Confirmed: Charter Schools Beat the Daylights Out of Public Schools

Is it any surprise that the mainstream media is ignoring the many recent reports that confirm the vast qualitative divide between public and charter schools?

First was the news that the most recent Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores in reading and writing (for the 2011 high school graduating class) have hit a new low.

About 1.6 million students -- mainly high school seniors planning on attending college -- take the SAT every year.  The average national SAT scores for 2011 fell in every area of the exam -- reading, math, and writing.  In fact, the reading and writing scores were the lowest ever.

Moreover, the SAT scores show that only 43% of the test-takers had full college-level skill, which is defined as a composite score of 1550 out of 2400.  (A student scoring 1550 on the SAT would have about a two-thirds chance of getting at least a B- average in his or her freshman year at college.  Remember that grade inflation is the norm in today's college world, so a B- average is hardly something to cheer about.)

As the report notes, the SAT report follows an earlier ACT report that showed that only 25% of its exam-takers were college-ready in all major areas.

In a masterstroke of understatement, the article's author notes, "The data highlight the difficult task faced by the Obama regime in pursuing education policies to help Americans remain globally competitive."

Of course, that assumes that Obama truly wants education policies to help America remain competitive.  I think it is clear that he wants only education policies that aim, like all his other policies, to benefit his crony benefactors -- in this case, the teachers unions.

The second story reports that the largest public college system in the country, the California State University System (CSUS), with its 23 campuses, is struggling with the large and swelling mass of unprepared students.  In 2010, 27,300 of the 42,700 entering freshmen -- that is, nearly two-thirds of them! -- needed remedial education in English or math (or both).

The story reports that starting next summer, the CSUS will require students with skills problems to take "Early Start" courses, 15-hour summer remedial classes, before starting regular classes.  The courses can be taken online either at a CSUS campus or a cooperating community college.  The hope is that by having the students "brush up" on the subjects they should have learned in K-12 before taking the regular remedial classes, the CSUS won't have to eject so many students for flunking the remedial courses.

This brings up several points. First, should we really expect that having the students take 15-hour online pre-remedial classes will really prep them for regular college classes?  As one professor (Professor Sally Murphy) put it, "I'm not optimistic that it's going to help ... [a] 15-hour intervention when it comes to skills that should have been developed over 12 years."

Second, why are these students even admitted to the CSUF to begin with?  Why not simply require them to go to community colleges until they are college-ready?  The citizens of California are already taxed to the max, in part to support a huge, sprawling community college system -- the biggest in the country by far.  And one of the main purposes of for the community college system is precisely to provide remedial education.

Third, when will the faculty and administration in the CSUS finally realize how much the K-12 teachers' unions are screwing them?  When will these entities finally break with the teachers' unions to support deep, meaningful structural reform in K-12 education -- specifically, school choice?

This brings up another piece -- this one on the continuing success of charter schools.  As the Wall Street Journal reports, the most recent New York State Assessment Program test results show decisive evidence that one of the charter school chains most viciously attacked by teachers unions is beating the pants off the public schools.

I speak here of Eva Moskowitz's "Harlem Success Academies," which provide inner-city minority youths a solid academic prep school experience.  Moskowitz's estimable organization recently made the news when the rent-seeking, heartless teachers' unions --  fronted by the clueless actor Matt Damon (whose mother is a member of a teachers' union, natch) -- demonstrated in opposition to the attempt to open a Harlem Success Academy in the über-liberal Upper West Side.  The thought of poor children having freedom of choice when it comes to their schools offended the "compassionate" actor profoundly.

The scores show just how ignorant people like Damon are.  In New York City's public schools, a risible 60% of third- through fifth-graders passed the math portion of the state tests, while an amazing 94% of similar Harlem Success students passed.  Again, while a pathetic 49% of the city's public-school students passed the language arts potion of the state tests, 78% of the Harlem Success students did.

And all the covertly racist public-school union goons out there who always claim that the problem with public schools is the influx of minority students should note that while only 73% of white public school students passed the state's math test, 94% of Harlem Success black and Latino students did.

The article notes that other charter school chains such as Promise Academies and Democracy Prep Schools have done similarly well.

Just another piece of evidence that school choice works to improve student outcomes -- not that leftist actors care much.

Yet another article gives us a clue about just how crucial it is to defeat the teachers' unions and gain school choice.  It reports on a study by a trio of distinguished economists, Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard along with Jonah Rockoff of Columbia, on the benefits to society of good teachers, as well as the costs of bad ones.

The study's data set is massive, covering 2.5 million students over a 20-year period.  And what it shows is striking.

The study shows that the impact of having one excellent teacher for a year between fourth and eighth grade would add a "modest" $4,600 to the average student's lifetime earnings.  (I put the scare quotes around the report's word, because the effect of one year may be modest, but the effect of many thousands of excellent teachers over the years on all the students they teach would be enormous.)

But more to the point of school choice and breaking the stranglehold teachers' unions have over public education is this finding.  The cost of one bad teacher for one year on an average classroom of students is a whopping $266,000 in that class's collective lifetime earnings, which is over $2.6 million which that lousy teacher will cost society over ten years, or possibly $7.8 million over the teacher's tenure.

That's just one bad teacher.  Multiply that by the possibly tens of thousands of wretchedly bad teachers whom the teachers' unions protect, and you realize the cost to society of our monopolistic public school system.

Philosopher Gary Jason is a senior editor of Liberty, and author of the new book Dangerous Thoughts (available through and Amazon).