Charter schools: Mixed results | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Charter schools: Mixed results

Posted By on Sun, May 2, 2010 at 7:43 AM

The New York Times has an extensive report today on charter schools. It's old news, but worth repeating:

But for all their support and cultural cachet, the majority of the 5,000 or so charter schools nationwide appear to be no better, and in many cases worse, than local public schools when measured by achievement on standardized tests, according to experts citing years of research. Last year one of the most comprehensive studies, by researchers from Stanford University, found that fewer than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools, almost half offered an equivalent education and more than a third, 37 percent, were “significantly worse.”

Although “charter schools have become a rallying cry for education reformers,” the report, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, warned, “this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well” as students in traditional schools.

The story picks up on familiar themes. Some charter schools that "succeed" have the built-in advantage of students who weren't failing in the first place. Many charter schools benefit from extraordinary commitments on work hours and devotion from teachers who burn out. Many charter schools have great intentions but poor techniques. Many parents are content to leave children in failing charters simply because they find the surroundings more comforting than the alternative. Nobody has yet created successful charter schools readily replicable on a mass scale. You could say many of the same things about conventional public schools, good and bad.

My tiresome point again: Just because somebody wants to set up a charter school doesn't mean that it should blindly be approved. The name "charter school" doesn't guarantee goodness any more than "public school" guarantees badness. Schools, no matter how good, can't solve all the problems created by dysfunctional families, the debilitating impact of poverty and parents who aren't sufficiently committed to their children's success (or even getting them to school regularly). Doesn't mean we don't try. But for many, the school years are too late.

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