IZUMI: School Riots Underscore Why Parents Prefer Charter Schools

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Lance Izumi Pacific Research Institute
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Over the last two months, riots at public schools across the country have underscored why parents choose safer charter schools for their children.

In April, 10 Stamford, Connecticut high school students were charged with numerous crimes, including first-degree riot and assault on a police officer, after a riot that involved hundreds of students throwing eggs, water and soda cans.

“This is not the learning environment we expect and demand for our children in this city,” stated the Stamford police.

In March, a riot at a Vancouver, Washington middle school resulted in nine arrests on a variety of charges, including felonies.

According to police, after they arrived, racial and gendered curse words were hurled at officers, while 50 to 70 students surrounded them and, in some cases, attempted to assault officers.

Parents at the school have complained about the poor safety situation to administrators, but to no avail.

Speaking to a local television station, one Vancouver parent said, “The racial slurs and the sexual intimidation [occur] on a daily basis in the classroom and goes unchecked.”

“If these eighth-grade students will face off with an armed sheriff, exactly what does my 14-year-old have a chance in class while she’s being threatened,” she lamented.

Given the rising safety problems, it is no surprise that parents are exiting dangerous regular public schools and opting for charter schools, which are publicly funded and independent of school districts and which have greater flexibility to implement policies that meet individual student needs.

Commenting on urban charter schools, Harvard professor Paul Peterson has written, “Compared to district schools, the charters are generally perceived to be smaller, safer, friendlier, and more often than not, a better place to learn.”

A 2018 Mackinac Center survey of Michigan charter-school parents found that safety ranked among the top three reasons why parents chose the charter option.

The belief of parents that charter schools offer safer learning environments for their children is borne out by research evidence.

For example, a 2017 Manhattan Institute study, which used student survey data, compared charter schools and regular public schools in New York City and found that charter schools were safer overall.

“If you want your kids to be safer, try to get them into a charter school,” concluded Max Eden, the study’s author.

Individual experiences also bear out the belief of parents.

Life Learning Academy, a charter high school in San Francisco, serves homeless kids, long-term dropouts, and students with extensive criminal-justice histories.

As opposed to teacher union propaganda that claims that charter schools “cream the crop” of high-achieving students, Life Learning Academy’s executive director Teri Delane says her school takes “the hardest, biggest pains there are and helps them turn around.”

The school has a tough-love policy that is strictly enforced.

Tony, a school alumnus, recalled Delane snapping a cigarette out of his mouth, ripping a gang bandana from his head, and saying, “I don’t know what the hell you think you are, but this is not what you are doing here.”

Tony said, “Wow, no one has ever done that with me before — yeah, and I loved it.”

As a result of its safety policies, there has not been a fight on campus in Life Learning Academy’s 20 years of existence.

Because it provides students with a safe environment to learn, 90 percent of Life Learning Academy’s students graduate and 75 percent go on to higher education.

After interviewing parents in focus groups, Patten University president Thomas Stewart and University of Arkansas professor Patrick Wolf concluded: “Safety is parents’ first priority.  Once they are confident that their child is in a safe school, parents shift their attention to the academic rigor and curricular offerings of the school.”

If we want children to succeed, we need to give them a safe place to learn, which means that proven alternatives such as charter schools should be expanded so that all parents have the choice of sending their children to a safer school.

Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and author of the new book Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.