Charter Schools and Common Core:
Changing the Face of Private Education
The public education movements to establish charter schools and to adopt National Common Core Standards are exerting an influence on private education in America. The transfer of students from private to public education has broad societal implications. Loss of students could have a devastating impact on private education opportunities as schools struggle to stay afloat. Dwindling enrollment could sideline religious influence in education in favor of secular influence. Students who move away from private schools also increase the burden on taxpayers. Further, private schools adopting Common Core Standards lessen the differentiation between public and private schools.
When school started in Fall 2012, charter school enrollment for the first time surpassed enrollment in Catholic schools. The Lexington Institute points to the irony of this reversal since charter schools “have long imitated the Catholic model: high expectations, discipline, and school uniforms.” (10-16-12)
Most charter school students come from traditional public schools but significant numbers are also moving from private schools. The Cato Institute indicates that 8% of charter elementary students and 11% of middle and high school students are drawn from private schools. Furthermore, in highly urban districts, private schools contribute 32, 23 and, 15% of charter elementary, middle, and high school enrollments, respectively. (8-28-2012)
Any increase in public school enrollment requires an increased tax burden on citizens, spreading education dollars thinner, or cuts to other services, (or some combination of the three.) The Lexington Institute reports, “According to the National Catholic Education Association, allowing every Catholic K-12 student to enter the public school system would add $23 billion to the taxpayer’s bill.” (10-16-2012)
At the same time, there is a trend among private schools to adopt the federal constraints of the Common Core Standards (CCS). “More than 100 Roman Catholic dioceses spanning the nation from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have decided to adopt the standards according to a recent survey from the National Catholic Educational Association,” reports Education Week (10-10-2012). Lutheran and other Christian schools are also choosing CCS.
Is this change motivated by a desire for better student results or is it an act of resignation or desperation? Private schools adopting CCS seem to believe they must do so in order to stay both competitive and credible. Some cite the fact that textbooks and testing are being adapted to CCS. There is also an expectation that eventually changes will be made to SAT and AP testing to reflect CCS. Schools also say parents want to compare schools and CCS makes it easier for them to do so.
But rather than keeping private schools competitive, adopting CSS can be seen to dilute and devalue private schools’ worth as an alternative to public education. Private schools enrich the educational landscape through distinctions that make them different from public schools. If they teach to the same standards why should parents pay for what they can get free?
Stating that independence is central to the National Association of Independent Schools, its executive director Patrick F. Bassett was quoted in Education Week (10-10-2012) saying that he expects few NAIS college preparatory schools to adopt Common Core Standards. According to Bassett, “decision making through a national effort runs counter to our very being.”