"Today, nearly 40 years and $105 billion dollars of public investment later (the private investment can be considered to be at least a significant fraction the public investment), we are no closer to finding a cure. In fact, after adjusting for age and size of the population, the cancer death rate has dropped by only 5% in the last 50 years. Compare this with nearly 60% drop in the death rates of diseases like pneumonia and influenza. Why is this the case?"
This question about cancer research is similar to one that we could ask about American education. Why is it that so much money is spent with so little result? The answer to this question also gives us a glimpse into why we allow charter schools even though some fail at their task.
"Part of the reason is that cancer has multiple causes and we are not really sure about the true causal linkage between the various factors and the cancer cells misbehaving."
Like cancer, children are not all the same, but our educational system treats them as if they are. I do applaud efforts for differentiated instruction, but those do not get at the heart of a bad system.
In addition, when speaking of cancer research "The truly innovative approaches and especially the risky (from a success of the project standpoint) proposals have seldom obtained funding."
In the same way charter schools may provide the truly innovative approaches that are necessary to find the real answers.
Most institutions, such as the American public education system, are conservative by nature. They do not like quick or radical change. They look for incremental changes. They look to preserve what is because reaching for what could be might be dangerous.
Like cancer research, perhaps the reason to allow charter schools, and even support them more than we do, is that even with the small number of true failures, the innovations and the possibility for greater innovation must be allowed and encouraged to take place.
I've had too many friends of mine die of cancer over the past few years to not care about cancer research. I've also seen the results of tenured teachers and incompetent principals leading those teachers to believe that our current system doesn't need radical change. Change is difficult, but it may be the only way to reach our goals.