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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

Before Sam joined ExcelinEd as the Associate Policy Director for Charter Schools, he was a special education teacher, a school and central office administrator, the Executive Director of School Choice at Oklahoma’s department of education and the Managing Director of OPSRC’s Education Collaborative. In every position, Sam worked creatively to meet student needs. He founded the Integrated Support Program at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, California to increase the number and percentage of students with learning disabilities who have access to the general education classroom. He was the first administrator of Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the authorizer for online schools in Oklahoma. And he co-founded a statewide afterschool network called the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning to organize and advocate for expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer. Sam’s current interests include charter schools and their role in a functional, thriving democracy.