By Emily Gold Boutilier

When two education experts came to Amherst in January to lead a colloquium and discussion called “What Do Our Public Schools Need?,” talk quickly turned to charter schools.

Jay P. Greene, who heads the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, called charter schools a welcome, regulated form of competition and choice. He noted that in Washington, D.C., almost a quarter of schoolchildren attend a charter.

On the other side was Jennifer Hochschild, Harvard professor and author, who said, “What schools don’t need is ‘choice,’ broadly defined.” She was speaking mostly about voucher programs, in which families receive public money to send children to private or parochial schools. Vouchers “don’t have much negative impact, but they actually don’t have much positive impact either,” she said. “That might be true for charter schools,” she added, but the evidence is less clear. 

The moderator, James E. Ostendarp Professor of English Barry O’Connell, charged that some charter schools cherry-pick students and quickly get rid of those who perform poorly. Still, he said, “I think lots of charter schools have done valuable things,” offering “incentives for teachers, community members and others to shape schools to their own wish.”   


Hear audio from a lecture by David Whitman '78

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, author of Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism. Whitman spoke in Pruyne Lecture Hall on April 24, 2009.