On March 1, there was a heated debate around the proposition “Charter Schools Are Overrated,” hosted by Intelligence Squared. The room in New York City was packed. Two academics–Gary Miron of Western Michigan University and Julian Vasquez Heilig of Sacramento State–debated two charter advocates–Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform and Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute in D.C.

Education Week covered the debate here.

Vicki Cobb, a celebrated writer of science books for children, attended the debate and reports on it here. Cobb notes that she previously served on the board of a charter school, so was not anti-charter. Apparently the audience was evenly divided or undecided before the debate.

Cobb describes the major issues: the question of democracy and control; the question of teacher turnover. On the matter of data, charter schools on the whole perform no better or worse than public schools. Some get higher scores, some get lower scores. It is a wash. But as the anti-charter side pointed out, test scores are not everything.

As Julian Vasquez Heilig argued for the motion: “Charter schools, if they don’t have public accountability, direct public accountability, are antidemocratic. So, saying that publicly elected school boards and districts and unions, which are also democratic organizations are an old idea — I don’t think democracy is an old idea. In fact, I think we need excessive democracy when it comes to our thinking about education reform. We need to avoid education reform that is top down and concentrates power in the hands of just a few people.”

Cobb writes, “By the way, the team for the proposition “Charter Schools Are Overrated,” won the debate.

According to Education Week, The debate’s winner was determined by the percentage of audience members who changed their minds. In the first vote of live audience members, 33 percent cast votes for the motion and 31 percent against. In the final vote, 54 percent were for the motion and 40 percent were against. The rest were undecided.