A strong majority of registered voters in Utah support charter schools. According to a September 2019 survey Y2 Analytics conducted for my organization, the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, 62% of registered voters in Utah support charter schools.
According to that same survey, Utah families list academic quality first in their hierarchy of educational values. The survey said that 47% say that “quality of academics is the most important factor while selecting a school for your child.” No other factor exceeded 10%.
Recognizing that academic quality would likely be the highest factor, Y2 asked respondents to identify what the most important factor would be, other than academic quality. Variations of academic quality still rose to the top: 18% selected educational philosophy and 19% chose the school’s principal and teaching staff.
Utah families want their children’s school to offer a curriculum that will prepare their students for the future. They want a school that will tailor education to their children’s needs, and offer opportunities for their children to learn in new ways.
Charter schools invite families to “Find your place.” Utah families recognize these schools’ diverse offerings and see direct benefits for their children. Some charter schools focus on back-to-basics curriculum and direct instruction. Others offer hands-on, real world learning opportunities. (There’s even a Salt Lake City charter school with a working farm!)
Still other charter schools’ students graduate with an associate’s degree, or a trade certificate. It’s hardly a surprise that 12% of Utah’s K-12 students have found their place in a charter school, none of which even existed when their parents were in school.
Despite our best efforts, not every school lives up to its potential. Which is to say, it’s a human enterprise. Most do well, but a few fail. Y2’s survey verifies that the public is well aware of failing schools, both district and charter. Survey respondents almost always see their child’s school in a better light than the rest of the schools. Still, 2% gave their child’s current schools an F.
I can’t say why some schools fail, but every child deserves a school that will prepare them for success in life. Some schools have failed for decades. Over the years public officials have implemented scores of programs to turn those schools around. A few schools have turned a corner; many have not. Rather than subjecting children to these persistently failing schools, it’s better to close that school.
Closing a failing school is a feature, not a bug of charter schools.
No one looks forward to closing a school. As some charter school critics have noted, closing a school disrupts the lives of the children who attend that school. But as Dwight Schrute put it, “People underestimate the power of nostalgia.” Even in the face of decades of failure, nostalgia too often lulls us into believing the siren song of, “Just one more dollar, just one more year.” Promoting, even graduating, a child without actually educating that child does far more lasting and serious harm.
Utah families want schools to prepare their children for success in the future. When the schools we have don’t accomplish that, it is our responsibility to replace them with schools that do. As we all look to improve our children’s educational options, I invite every Utah family to find your place.
M. Royce Van Tassell is executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools.