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Charter Schools Thrive in Minneapolis: World Doesn't Come To End

by Christopher Chantrill
March 02, 2006 at 10:47 am

THE BIG OBSTACLE to school choice is fear. It’s the fear that everyone will flee the public schools for charter schools and voucher schools and leave a disaster behind. A generation of kids will be lost in that disaster.

It’s easy to imagine such a scenario, and that is why the forces of reaction have played it up, fanning fears of chaos among parents.

In Minneapolis the end of the world scenario is playing out right before our very eyes. But don’t worry. The world isn’t coming to an end.

Minnesota has a pretty liberal law for forming charter schools, reports Katherine Kersten,

In 1990 Minnesota allowed students to cross district boundaries to enroll in any district with open seats. Two years later in St. Paul, the country's first charter school opened its doors... Today, this tradition of choice is providing a ticket out for kids in the gritty, mostly black neighborhoods of north and south- central Minneapolis.

OK. Let’s stop right there. Hallelujah!

Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools. Today, just around half of students who live in the city attend its district public schools.

As this is happening, the city school system is cratering. And the parents and voters aren’t holding their hands and waiting for Armageddon. They are asking why the school district isn’t doing a better job at improving its schools and adapting to lower enrollment.

The district has handled budget cutbacks and school closings ineptly, leading some parents to joke bitterly about its tendency to penalize success and reward failure.
Black leaders like Louis King have had enough. He has a message for the school board: "You'll have to make big changes to get us back." He says the district needs a board that views families as customers and understands that competition has unalterably changed the rules of the game. "I'm a strong believer in public education," says Mr. King. "But this district's leaders have to make big changes or go out of business. If they don't, we'll see them in a museum, like the dinosaurs."

That’s the kind of attitude I like to see. All of a sudden, the burden of proof has shifted from the school choice advocates to the defenders of the status quo. The folks in Minneapolis believe that if the public school system is failing it is the schools’ problem not the parents’ problem. You know what? They are right.

That is a huge win for school choice.

And, after all, if you can get out, to another school district or to a charter school, why worry? In ten years or so the system will be fixed and everyone will live happily ever after.

Best of all, school choice advocates will be able to point to Minneapolis and say to the fearful: Be Not Afraid. School choice is not the end of the world. They tried it in Minneapolis, and it worked.


Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.


Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990

Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures

German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital

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©2007 Christopher Chantrill