Education

Comrade Sanders Targets Charter Schools

Sen. Bernie Sanders participates in the She the People Presidential Forum in Houston, Texas, April 24, 2019. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)
Sanders seeks to kneecap what has been an astonishingly successful experiment in education.

Few things offend Bernie Sanders as much as people escaping from command-and-control government systems, even minority students whose parents are desperate to get their kids a decent education.

The socialist wants to turn George Wallace on his head and not block black children from attending traditional public schools, but block them from exiting those schools for something better.  

The New York Times wrote a long, devastating report the other day on the then-Burlington, Vt., mayor’s love affair with the Sandinistas in the 1980s. So many decades later, his reflex is the same: If the Sandinistas wouldn’t favor it, he’s not inclined to like it much either. That goes for charter schools that, yes, are publicly funded, but still too flexible and unregulated for refined socialist tastes. 

Over the weekend, Sanders unveiled his education plan. He wants to end for-profit charter schools (about 15 percent of all charters) and impose a moratorium on new public funding of charters, while taking steps to impose a one-size-fits-all regulatory regime on existing charters.

Sanders thus seeks to kneecap what has been an astonishingly successful experiment in urban education because it doesn’t fit nicely within his ideological preconceptions.

That Sanders says he wants to do this to advance the principle that “every human being has the fundamental right to a good education” is hilariously perverse. The comrades will have a good chuckle over that one.

Charter schools aren’t the product of a libertarian conspiracy. They fall short of the vouchers favored by conservatives to allow parents to get access to private schools. Charters receive public money but have more leeway to develop policies outside the regulatory and union straitjacket of traditional public schools. 

Charters had bipartisan support before a Vermont socialist became one of the party’s thought leaders. Bill Clinton won the first-ever lifetime achievement award from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Promoting charters was a hallmark of Barack Obama’s education agenda and a signature of Cory Booker’s mayoralty in Newark, N.J.

Not all charters are created equal. Some don’t serve their students well, especially online charter schools, and the performance of suburban and rural charter schools hasn’t been very impressive. It’s the charter schools in urban areas with the worst traditional public schools that have excelled. 

According to a well-regarded 2015 study by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, students in urban charter schools got the equivalent of 40 additional days of math instruction and 28 additional days of reading annually. The numbers for African-American students in poverty were even better. Charters in Newark and Boston have seen enormous academic gains.

In New York City, the Success Academy founded by Eva Moskowitz — one of the foremost education reformers of our time — has eliminated racial and economic achievement gaps.

It’s amazing what schools can do when they impose discipline, have the highest expectations, and focus with a laser intensity on instruction. 

Anyone interested in the education of minority students should seek to build on these oases of excellence, rather than cut them off. But the teachers unions hate charters, and they are a much more powerful potential cadre in the Sanders “revolution” than poor black kids. 

Sanders suggests that charter schools somehow increase segregation. This is nonsense, as Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine points out. Urban charter schools reflect the segregation of their neighborhoods where they are located — just like traditional public schools do.

The polling shows that minority parents get what Sanders (and white progressives) refuses to understand. A solid majority of black and Hispanic Democrats have a favorable view of charters, while white Democrats have an unfavorable view by a 2-1 margin. 

It is doubtful how much of his anti-charter agenda Sanders would be able to enact if elected, since much of the action is at the state and local level. That he’s hostile to these schools should, regardless, redound to his shame. 

© 2019 by King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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