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Home » School days

Charter schools not an automatic cure, research shows

Submitted by on Tuesday, 16 June 2009 No Comment
Here's one that should shock U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan out of his school-boy crush on charter schools or, at the least, make him pause before he forces the nation to go steady with the concept.

According to new research from the Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, almost half of charter schools perform no better than their purely public counterparts.

The bad part, though, is that 37 percent are worse than their public counterparts. A mere 17 percent surpass public schools.

In other words, at 83 percent of the charter schools studied, chances are students would do no better than if they were in public schools but possibly worse.

Why is it again that charter schools are supposed to be the key to America's education future. Oh, that's right. They're part of Duncan's "islands of excellence." Heaven help us if this is excellent.

"This study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their (traditional public school)  counterparts," the report executive summary says. "Further, tremendous variation in academic quality among charters is the norm, not the exception. The problem of quality is the most pressing issue that charter schools and their supporters face."

That statement won't surprise anyone who's looked closely at test scores in their own districts. Some charter schools - usually the ones with low poverty levels and high numbers of educated parents - perform well. Others don't. Those on the charter school bandwagon usually like to forget that second part, though.

There were some bright spots in the report. Charter schools, on whole, did well improving performance among poverty-stricken students. Clearly that means schools have developed expertise in that area, and the techniques they use should be studied and replicated, the report says.

There also are a few caveats to the Stanford research.

It didn't examine every charter school in the country, only those in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Those schools, however, account for 70 percent of the charters in the country.

Groups such as the Center for Education Reform are criticizing researchers' methods, which involved creating a "virtual twin" for charter-school students, based on students who match the charter student’s demographics, English proficiency and participation in special education or subsidized lunch programs.

And researchers didn't delve into why, though they did find a connection between charter school performance and each state's charter school set-up.

Charters performed better in states that didn't limit how many such schools can be created - Duncan has called for all states to remove caps. Charters performed worse in states where more than once agency is allowed to approve new charter schools - possibly because schools with weaker plans could shop around until they found someone who gave them what they wanted.

And there's no good way to eliminate charters that don't perform, researchers said. While schools often are closed in the face of evidence of corruption or wrong-doing, not serving students usually is not enough to shut the doors, the summary says.

"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."

That's something that must be addressed before the whole nation joins Duncan's charter school lovefest.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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