Charter Schools: The False Choice (Part I)

Erik EllefsenThe CACE Roundtable1 Comment

08charter-600“Charter schools are the devil,” I blurted out as I listened long enough to two friends talk about the new push for a Three Sector policy approach to educational change in the United States.  After they got over their astonishment at my statement realizing it was another one of my strong opinions, they asked for explanation.   At this point I was forced to develop a more complex and nuanced explanation for my strong belief that charter schools now known as the third sector is a false choice and an imminent threat to the health and sustainability of Christian schools

Three Sector Policy Approach

In short, the Three Sector Approach to educational policy change is a belief that the traditional private and public sectors in American schooling are not enough and that the creation of a mixed-market approach with the addition of the third sector of charter schools will add another dimension to the traditional American education system.  The progressive proponents who have signed Andy Smarick’s petition truly desire to expand educational quality and provide better choices to parents and students by using a mixed-market approach by creating private schools that are funded by traditional public school tax sources.  The third sector is a mixing of the public and private school models with the hope that the school’s “charter” will create the necessary direction and accountability to ensure the school’s success.

As an education policy fanatic and former AFT Grievance Chairman, I have been watching the development of charter schools since 1999, and as a researcher of Albert Shanker (father of the charter school movement and legendary AFT President) I was an early proponent of charter schools as a real option to provide increased parental choice in education.  However, I never believed nor do I think Shanker would have expected that charter schools would become a third sector of the educational system as neither public nor private.

Shanker’s intent was to create greater professional control over education and flexibility in meeting student needs, not in creating a separate school sector that was neither accountable to the public or the teaching professionals.  Additionally, as a Christian school convert and full-fledged advocate, I have come to the realization in my research and work across the country that this so called Three Sector approach is the greatest threat to the sustainability and possible expansion of Christian schools.

Charter School Allure

Many in the school choice movement are attracted to charter schools because they see them as increasing the choice of parents and students, especially the most underprivileged students in American cities.  Likewise, some of the best charter school networks like KIPP have done great work in proving the impact of high standards and great teachers upon the learning of these same students.  Also, as an educational professional, I cannot deny that I personally have learned from and Christian schools in general could learn a great deal from the best charter school networks in setting high standards, proving success through tangible learning results, and the development of character within a vibrant community.  And don’t forget the allure of public money that allows charter schools to grow and seek easier funding in comparison to starting or maintaining a Christian school for students who are not able to afford private school tuition.

The conversation on Charter Schools continues in “Charter Schools: The False Choice (Part II)”


  • Erik Ellefsen

    Erik Ellefsen is a CACE Senior Fellow and the Director of Networks and Improvement at the Baylor University’s Center for School Leadership. He also serves as Senior Fellow for Cardus, hosts Digital Education (a podcast providing engaging conversations with some of the most innovative education leaders), and is a leading collaborator and author of the Mindshift and Future Ready projects.

One Comment on “Charter Schools: The False Choice (Part I)”

  1. Eric –

    Thank you for this article. Whether they are “charter” or public, such schools share the same core doctrine – the irrelevancy of God. When there are financial entanglements, one of the first items to be compromised is the pursuit of a Biblical worldview. When Christian parents are allured by the charter school school sector and lower costs than private, are they not actually selling their child out in the guise of pseudo private education? The taking of every thought captive to Christ is starts in the home of Christian parents who intentionally seek a school after the heart, mind and things of God. We as Christian school leaders have a clarion call to design, raise up and lead Christian schools that are not only Christian in name but truly providing academic excellence and Christian character development in the Lordship of Christ.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.