The Role of the Judiciary in Charter Schools' Policies

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

For some education leaders, the results caused them to remember Sputnik. (1) For United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, they were a "wake-up call." (2) The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) uses a standardized test to compare students' academic aptitude from sixty-five different countries. It is, in many ways, a measuring stick for a country's education program. (3) When PISA released the results of its most recent test in late 2010, the numbers indicated that the United States was behind many other countries in educational outcomes. Its test scores were merely average in reading and science, and well below average in mathematics. (4) By contrast, students in Shanghai not only had the highest scores of any country, but they scored as many as 104 points above average in mathematics, 74 points above average in science, and 63 points above average in reading. (5) In contrast, the United States only placed seventeenth in reading, twenty-third in science, and thirty-first in mathematics. (6) While the United States' results were consistent with past performance on international tests, (7) many were surprised to see how far Shanghai students had surpassed American students.

In addition to lagging behind in the international education arena, disparities within the United State contribute to the well-documented racial and financial achievement gap. Minority students tend not to perform as well as white students on standardized achievement tests. (8) Although there is evidence that this gap is narrowing, (9) it still poses a significant barrier to many minority students. Moreover, there is evidence that the achievement gap is widening between affluent and low-income students. (10) As the financial gap between the wealthiest ten percent of Americans and the poorest ten percent has increased, the achievement gap between the two groups has grown by thirty to forty percent. (11)

As a result of the startling statistics concerning America's academic achievement both domestically and internationally, various education reform movements have taken root. Of these, the charter schools movement has gained favor because it offers "two distinct promises: to serve as an escape hatch for children in failing schools, and to be incubators of innovation[.]" (12) Charter schools are ideal for education reform because they are autonomous public schools, meaning each school has the ability to develop new strategies to improve educational outcomes for students outside of the framework of a traditional school district. (13) In turn, other schools can replicate the most effective methods in their own schools. In this manner, charter schools ideally "deliver better results in return for greater freedom." (14)

Studies thus far have shown that charter schools, overall, do not perform significantly better than traditional public schools, suggesting they may not be able to deliver on the promise of improved student achievement. (15) However, researchers are beginning to explore avenues for scaling the most effective charter school teaching strategies into failing public schools. (16) Moreover, new research shows that despite differences among state charter school laws, certain legislative policy choices create better student outcomes. (17) Missouri, for example, affirmed its hospitable policy environment in School District of Kansas City v. State. (18) Conversely, the Supreme Court of Georgia in Gwinnett County School District v. Cox (19) stifled student achievement by weakening its state's charter school laws. This Comment takes the position that all states can benefit from charter school policies that promote student achievement, and that the Supreme Court of Missouri can provide a model of the role the courts can play.

Part II of this Comment will provide a detailed history about the development of charter schools nationally. Part III then answers the question of whether widespread support for charter schools is a wise policy choice. …