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Are Charter Schools Working?

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The Charter School Dust-Up: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement, a new title from the Economic Policy Institute, claims that charter schools appear to produce lower test scores that cannot be explained by their students' backgrounds. Critics have responded that the book's findings are unduly influenced by EPI's connection with the American Federation of Teachers.

How are charter schools influencing the American education system, and its students? What role should charter schools play in the future?


30 Comments

i am not quite sure what stats went into the claim that charter schools produce lower test scores. however, i do know that politics is always lurking behind these headlines! let me tell you what i do know - my daughter has learning disabilities and attended school in the 3rd largest school district in the country. ( hint: not lausd in calfornia but close. after, years of struggles and attorney fees, she was accepted into a charter school, about 17 miles away when she was in the 7th grade. i know that her schools test scores exceed any district nearby. normally, special ed. is virtually ignored but not here. they have no segregated classes for children with special needs, but their teachers all have equal expectations of these students; special needs or "gifted". i have never been tricked into not letting my daughter particpate in any test or any part of the curriculum, like she was in her previous school. they are not afraid of their test scores. there is a high level of teacher/parent/student participation. the kids are here because they want to be not because they have to. despite the commute and the required voluntary time, i have to make, i have never looked back! she is going into her senior year. thank god for this charter school

i am not quite sure what stats went into the claim that charter schools produce lower test scores. however, i do know that politics is always lurking behind these headlines! let me tell you what i do know - my daughter has learning disabilities and attended school in the 3rd largest school district in the country. ( hint: not lausd in calfornia but close. after, years of struggles and attorney fees, she was accepted into a charter school, about 17 miles away when she was in the 7th grade. i know that her schools test scores exceed any district nearby. normally, special ed. is virtually ignored but not here. they have no segregated classes for children with special needs, but their teachers all have equal expectations of these students; special needs or "gifted". i have never been tricked into not letting my daughter particpate in any test or any part of the curriculum, like she was in her previous school. they are not afraid of their test scores. there is a high level of teacher/parent/student participation. the kids are here because they want to be not because they have to. despite the commute and the required voluntary time, i have to make, i have never looked back! she is going into her senior year. thank god for this charter school

i am not quite sure what stats went into the claim that charter schools produce lower test scores. however, i do know that politics is always lurking behind these headlines! let me tell you what i do know - my daughter has learning disabilities and attended school in the 3rd largest school district in the country. ( hint: not lausd in calfornia but close. after, years of struggles and attorney fees, she was accepted into a charter school, about 17 miles away when she was in the 7th grade. i know that her schools test scores exceed any district nearby. normally, special ed. is virtually ignored but not here. they have no segregated classes for children with special needs, but their teachers all have equal expectations of these students; special needs or "gifted". i have never been tricked into not letting my daughter particpate in any test or any part of the curriculum, like she was in her previous school. they are not afraid of their test scores. there is a high level of teacher/parent/student participation. the kids are here because they want to be not because they have to. despite the commute and the required voluntary time, i have to make, i have never looked back! she is going into her senior year. thank god for this charter school

If parents are unhappy with the charter schools, they won't send their kids to them. They, not politicians or government officials, are in the best position to hold the charters accountable.

In March another charter school closed it's doors in my district because they ran out of money. Now the public schools need to accomodate these students, which they will do successfully. Students are being kicked out of charter schools because a they display behavior problems, the public school accepts them and accomodates their needs successfully. Are they working, no, not for those students who display behvior problems or attend schools who can not manage money.

At our charter school, we have 98% At Risk students which I will challenge most any public school as having this same population statistically. Out of 25 Algebra I students, 2/3 or more have failed Algebra at least once and many more than once. I doubt that most regular school districts have those sorts of numbers or would take some action with those who prepared these students for high school math in the middle school. Yes, the school has not made AYP for the past two years primarily because we were using other instructional methods including more self paced classes. However, we have returned to the more traditional instruction and our benchmarks have improved. Additionally we have implemented voluntarily all of the possible recourses that could be required of us if we were to continue performing this poorly such as staff and administration change as well as tutoring. Our student teacher ratio is much lower than average public schools so we know where each student has a problem and it is addressed immediately. As Linda Gilmore said, we do have our special ed students fully immersed in regular classes and expect them to perform in all aspects using their IEP as guidelines. Our kids come to us by choice and remain because they don't want to be anywhere else. There certainly can be mismanagement and poor use of funding as with any endeavor but don't criticize all Charter schools under one umbrella.

