Intelligence Squared Debate Report: Are Charter Schools Overrated? by Bryan Mann

NEW YORK, NY – With the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos and the shift toward a federal education agenda that focuses on school choice, the organization Intelligence Squared hosted a debate on March 1 over the claim “Charter schools are overrated.” The debaters were two academics for the motion, Gary Miron from Western Michigan University and Julian Vasquez Heilig from California State University Sacramento, versus two advocates who were against the motion, Jeanne Allen from The Center for Education Reform and Gerard Robinson from American Enterprise Institute. While, in general, not all academics are against charter schools and not all charter school proponents are advocates, this arrangement was the make-up of the debate teams and created interesting conditions for conversation about the controversial educational reform idea.

The evening contained a little tension between the teams and a plethora of both logically sound and logically curious arguments. The academics pointed to research regarding metrics of quality, profiteering, cream skimming (selecting the best students), and other concerns relating to the charter school sector. The advocates countered with their own evidence about quality, while repeatedly sticking to philosophical points about the importance of parents’ ability to choose what they see is the best option for their children.

According to audience polling and the formula used by Intelligence Squared for declaring debate winners, the academics in favor of the motion won. It wasn’t clear the composition of the audience, but based on the questions posed by audience members during the debate, they represented K-12 teachers, media, scholars, and even regular citizens simply interested in the topic.

Overall, the debate itself captured the empirical, ideological, and philosophical differences between those who oppose and support charter schools as a reform strategy in the United States. One can learn about and understand these differences by viewing the debate online, which can be found at:

“Charter Schools are Overrated”:

The American Journal of Education has published pieces about charter schools, such as (the title is linked to the article location online):

“Public School Choice and Racial Sorting: An Examination of Charter Schools in Indianapolis”

“Positioning Charter Schools in Los Angeles: Diversity of Form and Homogeneity of Effects”

“Comparing New School Effects in Charter and Traditional Public Schools”

“From Policy to Practice: Implementation of the Legislative Objectives of Charter Schools”

Bryan Mann is a Managing Editor for the American Journal of Education. He will be starting as Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies at the University of Alabama in August 2017.

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