Today, I see risks to charters from the right and the left. On the right, zeal for laissez-faire regulation of charters (and education more generally) threatens progress on charter school performance and seems to be creating a subset of schools that are a drag on overall performance. The political left, sensing correctly that charters are a genuinely scalable threat to the traditional education establishment, wants to curb key elements of these schools’ “charterness” – their autonomy and flexibility.
Even conservative estimates of charter school growth indicate that within two decades 1 in 5 American students will attend a charter school and some defensible estimates put that figure at more than a third. The United States already has one public education system with wildly varying outcomes and widespread mediocrity – we don’t need another one.
So for charters the best path forward lies in education’s messy middle – pairing growth with effective public oversight and policies promoting quality and equity. That’s happening enough in the charter sector to establish proof of concept but not enough for charter advocates to declare victory. A lot is riding on what happens now.