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Charter schools are the Justin Bieber of education reform – a fad gone too far

Among all the programs that face cuts in President Obama's new budget, education is a clear winner. Charter school funding, however, suffers a slight decrease. And this may be a good thing. Charter schools have become another silver-bullet 'idea fad' racing through education reform.

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President Obama released his 2012 budget proposal earlier this week to a fanfare of predictable criticism from the right and a few cries from the left. In a budget that saw cuts to many cherished programs, one of the big winners was education – with an 11 percent boost in total funding. Within education spending, however, the popular charter school movement wound up as a slight loser – with proposed funding reduced to $372 million after a pledge of $490 million in last year’s budget.

While some charter school advocates may wring their hands over the slight reduction in proposed funding, the rest of us should be asking whether charter schools have been adequately scrutinized as part of a “tough choices” budget.

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That’s because investing over half a billion dollars on charter schools in a two-year span suggests that policymakers are overly susceptible to ideas that seem cool rather than ideas that we know are sound. The unfortunate reality is that charter schools are the latest example of “silver bullet” solutions that burst onto the scene each generation, promising a swift end to endemic problems in education before ultimately coming up short.

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