If You Really Want Your Traditional Schools Regulated Like Charters, Be Careful What You Wish For

We just finished up the last week of this year’s Kentucky General Assembly, and if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times: “Why can’t we just give all schools the same flexibility charter schools get?”

I think this is a very good question, especially here in Kentucky, where we still have yet to see charter schools implemented. Some ask that sincerely, because they don’t really have a hard-and-fast opinion on charters. Others ask that sarcastically, as a challenge, due in no small part to the inflammatory rhetoric being used by those who most strongly endorse the charter school movement here in Kentucky. But that’s another story.

Earnestly speaking, the answer is not something that many traditional public school advocates, teachers, or union reps will want to hear. The truth is that we probably could de-regulate traditional schools like charters, but there would be consequences.


Charter Schools Have A Role To Play

Charter schools offer families a different take on public schooling. They operate on a charter, which describes the performance goals that a particular school will try to achieve once it’s up and running. These goals are usually quite lofty, as the expectations for charter school performance tend to be higher than those for traditional school performance. But unlike traditional schools, charters aren’t regulated as rigidly.

And there’s the rub. Charter schools are free from the regulations that district schools have to abide by, but they’re held to a higher standard. And if charter schools fail to reach those lofty performance goals set aside in their charters, they close down.

This is one of the reasons why charter schools are a popular dish on the ed reform menu. Charters play a higher-risk, higher-reward role in public education, and that’s why advocates hail them as a promising option for students who have been traditionally underserved.

Traditional public schools, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as volatile when it comes to closure. We pour lots of time, funding, and effort into improving our traditional schools, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty rare when one closes for bad performance. Even if that bad performance is chronic.

So sure, district regulations might get old and tiring if you’re a traditional public school educator, but keep in mind that your school is given a bigger pass when it comes to low performance.

We Just Need Good Schools

As former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put it, “The only thing that matters is if a school is a great school. It doesn’t matter to me whether the sign on the door of a school has the word “Charter” in it, and it doesn’t matter to children. Nor does it matter to most parents.”

As a traditional school teacher and a public education advocate, I have to agree. I just want good public schools for Kentucky’s kids, and I think both traditional public schools and charters have a role in accomplishing that. Different roles, but important all the same.


Photo from The Alliance for Excellent Education, CC-Licensed.

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