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Yes, and…A Review of the “Progressive Case for Charter Schools”

• Sam Duell

The Center for American Progress (CAP) recently published “The Progressive Case for Charter Schools,” an argument in favor of charter schools.

When it comes to charter schools, we find several points of agreement with CAP and some other points we might add to the conversation.

For example, as ExcelinEd argued in a previous blog, charter schools are good for students. CAP rightly claims data show charter schools are not just graduating students from high school but they are seeing them through college in record-breaking numbers. It is for these reasons we believe CAP when they say, “The highest-quality charters exemplify progressive values and practices, most notably through their foundational principle of providing low-income students of color with equal educational opportunity and access they may not otherwise have.” Education is certainly an equalizer.

We appreciate that CAP highlights charter efforts to re-think school discipline, to emphasize social-emotional learning and to diversify the teaching force, demonstrating that charter schools can and do adapt over time.

Overall, CAP provides a strong argument in favor of charter schools based on their academic achievements and their ability to propel families from poverty to prosperity. At the same time, we would add to the argument for charter schools.

While it may be true that progressives believe that “every child ought to have access to schooling that unlocks their full potential,” we believe that most families want what’s best for their children. So this is not just fundamental to progressive values. We would add that this idea is fundamental to a broader set of Americans.

We agree that “charter schools are a proven model for realizing that vision,” but we would add that while many successful and sought-after charters reside in states with active authorizers some of the most successful charter schools thrive in other states too. For example, five of the top ten public high schools in 2017 are charter schools in Arizona, a state not known for its “high bar for approval.”

We agree that charter schools should be held “accountable to the terms of their charters,” but we would add that accountability is a shared duty of authorizers and families since both are responsible for determining the success of a school. As some have argued, parental accountability can be harsher and swifter.

Finally, we agree that “high-quality charter schools demonstrate how to translate these educational values into practice by committing to college success, increasing teacher diversity, rethinking school discipline, and supporting vulnerable populations.” We would add that there are many reasons to support charter schools. For example, some charter schools have been established to revive Native languages while others were created to expand access to Montessori education.

To summarize, we agree with CAP that charter schools are good for students, and we will continue to work for the day when “every child ought to have [has] access to schooling that unlocks their full potential.”

About the author

Sam Duell

Sam Duell is an Associate Policy Director for Charter School Policy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Previously, Sam was a Managing Director at the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center where, among other education infrastructure projects, he focused on building the capacity of charter school authorizers. Before joining the Resource Center, Sam was a special education teacher, a school administrator, a central office administrator and the Executive Director of School Choice at the Oklahoma State Department of Education where he oversaw charter schools.

A native of Fayetteville, Arkansas, Sam earned a bachelor’s from the University of Colorado Boulder and a master’s from UC Berkeley.