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Charter School Study Is No Surprise

If the Supreme Court's decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is put aside, the biggest news in education this week are the results of the study about charter schools by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes ("Charter Schools Receive a Passing Grade," The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 25).

Charter schools showed slightly higher test score gains overall in reading than traditional public schools, and roughly the same gains in math. However, the results varied greatly by state. Predictably, the report was cited by both pro- and anti-charter groups as ammunition for their agendas. So how are taxpayers supposed to know which side is right?

As with other research, it's necessary to look beyond the headlines. I think the fairest conclusion to draw is that charter schools produce about the same range of outcomes as traditional public schools. We know that the latter vary in quality from excellent to execrable. Studies have shown that time and again. The latest Credo study finds a similar pattern for charter schools. I'll bet that four years from now, if there is another study by the same investigators, the results won't be significantly different.

That's because so much of what schools can do is dependent on factors beyond their control. I'm not saying that traditional public schools can't do better. That would be making an excuse. Instead, I'm offering an explanation. There is a difference between the two. Consider this summer. In my neighborhood located between UCLA and the ocean, the streets are virtually empty. Children are away at summer camp or traveling with their parents. But in the inner-city, children are everywhere. I fail to understand how anyone can argue that the latter will return to any school in the fall on an equal footing with the former. It's not a question of charter schools or traditional schools.

Nevertheless, I don't expect the debate to ever be resolved. There's too much at stake for that to happen. It's a matter of who is going to get control of the billions spent on public education in this country.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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