As someone who frequently covers school choice-related issues in Indiana, I find it interesting and ironic when opponents of reform and vouchers make better arguments for healthy competition than I do.
A friend of mine is a teacher in a traditional public school. He is a good guy and has the best interests of his students at heart, like any good teacher. The City of Indianapolis recently created several new charter schools to fit the needs of various student populations. And in response a future Democratic candidate for mayor wanted to slap a tax on them.
My friend, we'll call him Ben, tweeted that this was a bad idea because there were too many charters and not enough oversight. He also made the argument that he would gladly match up the programs at his school against any charter school. And that ladies and gentlemen, was the best point anyone could make for choice and competition.
I told Ben that I have no doubt that there are programs at his school parents would like, just like there are programs at charters, private, virtual and even home-school settings that parents would enjoy. They should just have the choice to make that decision. And all charters and choice do is give parents more options to find the best education for their kids. And who wouldn't want that?
Ben then went on to complain about charters "taking" money from traditional schools. I remind him that would be like McDonald's complaining about Burger King taking their customers. No one owns anything. And instead of whining about choice, schools like Ben's should spend more time looking at why people are seeking other options and rectify that problem.
I told Ben if the programs at his school are that good, I have no doubt it can compete with all the other alternatives out there. Now this doesn't mean we can't have a conversation about more oversight and measuring of student performance. I regularly remind my friends in the school-choice community that we should be just as happy when a charter fails as when they succeed. The point of choice and accountability is that failing schools go out of business as soon as possible and children be moved into a school that works.
And if schools like Ben's have programs that can compete and perform better than charters or private schools then I say "here, here!" If I were a traditional public school administrator I would welcome the challenge. Actually the competitive streak in me would actively try to recruit students from the charter schools. Because if I've got amazing programs that will educate kids and make parents happy, then I am all over that.
And that's what choice is all about, giving parents options so they can choose the best schools and their kids can get the best education.
Thanks, Ben. I could not have said this better myself.
Full Disclosure: I do some work with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. However, I've been a big school choice proponent for years.