When I circulated petitions to refer HB 1234, Governor Daugaard's really bad education policy, to a public vote, the minority of people who said they support HB 1234 (now Referred Law 16, on your ballot!) made a few common arguments. Among them were the contentions that the teacher union is too powerful and that we need alternatives to public schools.

The debate on Referred Law 16 should focus on the realities of South Dakota, where local teacher unions have little power and where private school alternatives lack the market and money to be viable competitors.

However, for those who insist on applying national-level rhetoric to South Dakota politics, permit me to reach across the border to Chicago to puncture that thinking. In Chicago, where public school teachers recently went on strike against unfair management proposals, non-union charter schools are not beating uninonized public schools:

...the foes of the teachers' union declare that we should pay close attention to the all-important standardized test scores. So let's take a look.

There are 541 elementary schools in Chicago. Based on the composite ISAT scores for 2011—the last full set available—none of the top ten are charters. None of the top 20, 30, or 40 either.

In fact, you've got to go to 41 to find a charter. Take a bow, CICS Irving Park!

Most of the 49 charters on the list are clustered near the great middle, alongside most of their unionized neighborhood schools.

The top scorers are public schools with unionized teachers who are members of the Chicago Teachers Union. That's the one whose president, Karen Lewis, somehow brainwashed her easily duped members into thinking they wouldn't rather work at a charter school.

I had to look hard to find an UNO school on the list [Ben Joravsky, "Today's Lesson: Charters Do Not Outperform Unionized Schools," Chicago Reader, October 3, 2012].

Don't let the hype over Romney's style-over-substance victory in Wednesday's debate fool you: when you're making real policy, you still have to look at data. And there is no data that supports the notion that unions make public schools worse or any of the claims made by supporters of Referred Law 16.