Mitt Romney – and New York parents – weigh in on school choice

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave his first major address on education yesterday. Blasting President Obama’s and Senate Democrats’ repeated efforts to shut down the District of Columbia’s enormously popular (at least with parents) voucher program, he called for expanding school choice.

If you’d like to read the speech, delivered at the Latino Coalition’s annual economic summit, you can find it here:–text/2012/05/23/gJQAUAtpkU_blog.html

Educational choice remains a controversial topic in Utah, and my frequent favorable comments on the charter school movement invariably draw some readers’ ire. But I think Governor Romney may have picked a winning issue, especially with minority voters.

Consider this year’s applications to New York City charter schools, many of which serve poor and minority students. From the New York Times:

Applications to New York City charter schools continued to grow this year, the New York City Charter School Center reported on Tuesday.

An estimated 133,080 applications were submitted for 14,600 available seats in this spring’s random admissions lotteries, according to the center, a nonprofit group that supports charters.

Because many families apply to multiple schools, the center estimates there were really 67,500 individual applicants.

“Approximately 4.6 students applied for each available seat,” said James Merriman, the Charter Center’s chief executive officer. “I think last year there were five applications for each available seat. So we see there’s just a strong demand for charter schools across New York City.”

He estimated that 52,900 families were wait-listed citywide, up from 51,100 last year, based on the Charter Center’s annual survey of charter schools. The city’s Department of Education doesn’t collect this information directly.

Yes, I know that charter schools have mixed results, though I’d note again that successful charters outperform public schools, especially with disadvantaged kids – and, perhaps more significantly, that unsuccessful charters shut down because parents don’t chose them. Since I’m always inclined to give parents the benefit of the doubt when it comes to choices about their own children, I think these numbers are significant. Obviously candidate Romney (who has an army of pollsters at his command) thinks so too.



  1. Fred 44

    Charter Schools should outperform traditional schools especially in areas where there are underprivileged children. Parents who apply for charter school admission are typically parents who care about education and are more inclined to support teachers and schools. That gives charter schools a huge leg up to start with. Charter schools do not keep students with behavioral and attendance problems, those students are shipped back to the traditional public schools. Really when you look at it the news should be why every charter school doesn’t significantly outperform public schools with similar clientele based on the fact that the win the parent lottery every year, and if for some reason they don’t win it, they get that fixed in Utah after the October count and before year end testing.

    Comparing charters and traditional schools is like skimming the cream of the top of the milk and then expecting milk to taste the same as cream.

  2. Yak_herder

    “…successful charters outperform public schools…”

    LOL, yeah, but likewise “successful public schools outperform charter schools”.

    Public opinion may or may not favor choice, but when push cones to shove the majority obviously isn’t willing to step up to actively contribute the support that is required. The charter schools have pretty well tapped the segment of society that is willing. We aren’t going to make further progress on this issue until we learn how to expand those interests.

  3. Mary McConnell

    Given the long waiting list for successful charters, I question whether the demand for charter schools is indeed “tapped out.”

    As for “skimming cream”, I’d just note that there are now several studies that compare students who did or did not win the lottery for entrance to popular charter schools. Presumably these students have equally motivated parents.

    Here’s a link to one such study, from Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research:

    • Marie

      Have you seen these waiting lists? I have not seen many and of those several of the same children are on multiple lists. Mary, give our traditional public schools the luxury of small class sizes, freedom of curriculum, and mandates and then it would be fair to bring up waiting lists. Parents will choose smaller classes every time over crowded classrooms.

      Bottom line, some charters do better but most do not!