My son is a senior at a performing arts charter high school, spending about 60% of his day in academics and being immersed in theatre for the remainder. He has always maintained theatre as his ultimate calling in life, but was never able to receive the level of training he felt was necessary to make his dream reality. The charter school he attends is operated with a conservatory philosophy. Colleges and universities where he has auditioned commented favorably on the level he was at--approaching theatre as would be expected within institutions of higher ed. (And, he finds himself accepted at one of the top performing arts schools in the country.) On the academic side...I feel he is no worse off than if he had finished with his former high school, which is known for its high academic standards. He receives more attention and encouragement than before. And, he finally is in a place where he fits in and is encouraged to pursue and develop his gift. There are some things that transcend test scores!!

I think that charter schools have possibilities if they focus on a particular mission (either a particular kind of student or a particular kind of environment) and do that mission well. They are not as good when they try to emulate a public school.

My friends in North Carolina have their children in a charter school that has one class of 20 per grade and wants a family rather than an institutional environment. Parents are heavily involved in the decision-making and actually raised money for a new building to be built debt free.

A charter school in my neighborhood concentrates on students with learning disability and is the non-public school of choice for some districts for some kinds of problems.

These are examples of successful charter schools.

While many of the respondants have provided excellent reviews of the charterschools you have taught at or have children at, there is no dispute in this EPI report that GOOD charter schools exist, and that many parents and teachers are happy with their charter schools. all charter schools are not being criticized under one umbrella, and its fortunate that you all are involved in charter schools you are happy with.

it is really crucial that selection bias is carefully considered, which is the point of this EPI report. you all exemplify an informed and active people, but not everyone is as aware of the issue. even if a school has a 98% at risk student population, the parents that choose the schools are a more aware group of parents. the STUDENTS more often than not, do NOT CHOOSE. the parents choose.

richard rothstein- one of the authors- clearly says charter schools were founded to create focused and innovative curriculum, and some focused on specific student populations [such as 98% at risk and students with learning disabilities], but because of NCLB, the focus has shifted to testing. and now charter schools have to face a challenge that all conventional public schools face. and that is what this report is about.

As a teacher in a charter school, I believe that charters do work. Our students come to us two years behind in Math and Reading. By the time they graduate they have caught up. Their State Map scores are improving...but not up to the standards of NCLB. We believe that part of this is the lack of training by the School district in test taking. We are trying to make up for 8 years of deficiencies in students who come from the local school district.

If public or charters schools are failing then show me their failures and I will show you a politician behind it. Show me success in the classroom and I will show you a community succeeding not just a teacher or a school. Show me a successful test score and I will show you somebody teaching to the test and ignoring education and how to think and be successful. NCLB testing focus denies the very premise of charter school and public school innovation. On the one hand they are asking us to get better; on the other hand they are asking us to conform to narrow testing mandates. In the mean time, school financing is reduced and the result is a confusing climate to operate a public or charter school in. Public, private, or charter schools should never be compared to each other, but rather compared to what makes America great: The freedom to succeed or fail based on ones own merits. Even failure as Thomas Edison put it: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work” has its merits.

Charter schools have their place when districts are proven failures. However, the opening of charters does cause a burden on districts who must educate the majority of students. When schools are already severely underfunded, as in California, there is no room for the loss of any funding.
My biggest complaint is the statement that parents are entitled to 'choice'. Children are entitled to a good and well-rounded education. If this is being provided, then no charter should be needed or allowed. Studies have shown that while many people are disatisfied with the education system, they are mostly happy with their individual schools. This no doubt also applies to charter schools. In my experience, 'competition' seems to amount to no more than better marketing by charters - not something that I see as useful to improving education.
Yes, there are definitely good and bad charters just as in traditional public schools. I wonder about the true goals when many charter advocates immediately dismiss negative reports as based on union activism, but gladly trumpet positive reports from charter advocates. Also, many charter supporters seem to be tremendously anti-union to the point of advocating charter schools as a backdoor means of union breaking.

I've taught in charter schools for the last four years. While the first school was awful, the administration and staff at my current school make the difference. These kids may not like where they are, but they are learning. In some classes, I have students (8th grade) ranging in ability from kindergarten to 12th grade. And if you think that all of their needs aren't, think again. Our staff works their behinds off to meet these kids needs, working with children at-risk, in need and ignored by the other schools in the area. And we're all very proud of what we do.

