Understanding the Debate on Charter Schools: A Nonpartisan Perspective

With the announcement of Betsy DeVos as President-Elect Trump’s Secretary of Education, charter schools look to be a central issue for the next administration. DeVos is an advocate for both charter schools and voucher programs, school choice approaches that have their share of ardent supporters and critics.

Charter schools are already a controversial issue. Given the tenor of public dialogue around the presidential transition, we’re likely to see even more division and emotion emerge around the topic. Passion and advocacy have their place in social issues. But with so much noise, it can become difficult for the public — including parents and voters — to understand an issue, weigh their own values and make a judgment on where they stand.

That’s where we at Public Agenda come in. Together with the Spencer Foundation, we developed Charter Schools In Perspective a nonpartisan, non-ideological set of resources about charter schools and their place in American education. Our goal for this project is to help communities, educators, policymakers and journalists understand different approaches to educational policies and practices and the impacts those have on all kids. The resources have been designed and tested to foster better, more civil conversations.

The resources developed for Charter Schools In Perspective include:

  • Charter Schools In Perspective: A Guide to Research: A thorough and accessibly-written analysis that brings together and synthesizes current research on charter schools. Topics include student achievement, finance, governance, innovation and public opinion.
  • Ten Questions for Policymakers: A set of questions to help local officials think through decisions about charter schools in their jurisdictions.
  • Ten Questions for Journalists: A set of questions that provides local and national journalists with questions and ideas for stories about charter schools in their regions and nationwide.
  • Are Charter Schools a Good Way to Improve Education in Our Community? A discussion starter designed to help community members grapple with the trade-offs and benefits of introducing, expanding, limiting or closing charter schools. By presenting different perspectives on charter schools, this resource is designed to help communities hold civil, productive dialogue on how to improve their schools.

Charter schools made up nearly 7 percent of all U.S. public schools in 2013–14 and are quickly growing. Between 2007–08 and 2013–14, the number of charter schools increased by nearly 50 percent, and the schools are permitted in 43 states and the District of Columbia.

Debates over charter schools will continue, and both sides will make their cases, some well-founded and others not. A lot is riding on the decisions about expansion and closure — too much to not have an informed, civil dialogue.

We urge you to use the In Perspective resources and encourage open, honest dialogue at your dinner table, on your Facebook page or at a local school board meeting. Our research guide and discussion starter can help keep things in perspective and the conversation on a non-ideological, pragmatic track.