What the Critics get Wrong on Charter Schools

This summer, charter schools came under a barrage of criticism from organizations like the NAACP, and even HBO comedian, John Oliver.

This is despite the fact that charter schools are highly popular and praised by both parties in the United States —and for good reasons. They help low-income and minority students by offering an alternative in failing school districts. As a result, there is ample evidence that charter schools provide significantly better education than their public counterparts.

So where do the critics go wrong? From the outset, many of the criticisms misrepresent the importance of choice and the right of parents to make decisions.

Take just one example from John Oliver’s segment on charter schools on his show, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. Oliver criticizes the fact that charter schools close down more often than public schools. He argues this is very disruptive to children’s education, especially if the school closes in the middle of the year.

His point seems compelling. But, in reality, Oliver is actually pointing to one of the best arguments in favor of charter schools: accountability.

Failing schools, whether public or charter, should be shut down.Elsewhere, critics have demanded such accountability to occur. The mere fact that the charter schools in Oliver’s segment were held accountable is a point in favor of school choice.

I would love to hear Oliver’s answer to the following question: how many students are trapped in failing public schools that can’t be shut down due to lack of an alternative? Not surprisingly, he doesn’t seem to make a comparison to public schools —specifically failing ones— in any of his criticisms about fraud and abuse. This is something a discerning viewer should take into account.

Ultimately, John Oliver and other critics promulgate a false understanding of choice. Most of their well-intentioned concerns hinge on the belief that parents should abdicate their decision rights over to them.

Yet for many parents living in failing school districts who can’t afford other options, the issue of school choice isn’t hard. And at the end of the day, they are the only interest group that matters because their chief interest is their children. The more options they have, the better.

-Chris Medrano

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