Joe Biden’s campaign platform is beginning to creep out of his basement. Let’s look at one pressing national issue: education.
Education is perhaps this nation’s greatest disgrace. Snapshots that illustrate the problems in government-run public schools:
■ Providence, R.I.: Only 5 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in math;
■ Newark, N.J.: 21 percent proficiency in math;
■ North Carolina: 44 percent of third-graders are not proficient in reading; and
■ Wisconsin: Black eighth-graders perform only slightly better than white fourth-graders in reading and math. Nationwide, two-thirds of eighth-graders are not proficient in math and reading.
And so it goes, across the country.
One cannot adequately analyze education results without getting inside the public schools vs. charter schools discussion. What is a charter school?
Facts shared by nearly all the states: Charter schools are authorized by the respective state’s board of education. They are tuition-free public schools of choice operated mostly by independent nonprofit boards of directors.
Myth No. 1: “Charter schools are unaccountable private schools that take money away from district schools.” Truth: Charter schools are 100 percent accountable to state authorities. Charter school students are typically funded at $0.73/dollar compared to district school students. Charter schools do not receive capital funding for buildings or transportation.
Myth No. 2: “Charter schools don’t serve a diverse population of students.” Truth: If a child is eligible to attend a public school, parents may apply to any charter school. If a charter school receives more applications than its capacity, a lottery is conducted. Discrimination based on race, national origin or religion is prohibited.
Myth No. 3: “Charter schools are not academically superior to public schools.” Truth: Study the results and comparisons in every state and you will find charters are dramatically better.
Why the difference in performance? One, public schools are top-down highly regulated vs. charters with their own organization, planning and programs. Unlike district schools, charter schools are independently operated, allowing them the freedom to use innovative school models and customized approaches to curriculum, staffing and budgeting.
Also, some state public schools are highly unionized, while charters are not. There are bad teachers who should be in a different career. But generally, a school principal does not have the time it takes to fight through a dismissal.
Finally, the bottom line is accountability. A high percentage of public school students fail standard tests. When they do, what happens? They pass on to the next grade. Students get behind early and continue to fall further behind each year until the they feel frustrated, hopeless, ridiculed and drop out of school.
On an average school day, 7,000 students drop out and join the ranks of the disadvantaged. By contrast, if charter students do not measure up to standards, the school is subject to being shut down by state law. Is accountability important in education? Yes, the ultimate arbiter.
So back to the opening question: What is Joe Biden’s platform on education? Biden’s official campaign website on education is a classic continuation of throwing federal money at the problem, which is what we have unsuccessfully done for decades. He conveniently fails to mention charter schools. Specifically, he has made two public statements: “There are some charter schools that work.” What a resounding endorsement. And, “I will stop all federal funding for for-profit charter schools.” About 16 percent of charter schools across the country are operated by for-profit entities.
Meanwhile, Biden is giving 100 percent support to teachers’ unions. That leads us to wonder where the teacher unions are on charter schools.
Charters threaten traditional schools because the records show that urban charters, particularly those in poor neighborhoods, create better learning outcomes. Teachers’ unions are generally outspoken against charters, and specifically are working to influence local and state authorities to not approve new charter applications.
In a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the award of $85 million over five years for the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program. According to the article, “The scholarships allow lower-income parents of children trapped in failing public schools to attend the charter or private schools of their choice. Currently, 98 percent of Opportunity Scholarship students graduate from high school, compared with 69 percent of D.C. public school students.
Ninety percent of scholarship recipients are Black or Hispanic, and the average family income is less than $27,000 a year. In Biden’s recent unity platform with Bernie Sanders, he specifically calls for eliminating the D.C. scholarships.”
By pandering to the unions for their votes, it appears that Biden intends to lead us down the path of big government, regulated, over-priced, failing education. I give him an “F” on education.
Marvin L. Covault (Lt. Gen., U.S. Army, ret.) is the author of “Vision to Execution,” a book for leaders.