity and access for black children, disabled children, girls, foreign language speaking immigrants etc. We did a good job of providing access to everybody but in 1983 this committee looked at the performance of American schools and said children are not learning enough and we need to do something different. This led to a whole variety of reforms in the US, many of them having to do with academic standards and tests and accountability structures, some of them relating to personnel, teachers in schools, some of them having to do with governance and control and some having to do with new kinds of schools.”

To hear his talk, click here.

This blog was originally published on Spontaneous Order.

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