A ban might clean up bad actors, but it would throw out the working options, too.
Marshall Tuck, a candidate for state superintendent in California, grabbed headlines in late April when he announced his opposition to for-profit charter schools. The move cut against type because Tuck made his name as the successful operator of a well-regarded network of nonprofit charter schools. It’s a smart political move – for-profit charter schools are barely more popular than cancer among the education crowd. So it will be at least a little harder to paint Tuck as a zealot – though that won’t stop his detractors from trying. But is it good policy? That’s a more complicated question.
While only about 16 percent of charter schools across the country are operated by for-profit entities that figure is higher in a few states. In Michigan, for example, more than 7 in 10 charters are for-profit, higher than anywhere else. For-profits make up only a small percentage of charter schools in California. Some states ban them outright.
There is no way around it: For-profit charter schools are the bottom feeders of the education world. They have powerful lobbying muscle in state capitals but lousy results in the classroom. It’s not by coincidence that states with a lot of them tend to fare more poorly in comparison to other states when it comes to measuring the performance of their charter school sector. Studies of online charter schools point to consistent problems. And because online charter schools tend to enroll a lot of students, their subpar – or worse – performance skews the data even more. Politically, for-profit schools are toxic and an added drag on an already politically challenging environment for public charter schools. All of this is why a lot of people in the charter school sector are ready to toss for-profits over the side.
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