Thursday, May 15, 2008

Charter Schools popular in Harlem

From The Economist:

THOSE who had won whooped with joy and punched their fists. The disappointed shed tears. Some 5,000 people attended April 17th's Harlem Success Academy Charter School lottery, the largest ever held for charter schools in the history of New York state. About 3,600 applied for 600 available places, and 900 applied for the 11 open slots in the second grade.

The desperation of these parents is hardly surprising. In one Harlem school district, not one public elementary school has more than 55% of its pupils reading at the level expected for their grade. And 75% of 14-year-olds are unable to read at their grade level. So Harlem parents are beginning to leave the public school system in crowds.

Despite what United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten tells us about the “failure” of school vouchers and charter schools on Charlie Rose, desperate parents living in one of the toughest parts of New York City are aching for something better for their children than the usual rhetorical pabulum served up by the Teachers Union. In the interview with Charlie Rose, Ms. Weingarten tells Rose that the voucher program in Milwaukee is a failure and that therefore, she insinuates, the system will not work in New York City (Harlem). What she fails to understand or willfully ignores, is that a similar lottery system exists in Milwaukee as in Harlem. For the first eight years of its existence, Milwaukee's program was capped at about 1,500 students, for the next eight it was capped at 15,000. It is currently capped at 22,500 students. By getting local and state governments to kowtow to their powerful lobby, the teachers union effectively rigged the voucher market for difficulties and failure by putting an artificial cap on student enrollment. After all, if we capped the number of cell phones that Apple could sell, there would not only be a shortage of these items, but any excess demand by consumers would have to find other providers for a similar item. Unlike the cell phone market where there are many providers, the education market is dominated by one large monopoly. Students that don’t win the lottery must submit themselves to the local public schools. Additionally, if a charter school wants to expand enrollment, it can not do so quickly and easily due to its restrictive mandate. This is hardly a free-market and most certainly not a fair test of school vouchers or charter schools. The fact that a lottery is used to reward participation in a charter school is proof enough that Ms. Weingarten is being disingenuous and that charter schools are a lot more popular than the teachers union would ever care to admit.

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