Creative Destruction in Public Schooling

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Center for Education Reform released The Accountability Report – Charter Schools today. Lots of interesting information about the state of the charter schooling movement, including state by state information. For example, my state of Arizona has 510 charter schools operating, but since the charter law passed here in 1994, 96 Arizona charter schools have closed.

I suspect that some of those 96 schools never actually opened, but that is okay. Let’s face it, there are district schools we wish we had never had open as well, based on their long track records of abysmal test scores.

One out of five new school closing may not be the cold howling wind of the market for restaurants, but it is something. Creative destruction and competition for students provides focus, which helps to explain why 9 out of the top 10 public high schools, as ranked by their reading scores, in the greater Phoenix area are charter schools. Check it out for yourself here.

Plenty of interesting information in the report, well worth a look.

UPDATE: Kara Hornung Kerwin of CER, the first and only woman to ever have a bachlorette party thrown on her behalf by a group of education policy geeks in Jackson Hole Wyoming, wrote me to say that in fact all 96 of those schools opened and closed. The school market is a bit more savage than I thought.

Notice the titles here and with the recent Fordham Report on standardized testing. The Accountability Report-Charter Schools vs. The Accountability Illusion.

Things that make you go hmmmmm…..

16 Responses to Creative Destruction in Public Schooling

  1. Anonymous says:

    Only 9 out of the top 10 charter high schools in Phoenix are charter schools?

  2. Brian says:

    Is that John Locke? Is the picture really a secret Lost clue, circa black rock days??

  3. matthewladner says:

    Anonymous- ooops- correcting

    Brian- it’s a picture of Joesph Schumpeter.

  4. As always, the most important questions about the success of charter schools (as a “choice” out of their neighborhood school) have to do with admission and retention. Do the students have to apply? Are their minimum grades and behaviors that must be achieved to attain and retain a seat at the school? Can students be dismissed and sent back to their assigned schools if they don’t meet expectations.

    Any school that can pick and choose its students is bound to be more successful than those who can’t. That is not to say charters are a bad idea. They’re aren’t. However, when they are used to criticize others schools without their advantages, the discussion is weakened.

  5. matthewladner says:


    Arizona’s charter law requires schools to conduct random lotteries for admissions, and unlike magnet schools, forbid’s them from having students test into the program.

  6. Thanks.

    As I’ve said, it’s the most important question. That’s not true in Colorado; it’s nice to see Arizona had the foresight to address this issue.

  7. Two other questions:

    Do students/families have to enter their names in the lotteries?

    Can students lose their place for performance or behavior?

  8. Brian says:

    I think my attempt at humor failed. I didn’t mean THE John Locke, I meant the character John Locke from Lost. There is a strong resemblence.

  9. matthewladner says:


    Hmmmmmmm…creative destruction…Dharma Initiative….it’s all starting to make sense.


    Yes and there is an expulsion procedure for behavior. The same is true of district schools.

  10. Patrick says:

    Maybe one of the Arizona schools as an ancient wheel buried under the gym that, when turned, will allow you to travel back in time. Perhaps to a time before public schools became a backward looking monstrosity.

    Be careful of the schools defense systems though – PTA yes moms and unionistas will hound you to death with their siren calls for more “per pupil spending” and “adequate funding.”

  11. Ben says:

    Is Mr. Mazenko claiming that Colorado’s public charter schools operate under a different set of rules than other public schools when it comes to student admission and dismissal?

    If so, he is incorrect (

    “The Charter Schools Act [C.R.S. 22-30.5-104 (3)] prohibits discrimination based on academic ability. Diagnostic or placement exams may be given to students after they have been officially enrolled. As with all public schools, a charter school may create eligibility thresholds for enrollment that are consistent with their area of focus or grade levels, but the school’s methods for determining eligibility cannot be designed, intended, or used to discriminate on the basis of a child’s knowledge, skills, or disability. For instance, a charter high school may deny admission to a student not completing the 8th grade, but it cannot deny admission to a student who has an “unsatisfactory” score on a CSAP test.”

    Yes, some charter schools in Colorado employ a lottery system, and some use a first-come, first-served waiting list method. But they cannot discriminate any more or less than any other public school that receives a student either through neighborhood assignment or open enrollment.

  12. […] Also according to the report, there currently are 151 charter schools operating in Colorado that serve more than 54,000 students–with 41,000 more on waiting lists to get in! With performance like that cited above, it’s not hard to see why. In addition, over the past 15 years, a total of 10 charter schools have closed down, mostly for financial reasons. One good thing about charters is that if one of them isn’t working, it’s easier to shut down than other schools — a point elaborated on by Matt Ladner. […]

  13. Charter schools operating as magnet schools can and do test the academic abilities of students as a prerequisite for admission. They can also remove students for failure to maintain certain levels of academic achievement. Perhaps I wasn’t clear in the distinction.

  14. Ben says:

    As cited above, Colorado’s public charter schools are allowed to operate no differently than other public schools in this regard. What is the evidence for your claim to the contrary?

  15. Check the admission requirements for the states magnet charter schools.

    I know my son had to apply and test for admission to one, and students are identified as “academically qualified.” The state policy is a little more complex than you understand.

  16. Ben says:

    I am familiar with charter schools and magnet schools. What distinguishes a “magnet charter school” from either or both? Is the policy you describe set by the state, school district board, or school administration?

    The legal summary I quoted above grants the same terms to public charter schools as traditional schools. They can administer diagnostic testing but cannot turn a student away “on the basis of a child’s knowledge, skills, or disability.”

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