  4. Fred 44


    I read the study. I think the problem is that we always want to find one variable and have that be the answer for our educational “problems”, we want one magic pill, that will cure all our educational ills. Right now for the far right that is charter schools. In the summation of the study I read “Longer school days, more instructional time on core content, a “no excuses” philosophy, and other structural elements of school organization appear to contribute to the positive results from these schools.” The authors of the study were right on and they pointed out some of the most important differences between charter and traditional schools. The “no excuses” philosophy is a huge difference between charter and traditional public schools. But then they lost me with the next sentence: “Perhaps most importantly, many of these elements could be implemented in traditional public schools, providing us with potential models for improvement across the Commonwealth”. Those elements cannot be implemented in traditional public schools because federal and state laws do not allow for it. I can speak for myself as a traditional public school teacher and tell you that I would love to implement a “no excuses” philosophy, but we can’t. When a student at a charter school doesn’t comply what happens? They are sent back to their neighborhood traditional public school. What happens if that student doesn’t comply in the traditional school, can we kick them out? No, we must invest ridiculous amounts of our very scarce resources in trying to get them to comply. We can’t we kick them out? The federal and state government won’t let us. We need to quit trying to compare apples to oranges and pretending that charters and traditional schools will ever be the same. Think about it, why do we call them Charter Schools? Because they get to write their own rules. Who rights the rules for traditional public schools? The state and federal government.

    In terms of those students who don’t win the lottery, and their success in traditional schools compared to those who do, the answer to that question is fairly simple especially when we compare inner city schools. School climate has a huge impact on student learning. Charters schools should be able to create a school climate more conducive to learning by the very nature of the ability to exclude those who are not their to learn. That difference in school climate is greatly magnified in the inner city.

    Because of the advantages given to charter schools, the question should not be why are traditional schools not doing as well as charter schools. The question should be why are charter schools not head and shoulders above traditional schools in mandated testing. The answer to that is even with all the advantages a charter school has, they do not provide a significantly better education than traditional public schools for most children.

  5. Carolyn Sharette

    At the risk of posting a duplicate answer (having posted recently on a similar blog) I feel it is important to point out that public schools truly could change their policies to implement “no excuses” as a school standard.

    As long as they provide a school, any school, for a student to attend they have satisfied the federal and state requirements for FAPE (free and appropriate public education). Determining what is “appropriate” has been the work of court cases throughout the decades and in my opinion, has shown that districts have the power to establish no excuses policies and enforce them.

    Why do Districts choose to allow students to remain in school who don’t meet attendance requirements or academic requirements? Does it serve students? Clearly, no. Does it handicap teachers? Clearly, yes. Does it degrade the experience for all students? Resoundingly, YES. So why is it allowed to persist as policy?

    Do students benefit from a “no excuses” approach? Yes. Do adolescents benefit from opportunities to “try again” or “do over” with meaningful consequences? Again, yes. Being torn from friends and forced to attend a different school for a term can be very effective for students in Jr. High and High School. So why don’t teachers and parents join together and require districts to pass “no excuses” policies? Perhaps because most parents and teachers are misinformed and believe it is impossible. Perhaps even the district leaders believe it is impossible. But it is not impossible and should be vigorously pursued by parents, teachers and even students.

    Fortunately, charter schools are providing this opportunity for students and act as a model for what could be done in all public schools. As a charter school leader, I feel we are doing students a great service, even when they don’t meet our expectations and return to their public school. The student has an opportunity to meet a standard, and if they don’t, they live the consequences and have a very valuable learning experience.

    You may be surprised to learn that we don’t “kick them out”. We do not have the authority to do so. We do apply many, many remedies, such as parent conferences for missing work (students must call home EACH and EVERY time they are unprepared for class), detentions, and ‘parent interventions’ where parents are required to come to school and sit near their student and assist them in becoming an able learner. Some parents give up and pull their student out so they don’t have to comply. Some get tired of the phone calls. Some don’t know how to “make” their student comply and aren’t interested in learning how to impose meaningful consequences at home. Some students convince their parents they really don’t want to have to do all that is required and the parents pull the student out. Some student fail courses and realize high school graduation from our school will be very difficult and choose an easier route.

    In any case, it is GREAT for students to have to pay a REAL price for failure. It is in these chances for a “do-over” that students learn. And parents appreciate the support when they are dealing with a difficult adolescent. This change, establishing performance standards at public schools and enforcing them, would revolutionize public education.

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