Charter Schools: Better? Really? Check the Research!

It’s so easy. Make a broad claim: public schools are failing.

Now offer an easy solution: choice, particularly charter schools. The thing that makes these attractive in this scenario? They are not public schools, since as we said before, we all accept that public schools have already failed.

What’s wrong with all this? The main problem is that there is no evidence, no research, no support at all that public schools are failing and that charter schools produce superior results.  

In a national study of charter schools known as the CREDO study, conducted by Margaret Raymond, ” 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school.” Furthermore, Raymond’s husband, Eric Hanushek, widely quoted in the film “Waiting for Superman,” points out that it’s only the very few lowest-performing teachers (five to ten percent) that bring down the nation’s test scores (if test scores are an adquate measurement of good schools and good teaching!).

And furthermore, the charter schools that produce really brilliant results are only a tiny percentage of the 17% that outperform public schools.

So why the push? It’s because it’s so easy to repeat “common wisdom” that isn’t true at all. Realize that the above statistics originate from research for a film that pushes choice and charter schools, yet the numbers don’t show that charter schools produce particularly superior results at all; on the contrary!

In our local district, legislators promised, when the sole charter school here was brought in, that the charter would not use any funding intended for the public schools. That was a good thing, too, because in a high-poverty area like ours, we can ill afford funding to be siphoned away from our diminishing budgets.

However, a few years into it, the legislators changed their minds and the public schools are losing part of their funding to the charter. What happened to the original promise? Well, that’s the way of politics and legislators. Trust nothing.

Educational reform always takes a long time, because the educational system is a huge, ponderous beast. We can all improve, of course, but are we all failing? Not at all (see my former blog). Should we replace what we have with something that is not clearly proven to work? Obviously, we should not.


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