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Waiting Lists Grow for Charter Schools, Says an Advocacy Group

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The number of names on public charter schools' waiting lists rose by 13 percent in the 2013-2014 school year, an increase that shows the continued demand for access to high-quality public education, according to a report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

In the 2013-2014 school year,  1.04 million student names were on the waiting lists, compared with 920,007 the previous year,  Nina Rees, the  group's president and CEO, said during a conference call with reporters on Monday, the start of National Charter Schools Week. It was the first time the number of names on the list had exceeded 1 million, she said.

When duplicated names were removed from the lists, the number of individual student names dropped to 586,511, up from 523,335 the previous year. The  longest lists were in New York, California, and Texas, the group said.

"Despite the increase in the number of charter schools year after year, and the growth in the number of students who are attending charter schools, the demand for high-quality public charter schools is extremely high, and that number keeps growing every year," Rees said.

Anticipating the report, the National Education Policy Center in Boulder, Colo., issued its own report, calling for skepticism in interpreting the numbers and questioning the methodology of the charter schools group.

The National Education Policy Center said it was impossible to know the survey response rate; what questions were asked; the data collection methods; and how the group came up with the number of students on the waiting list. The numbers may also be skewed  by a large number of applicants applying to a small number of very popular public charter schools, the group said.

Nora Kern, the senior manager for research at the alliance, who oversaw the methodology, said the numbers came from three sources, including state education departments and  statewide charter-support organizations. In states where wait-list data were not collected, the organization surveyed all the public charter schools, Kern said.

Rees stood by the organization's numbers. None of the organizations that criticized the study asked to review the methodology or how the report had been produced, she said.

"We feel very confident about the data that we are providing, and the handicapping that we have done is also quite sophisticated," she said, "and [it] goes to show that we are cognizant of the fact that, in some cases, a parent can have their child on multiple lists."

Still, she said, the numbers showed a continued clamor for better public schools.

"There is huge demand for high-quality public school options out there," she said, "and the fact that families are putting their names on multiple lists and trying to get the kids out of the schools they are in, tell us we have a lot of work to do to both increase the access to more high-quality public charter schools, to create more seats, but also to work with the school system to make sure that the quality of the traditional  public school system also improves over the years.

"No one can be proud of these numbers," she continued. "We have to do a much better job of making sure that every family has access to a school that they are comfortable with and that they are not resorting to putting  their students' names on wait lists to attend better schools."

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