27 September 2014

Using Charter Schools as Tools for Progress by Letting Them Patent New Approaches

Pedro Noguera writes a great piece in The Nation about charter schools titled, "Why Don't We Have Real Data on Charter Schools? Charters were supposed to be laboratories for innovation. Instead, they are stunningly opaque." 

He makes a variety of important points but one statistic he mentions almost in passing is to me the defining one: 
"According to a 2013 study by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, only 29 percent of charter schools outperformed public schools with similar students in math, while 31 percent performed worse. Most charter schools, in fact, obtained results that were no better than traditional public schools."
Let's round this instead of using 29% or 31%. Essentially, what this Stanford study revealed is that 33% - one-third - of charter schools did better than public schools, one-third did worse and one-third did the same. Depending on just how you measure it, this exact same claim could be made of public schools themselves: about a third are noticeably better than average, about a third are worse and about a third are average - give or take. In other words, charters schools - on average - are no better and no different than public schools. 

Noguera reminds us that charter schools were supposed to be a way for specific schools to be free of traditional regulations in order to allow experimentation. What they have become instead is a means to compete with public schools without real transparency or accountability

I have an idea for making education more innovative, for giving incentive to every teacher and educational entrepreneur to make education better. Let organizations and individuals patent new ideas. Let them get a monopoly profit on the good idea of - say - using business startups in high school as a means to fund extracurricular activities for kids while teaching them about business, marketing, product development, using art for ads, math for balance sheets and profit and loss, etc. You might patent this as an organization ("The Wanna-be Jobs School of Business") or as an individual inside of  a public school. If other schools adopt your curriculum, they pay you. And for 7 years you might make millions on the spread of your idea. After that, your patent expires and every school anywhere can use the materials or approach for free. Education gets better and there is money available to incentive people to develop new materials, methods, and philosophies. 

As it now stands, there is no incentive for any charter school to share anything that would actually make other schools better. That would simply mean giving away their competitive advantage, which is nuts. Instead, give them incentive to develop approaches that would benefit everyone.

In the 1620s, Edward Coke (pronounced Cook) led the creation of patent law, essentially granting monopoly rights for a short-period before making knowledge of new technology public. This gave people incentive to invest time and money into inventions that previously only gentlemen of leisure might dabble with. By 1699, England had its first steam engine and during the next century the Industrial Revolution was underway. 

If the US is serious about promoting education, maybe the right model isn't letting private schools compete by using methods that appear to be - on average - no different from those of the average public school. Maybe the right model is letting any individual or organization patent educational approaches that every school would find enticing to adopt.

No comments: