Public schools today are like newspapers 10 years ago.
There was this fledgling enterprise called the Internet, but we were oblivious to the threat, even disdainful of it. Then, suddenly, our customers had unlimited choices for picking their news sources and advertising their used boats.
This created chaos in an industry that built massive printing presses and huge newsrooms based on a monopoly model.
Now, far too late, we are adapting.
I see the same dynamic in education with school choice. There is a surge in home-schooling, more vouchers and, most noticeably, an explosion in charter schools.
Last year charter-school enrollment grew to 137,000 statewide. This year there has been a huge increase in applications to create more schools, which are publicly funded but independently run.
A student takes his state dollars to a charter school, denying them to the local school district.
Up until now, traditional schools held a huge advantage. Charters are a fledgling movement. Quality control is haphazard. Budgets are strapped. There is no Friday night football.
Charters offered smaller salaries and reduced benefits, meaning higher teacher turnover. Test scores have suffered.
But the state keeps pushing, keeps trying to level the playing field. School districts have decreasing authority to keep charters out or oversee them. There now are more applications for new charter schools in Orange than there are existing charter schools.
A shortage of teachers has turned into a glut. A lot of the teachers boxed out of public schools are the new energetic teachers of tomorrow. Charter schools have an opportunity to tap into them while the public-school work force ages.
By eliminating tenure protection for new public-school teachers and instituting merit pay, the state has made charters a viable alternative.
The scope of charters also is expanding.
They originally were set up to serve low-income kids, threatening inner-city public schools.
But that is changing.
Consider the new
School for Gifted Learning in Seminole, a county known for its top-flight public schools.
This is from the Galileo website: "The entire curriculum is based on a model of gifted learning from the top thinkers in gifted education in the world.''
Kids will learn with other kids at their cognitive level, not to be held back by mixed-ability grouping.
I live near very good public schools, but that product description would get attention in my neighborhood, even from parents at the posh private schools. Charters threaten them as well.
Similar charters have caused backlashes in other states as the schools move into the high-performing niche. In
, suburban parents are fighting to keep out charters that might drain resources from their public schools as the two compete for top students.
The coming threat is very real.
's public-school population has stagnated.
Losing 100 kids to charter schools is fine when you have 1,000 more walking in the door. Losing them now is another matter, especially given the massive education infrastructure in place to serve them. Unused space is very expensive to maintain.
Fighting school choice ultimately will be as fruitless as dinosaurs whining about mammals. Public schools need to compete for every student, fill niches that aren't being met and market their product. That is what their competitors are doing. The only way to survive is to become the choice in school choice.