In our Florida district charters can only be sponsored by the school board and are micromanaged. The teacher’s union has controlled our school boards for years and teachers unions don’t like charters.
Charters only receive state FTE and the district for administration withholds 5%. The district receives local, state and national funds in excess of $9,000 per student. Charters have to do with $4,000.
Our administrators push students that teachers don’t want in their classroom into charters.
Bottom line is charters are doing a good job with the cards they are dealt.
Bob

I don't know how the funding for every sates works, but in ohio, once the money is given to the charter school it cannot be recouped. I know plenty of parents who are happy and disappointed with the charter schools their children have attended. But id a child leaves a charter school to reenter the public school system, that school must accept the child even though the funds do not follow the child. So the school has to educate that child with no money earmarked for him. Also here in Ohio charter schools are allowed to operate only in school districts deemed as failing, which is for the most part school districts like Cleveland that serve 99% at risk youth. So the population, atleast here in Cleveland, is identical in both school systems.

My daughter attended CA Charter Academy for 3 years and graduated with a 4.0 GPA and extensive plans for college. Little did we know, since we were never told, that the school was not accredited. The Education Code and State Law specifically state that parents must be informed about the transferability of credits but I was never informed about anything. My daughter was disqualified from the Cal Grant because they would not acknowledge her GPA since the school was not accredited. All her hard work and dedication to maintaining a 4.0 GPA resulted in nothing but a financial burden of $13,000 in student loans for college. I have complained to every person at Snowline School District who was supposedly in charge of monitoring that school, and I have complained to the entire State Education Departments, and also the CA Charter Association. They couldn't care less and haven't offered the slightest bit of support to rectify this. So this school system that both me and my daughter thought was an establishment that we could trust does not abide by its own laws and code. I will contact the media and everyone else I can until they are held accountable.

What are everyone's views on how charter schools and other non traditional schools affect the educations of at-risk students?

In response to Jenn (director at a restidential school), I think that the strength of charter schools and other non-traditional schools is that they can handle at risk students because they have the flexiblity to do what works.

I am a home teacher who teaches students who are unable to go to school. Especially at the high school level, I see many students who just can't handle six different teacher personalities on a campus of 3800 without having any one adult as their anchor. Alternative schools serve these students well.

With all the different student personalties and needs, we need a variety of environments. Most students will do well in a traditional environment, but the number that won't is noticeable.

In response to Jenn (director at a restidential school), I think that the strength of charter schools and other non-traditional schools is that they can handle at risk students because they have the flexiblity to do what works.

I am a home teacher who teaches students who are unable to go to school. Especially at the high school level, I see many students who just can't handle six different teacher personalities on a campus of 3800 without having any one adult as their anchor. Alternative schools serve these students well.

With all the different student personalties and needs, we need a variety of environments. Most students will do well in a traditional environment, but the number that won't is noticeable.

In response to Jenn (director at a restidential school), I think that the strength of charter schools and other non-traditional schools is that they can handle at risk students because they have the flexiblity to do what works.

I am a home teacher who teaches students who are unable to go to school. Especially at the high school level, I see many students who just can't handle six different teacher personalities on a campus of 3800 without having any one adult as their anchor. Alternative schools serve these students well.

With all the different student personalties and needs, we need a variety of environments. Most students will do well in a traditional environment, but the number that won't is noticeable.

In response to Jenn (director at a restidential school), I think that the strength of charter schools and other non-traditional schools is that they can handle at risk students because they have the flexiblity to do what works.

I am a home teacher who teaches students who are unable to go to school. Especially at the high school level, I see many students who just can't handle six different teacher personalities on a campus of 3800 without having any one adult as their anchor. Alternative schools serve these students well.

With all the different student personalties and needs, we need a variety of environments. Most students will do well in a traditional environment, but the number that won't is noticeable.

People who read these "findings" need to take more into account then what they read. I am sure that those dissemintating the information forgets to mention the lack of resources and funding that charter schhols face. The CS I work for not only putpaces those in the city but is in the higher end of average for the state. We do this with kids from all levels b/c we can turn no child away. We have 1 special ed teacher for 300+ students. When you work in a district, you have district resources. For example a student with a hearing disability would be placed into a program in the district that would meet thier needs. Charter schools don't have that. They make due with what they have. The authors also probably fail to look at the beginnings of the schools. Those that were started by corporations are often the ones that do not do well. Those that were started by true educators are the ones that succeed. Unfortunately all of this is obscured by the "data".

