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Verdict on Charter Schools Is Elusive

Charter schools continue to be controversial because of results that are anything but definitive. The most recent example is Success Academy Charter Schools, the largest charter group in New York City with almost 9,500 students in 24 elementary schools, seven middle schools and one high school ("The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moscowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio," The New York Times Magazine, Sept. 3).

As readers of this column know, I support parental choice.  If charter schools can demonstrate that they do a better job than traditional public schools in educating similar students, I say open more. But the evidence is hardly convincing, notwithstanding the uncritical praise heaped on Success Academy Charter Schools by the media.  I have nothing against Eva Moscowitz or anyone else whose schools outperform others.  But there has to be total transparency.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case.  In March, Moscowitz sued New York State to prevent it from auditing the chain's operations.  A judge ruled in her favor, holding that the state controller cannot do so.  If Success Academy Charter Schools are as good as Moscowitz claims, why in the world would she object to an audit?  What is she hiding?  Instead, she should be proud to make public the keys to her success.  Let's not forget that her schools are publicly funded.

A data analyst who worked for the past several years in the New York City Department of Education presented a point-by-point rebuttal of what Success Academy Charter Schools have claimed ("Researcher: Success Charter Chain Built on Hyperbole," Diane Ravitch's blog, Sept. 12).  I wish that the analyst had not demanded anonymity, but at least the analyst provided documentation for each charge made. I'll leave it to readers to decide for themselves if too much remains in doubt before drawing valid conclusions.

The problem for those who have never taught is that they know only what they read or hear about schools in the media.  Few voters have the wherewithal to evaluate what is promulgated by special interests.  As a result, if a national newspaper publishes a worshipful piece, they tend to accept it as the whole truth instead of asking hard questions. Therefore, until charter schools are required to be audited, I suggest taking what they say about themselves with a healthy skepticism.  Even then, I doubt the controversy will end.  That's unfortunate because collaboration rather than competition is better for students ("End the charter school wars," New York Daily News," Sept. 28).

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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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