In the world of ethics, we have a term to describe a war that is morally justified. The term is "just war." Having studied and taught ethics, I've sometimes wondered whether there are any "just wars." Leaving that asided, a just war is one that would have moral grounding and be fought in a way that is moral. In other words, the goal has to be moral, and the method of fighting has to be moral.
In public debate, we've often found that the person making a argument believes that he or she has just cause for starting or engaging in the attack. However, it seems that we are far less in agreement about the method of attack and the respect for one's opponent as a person.
While certainly not universal, it seems that those who attack charter schools do so with such vigor and anger that they forget that their opponents are people and that the arguments used ought to have some real grounding. As I outline some of, what I believe to be, the inadequate thinking about charter school evaluation, you can determine whether some people unjustly attack charters or not.
First, charters are often said to take students from school districts. This seems to be unjust because it assumes that somehow the students belong to the districts. I've argued before that, just like any vendor, a customer is only one's customer as long as that customer is satisfied with the vendor. A charter can't take students from a district any more than Target can take customers from Wal-Mart.
Second, charter school test scores and compared to non-charter school test scores to determine their academic success. It's funny that those same people often oppose the use of test scores to grade teachers. They also don't like to use test scores to judge their own schools. This argument ignores two facts. One is that test scores are not the only measure of success. The second is that for a school to be truly evaluated, you need between five and ten years of existence. Most charters have not been in existence for ten years, and a fair number have not been in existence for five years. Comparing charter schools to non-charter schools requires a much more nuanced evaluation. Why not include measures such as percentage of students who are prepared for or who graduate from college?
Third, charter schools generally do not pay teachers adequately. In most professions, adequate pay is defined by the market. I was in the IT industry for a while. When I first got into the industry, my company couldn't hire people fast enough. People fresh out of college were being paid premium wages. We were hiring people as fast as we could. Eighteen months later, our company closed and let about 1,000 workers back into the market. Many of those people had to move to find jobs, if they could find jobs. Salaries for IT employees in our area dropped or at least stabilized for the next three years. The point is that an adequate salary depends on what it takes to hire effective people. Charter schools often pay less for two reasons. The first is that they don't receive adequate funding. The second is that they can find high quality teachers for less money because they often compete against private schools who pay even less.
(On a side note, it's funny to me that non-charter schools have never that I've seen criticized private schools for paying less. I'm guessing that's because they've never seen private schools as a real threat. Now that charter schools are growing, there is a pragmatic reason to pull out this argument. Note that it's also an argument about teachers, not about the quality of education. If charter schools can prove that they can provide an equal or better quality education for less money, that would mean that charter schools are a better value and....hmmmm.)
So, while perhaps not immoral, the arguments against charter schools made so far seem to be either premature (as in the case of comparing test scores) or unfair in that they use irrelevant criteria for their criticism. Let's face it, at least for the next five to ten years, charter schools are here to stay. If we believe in high quality education, it seems to me that the best way to proceed is to make both charter schools and non-charter schools the best that they can be within the contstraints given to us by budgets and the laws. Then let's see if we can't provide a good education in all of those venues and end this debate. Why can't it be that both non-charter schools and charter schools can exist side by side providing the education that parents want? That seems just to me.