My eldest child had an awful expierence in her "assigned" school and both my children are now doing wonderfully in a small charter school where their individual needs are met. Charter schools are different, and the differences matter. I find these grand pronouncements that it is a failed experiment because we find slightly lower test scores selfserving. What have we actually proved? That you can give significantly less money to people who haven't been properly "trained" and they can get results almost as good as fully funded professional educators! I would no more want my children in any charter school than any traditional school, but let us please take a closer look at those schools, both traditional and charter that are doing well, figure out what makes them better and give all our children an excellent education.

I have been a charter school teacher for almost four years now. As an educator, I realize that one learning style will not work for all students. As teachers, we must be flexible and this is the benefit of charter schools. Being able to work with at risk students without isolating them but allowing them that they can learn in the mainstream school setting is very rewarding. As a previous statement was made, all students are not easily adaptable to an environment with 6 different teachers and hundreds of or even thousands of students to deal with on a daily basis.

It's good to read so many people making so much sense on this issue. This discussion contrasts very favorably with dialogues of a more vitriolic period (1997-2001). Operating time has yielded data and experience. These enable greater levels of analysis, and have moved discussions in 2005 beyond yesterday's limits: ideological pre-positioning (i.e., the pros and cons of "competition" and freedom of choice in education) and thought experiments, projections, and deductions about anticipated outcomes (if this happens then . . .) regarding schools, school systems, and consumer/user behavior.

I think it may be too early to conclude what charter schools do or don't have the potential to accomplish. What is clear to date is that, as a distinct class or genus of publicly funded school, charters have not differentiated themselves academically. A distinguished veteran educator in Boston experienced in both charter and district schools predicted this outcome to me several years ago, upon his transition from one type to the other: "They're the same kids," he said. By extension, they'll score about the same on the state's high-stakes test, do about the same in life, etc.

If in the end the scores are no different--and I think that's a generalization most people can, for the sake of discussion, roughly agree on at this point--then do we need charter schools? Why? All of us on the pro-side 10 years ago assumed that if a school was structured differently (i.e., better), the numbers would bear its superiority out. Or, if we did not actually make this assumption, we believed that the theory was robust enough to warrant a test; a worthy expenditure of public funds and a positive direction to explore under the rubric of capital-E "Education" capital-R "Reform."

That charter schools have not in a generic way demonstrated clear academic differentiation after five 5 years some places and a decade in others is a very significant finding. I for one would not have been able to advocate with confidence had I known that the only pitch experience would bear out, in a general way, was going to be: "In 10 years, the jury will still be out." Part of how we won the legislative and public relations competition here in Massachusetts was through superior marketing. The challenge for advocates here now is what to market. "Happy customers" may be one of their stronger answers. In places where public confidence in public education needs bolstering, the power of that answer--for the sake of public education generally--should not be overlooked. If literate children who grow up to become responsible citizens is Job 1, schools that engage parents in their child's academic life in constructive ways do (I presume; anyone got a tip on research?) improve their chances of getting that job done.

The charter school "experiment" nationally is not at all to me a "failure." Its rich results have yielded plenty to talk about and learn from on a variety of issues from dress codes and longer school days/school years to what effective school-based management really boils down to in practice. Anything that generates this much attention and energy on public education is, to me, a good thing, and charter schools have done that much. Have the costs--in heartburn and real dollars--been worth it? To find out what we know now, I would have to say yes. Are they and will they remain worth it going forward? That's another set of questions entirely.

Ten years ago, charter schools and charter "movements" took up the fight for their existence, using sub-standard performance and inadequate rates of improvement in existing district public schools as the pretext and a strong desire to exert more direct control over their children's education as a tool for recruitment and involvement. Do charter schools need to justify their existence today in terms of how they measure up to these founding rationales? Yes. On the first count, academic performance and improvement, we can say pretty conclusively that the score's still tied.

Why? It's a good question now for looking ahead at potential uses/particular applications for charter schools as an institutional class or type; for making plans about where, when, and how best to deploy the model to create new schools; and for making renewal decisions when existing charters reach the end of their terms.

