Charter Schools Get Mixed Reports

By Innerst, Carol | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

Charter Schools Get Mixed Reports


Innerst, Carol, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


****A TEACHERS UNION AND A THINK TANK OFFER OPPOSING VIEWS.****

Contrary to popular perception, children who go to charter schools are not the best, the brightest, the rich and the privileged, says one of two dueling reports on charter schools released yesterday by a conservative think tank and a teachers union.

Charter schools are serving children who are troubled, difficult, poor and have special needs that regular schools often cannot meet, according to the report from the Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute.

"Charter Schools in Action: What Have We Learned," which looks at 43 charter schools in seven states, reveals that 63 percent of their students are minority group members, 55 percent are poor, 19 percent have limited proficiency in English and 19 percent have disabilities that affect their learning.

"We conclude that charter schools are the most promising education reform alive in America today," said Chester E. Finn Jr., John M. Olin fellow at the Hudson Institute, who is a former U.S. assistant secretary of education and one of three authors of the Hudson report.

"We conclude that they are serving precisely the kids that need help the most and precisely the opposite of the kids the critics predicted would be served," he said. "Charter schools are attracting needy kids, committed parents, great teachers, and appear to us to be doing a very good job for less money than regular schools are spending."

Charter schools are more-or-less autonomous public schools established and run by teachers, parents, nonprofit community agencies and for-profit companies. Depending upon the strength or weakness of the state charter law, they are freed of some of the burdensome regulations that hamper regular schools.

Twenty-five states and the District have charter laws, and there are an estimated 350 such schools around the country.

One of their most attractive features is that they offer parents and teachers an element of choice within the public school system.

The movement is young. It began in Minnesota in 1991, spurred by educators and parents who were frustrated by conventional public schools. At the same time, it has faced fierce opposition from other educators and administrators who see charter schools as a "backdoor" voucher program, which will skim off bright, affluent students and cut into public school funds.

Teachers unions disagree with the conclusions drawn by Mr. Finn and co-authors Bruno V. Manno, former U.S. assistant secretary of education, and Louann A. Bierlein, education policy adviser to Louisiana's Gov. Mike Foster, both of whom are senior fellows at Hudson.

Where the Hudson report sees promise in the charter school movement, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) see a threat to union power and to public education, although both unions are operating their own charter schools.

"Charter schools have come to mean different things to different people - everything from a chance to raise student achievement to a chance to bust unions," said AFT President Albert Shanker. …

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