Harvard's Paul Peterson Hits the Nail on the Value of Charters and Competition

I’ve got spring fever and want to run outside and play in the almost-70 degree weather! So rather than one of my famous commentaries, today I’ll just point you to a great Wall Street Journal column by Harvard’s education policy guru Professor Paul Peterson on charter schools and competition (H/T Jay Greene). Here’s a couple key sections to grab your attention:

To uncover what is wrong with American public schools one has to dig deeper than these recent developments in education. One needs to consider the impact of restrictive collective bargaining agreements that prevent rewarding good teachers and removing ineffective ones, intrusive court interventions, and useless teacher certification laws.

Charters were invented to address these problems. As compared to district schools, they have numerous advantages. They are funded by governments, but they operate independently. This means that charters must persuade parents to select them instead of a neighborhood district school. That has happened with such regularity that today there are 350,000 families on charter-school waiting lists, enough to fill over 1,000 additional charter schools….

What makes charters important today is less their current performance than their potential to innovate. Educational opportunity is about to be revolutionized by powerful notebook computers, broadband and the open-source development of curricular materials (a la Wikipedia). Curriculum can be tailored to the level of accomplishment each student has reached, an enormous step forward.

If American education remains stagnant, such innovations will spread slowly, if at all. If the charter world continues to expand, the competition between them and district schools could prove to be transformative.

Read the whole thing, and then — if the weather is nice where you are, too — go run outside and play!