It is interesting how test results are displayed and interpreted by those looking at charter schools when the same scrutiny is not placed on public school scores. After our second year of operation, our school made 12 out of 13 NCLB objectives. We missed the 13th objective (Free & Reduced Mathematics) by .96%. The headline was "District Scores leave Charters behind", which is interesting since our District for the first time had to add 11 schools to the Needs Improvement list. In District testing our 1st grade class outscored the State and National average and outscored 12 District elementary schools. Again, no mention of our success in the paper. We are a k-8 school and currently enroll 251 students. Most of our middle school students upon enrollment were failing school, truant, expelled, up for expulsion or discipline problems. My staff works long hours making sure these kids get what they need. for the first time, these kids are coming to school and learning. We may never close the gap for these older students but we are making it smaller. Remember, we didn't create it! Rather than acknowledge our success with students they "recommended" to our school because we "would be a better fit for the child", the District has publicly attacked the Administration and the staff, visited every child's home to prove enrollment, threatened revocation four times this year and demanded answeres for our weak audit. At this time, it has been discovered that the District has withheld funds over the last three years, denied us access to Federal programs and suddenly they don't want to talk to us publicly. So I stand by the fact that charters are working and we are doing so under circumstances that no district public school staff would ever have to endure. Our parents dedicate time to our school and we take the time to educate them about charter law and NCLB so they know the politics behind these reports and public attacks on charter schools. We agree there are some bad charter schools out there. The best part about that is that they can be shut down. Who stops the non-performing distict schools? They just continue failing their students, year after year.

I just want to clarify my previous post about the dispute I am having with the education department regarding CA Charter Academy. The school had an excellent program. I was very pleased with it and my daughter loved it there. It has nothing to do with the program itself or ther teachers. It is unfortunate that the people in charge of monitoring CA Charter Academy did not fulfill their responsibilities to ensure that the school was operating within compliance. The misuse of funds and inappropriate conduct of student records caused the school to close. If the school would have been monitored more closely, they probably would have been following the rules and notifying parents about the transferability of credits. The fact that no one was following the rules and regulations of the CA Education Code have caused my daughter irreparable damage to her future. She strived for academic achievement in all subjects and excelled in all her classes. Her reward was to be notified that her GPA would not count towards her eligibility for financial aid. So she got nothing for her dedication to the school and her education. Her only alternative was to agree to student loans that will take her years to pay off. Both me and her trusted the school district that she would have the same options available as any other school. I had asked about it and was told they were just like any other California Public School which was very untrue. What makes matters worse is that when my daughter came to me very distraught with the information that she was disqualified from the Cal-Grant because of their non-accredited status, I didn't even get worried because I had faith that the school district would not allow such a thing to happen to a student and was sure they would do whatever necessary to rectify it. I was dead wrong. Snowline School District made no attempt to fix anything and refused to admit that they were at fault for not monitoring the school that they authorized the charter for. The Board of Education gave the same response. Not only did they not offer assistance or support, the Board of Education's "lawyer" sent me a nasty letter telling me it was not their responsibility. So basically there are codes, rules, policies, and regulations posted all over the place regarding education laws but in reality they mean nothing because they are not enforced and if they are violated, no one does anything about it. So why do we have an education code anyway?

As A retired educator of 40 years as a classroom teacher,coach of 3 sports,education social worker,principal of K-6,K8,K12 schools,university professor,& 2 years in Libya,2years in Somalia,plus 1 year in Yemim I read with some amusement the comments from the charter school proponets.First,95% of the students who suceed in charters would have done likewise in a public school. More importanly The major reason for slow achievers in our schools is socio-economic and until our goverment wises up & provides jobs & health care for our urban & inner city communities, many of our kids will contnue to be non-achievers in schools.Neither chartes or NCLB will make much of a difference. Lastly,charter schools are entirely different from state to state.I live in Michigan & can assure you that no other state's charter schools are any where like ours.That is where most of my amusement comes from. When other contributors send in their views please acknowledge this fact.Also I can vouch with the research that the charter Schools in Michigan,as a whole, are not achieving as well as our public schools. Scott W.Street,ED.D,Eastern Michigan University,Ypsilanti,Mi.

As a teacher in a Charter School, I can honestly say that the staff working with our students does its best with what we have. Our students come to our classrooms at least two years behind academically. Many of the students speak openly about being bullied by their peers in the public schools and the teachers who are overwhelmed because of class size. Our students are typically those that fall through the cracks in public schools. Many of them have low IQ's and/or at-risk behaviors. Many have been suspended on multiple occassions, thus loosing important learning time. Still others have been expelled from the public schools. In a nutshell, many of the students I work with every day are considered throw away kids. They are inner city, low SES, and most were failing in public schools. I would think public schools would be happy to not have them pull down their scores, as opposed to complaining that they have lost funding. Our mission is to keep these kids in school and make them contributing citizens - not give up on them!

Is charter better than magnet school

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