Via my inbox this week, I’ve been informed (and reminded) about the continued growth of independently run, publicly funded charter schools since 1992.
At a time when states are scrambling to compete in President Obama’s signature ‘Race to the Top’ effort, they really only need to look in their own backyards to see one reform that continues to make a difference in the lives of millions of kids. Today, 5,043 charter schools in 39 states and the District of Columbia are providing nearly 2 million families the option to break away from schools that are failing students and into schools that are serving them. Tens of thousands of others are on waiting lists for the same opportunity.
Nuance is scarce when it comes to the public debate over charters, which are largely un-unionized (at the moment) and enjoy a range of freedoms rarely granted to traditional schools.
Detractors are often quick to pounce on any charter school, no matter how seemingly successful, because of the broader movement that school represents (and/or its unfair advantages, and/or and its effect on public education as a whole). On the other side, blanket statements like the one quoted above make it sound like charter schools are The Answer, as if they were all equally stellar.
I didn’t blog about the well-publicized Stanford University charter school study that came out this summer, but I’ll do it now. It compared the test score gains of students at 2,400 charter schools in 15 states and Washington, D.C. to those of a demographically similar “virtual twin” in the traditional public school system.
The Stanford researchers found little difference between nearly half of the so-called twins on reading and math tests. In about 17 percent of the cases, the charter school twin fared better, and in 37 percent the regular public school twin did. Low-income students and English learners did better in charters than in traditional schools; blacks and Latinos did worse.
The researchers concluded that “tremendous variation in academic quality is the norm, not the exception,” and “The problem of quality is the most pressing issue that charter schools and their supporters face.” Here’s how the executive summary ends:
The charter school movement to date has concentrated its formidable resources and energy on removing barriers to charter school entry into the market. It is time to concentrate equally on removing the barriers to exit.
Do you agree the movement has over-emphasized quantity? The Oakland school district, which has approved dozens of charters over the years, especially when it was under state control, seems to be slowing down; the board rejected another charter last week, for the online charter school California Connections @VIMS (not the Waldorf-inspired school, as I previously stated).
On the other hand, given the looming budget deficit and the fiscal impact of charter growth on OUSD’s enrollment and bottom line, I wouldn’t be surprised if those decisions are as much about quantity — meaning, as few as possible — as quality.