How satisfied should education reformers and charter enthusiasts be when studies show charter students outperforming those in the local district schools? Sure, it’s a lot better than underperforming, and yes, it’s a fine thing for the girls and boys who benefit from this value-add (as well as from the safety, variety, intimacy, family engagement, and other pluses that typically accompany charter school attendance). But observe what a low achievement bar this kind of comparison generally sets. The “virtual-twin” district school that is generally the basis for comparison is usually a miserable excuse for an educational institution, and the kids who shifted into the charter school had ample reason to want out. Their parents had ample reason to want better opportunities for their children. But is “better than” good enough at a time when college and career readiness is the goal of the larger K–12 enterprise and when preparation for international competitiveness is the country’s education target? Would you be satisfied with your golf score if it were a few points lower than someone who shoots 100? Would you be satisfied with your weight loss if you were now at 300 pounds compared with the other guy’s 320? Would you be pleased with your child’s medical outlook if his doctor bungled fewer cases than the next one but was still on the verge of malpractice? I think not. Let's understand that charter schools, too, need to produce strong educational results for their pupils, not just scores that are a bit better than the disasters down the street.
Chester E. Finn, Jr., scholar, educator and public servant, has devoted his career to improving education in the United States. At Fordham, he is now Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus. He’s also a Senior Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.
Finn served as Fordham’s President from 1997 to 2014, after many earlier roles in education, academe and government. From 1999 until 2002, he was John M.…View Full Bio