Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Charter schools: Finding out the facts: At a glance - Center for Public Education

July 13, 2010 8:30 a.m.

From The Center For Public Education web site

Charter schools: Finding out the facts: At a glance - Center for Public Education

From the article above:

...Charter schools across the nation

While charter school students enrolled just 3 percent of all public school students in 2008, the number of students (and schools) has risen dramatically in the past decade. In 1999, there were 1,542 charter schools with 349,642 students. By 2008, there were 4,618 charter schools with 1,407,817 students (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 2009b).

As the enrollment numbers have grown, some in the education community have become concerned. The RAND Corporation’s study (Zimmer et al 2009) attempted to evaluate whether charter schools are “skimming” the best students from local traditional public schools or re-segregating urban schools. RAND analyzed the academic achievement and demographic characteristics of students transferring into charter schools and found:

Charter schools generally are not drawing the best students away from local traditional public schools. For example, previous test scores for students transferring into charter schools were near or below the averages for every location in the study. Only among white students did researchers find slightly higher test scores among those moving to charter schools.
The racial composition of charter schools was similar to that of the traditional public schools the students previously attended.
A recent report by the Civil Rights Project (CRP) compared the percent of black students in racially isolated charter schools (charters schools enrolling 90 to 100 percent of black students) to the percent of black students attending racially isolated schools nationwide, with the conclusion that black charter school students were twice as likely to attend racially isolated schools. However, the majority of charter schools are in large urban districts, which are more racially isolated than other districts. So it cannot be determined from the CRP report whether charter schools lead to more racially isolated schools; the RAND study remains the best research available.

Yet charter schools remain primarily an urban strategy. The National Charter School Research Project reports that 89 percent of U.S. school districts “have no charter schools within their boundaries, perhaps in large measure because so many school districts are so very small." (Lake, 2010)


It is clear that charters are poised for another growth spurt. Through its Race to the Top competition, the U.S. Department of Education is providing a powerful incentive for states to boost their support for charters.

Consequently, it’s imperative that more research and education be done. Charters are largely misunderstood – only 41 percent of voters even know that charter schools are in fact public schools. The incomplete research base behind charters means that many states may be heading into a reform strategy without a clear understanding of how charter schools work best, or how they interact with and affect traditional public schools. Charter schools need more research, oversight, and true evaluation to fulfill their purpose of being laboratories that traditional public schools can learn from.

Questions for researchers

What are the ingredients that contribute to charter school success? Do smaller class size, longer days, parent involvement, or freedom from collective bargaining and other regulations play a part? What about the local school district role? What variables count most?
What effects do different governance models have on positive charter school outcomes?
What interaction exists between traditional and charter public schools? Is there any evidence of shared ideas and information? Innovation? Does the charter’s authorizer affect the results?
How do charter schools affect traditional public school funding?
What are charter schools’ effects on local school districts in terms of funding, governance, logistics and accountability, as well as performance?
Questions for school boards

The emphasis on charter schools by the current administration means that this particular strategy is not going away. However, considering the lack of a research base, school boards need to be careful in implementing or considering this strategy. Some questions to consider are:

Which agencies does our state empower to authorize charter schools? How does the local school board fit into the authorizing process?
What is our opinion of, and relationship with, EMOs?
What is the state process for evaluating whether local charter schools are in fact improving achievement? What is the local role?
Is there a process for closing underperforming charter schools prior to their renewal date? How long is the timespan before renewing a school’s charter? What is the local school district role?
Does our state have caps or an appeals process for the creation or removal of charter schools?
What is the interaction between charter and traditional public schools? Does it matter if the local school board was the authorizer, or if there was another authorizer?
What lessons could we apply from local or national charter schools about school size, instruction, etc. to our traditional public schools?

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