The Hype Behind Charter Schools: Do We Know Enough about Charter Schools to Justify a Significant Expansion in This Educational Model?

Article excerpt

SPURRED BY THE PROSPECT OF being awarded millions in Race to the Top grants, several states have removed or raised caps on the number of charter schools they will allow to be authorized.

And financial support for charters has been flowing in from various foundations and corporations--including most notably a recent $325 million commitment from JPMorgan Chase.

But are charters outperforming traditional public schools sufficiently to warrant this priority being placed on them? And where charters are succeeding, do we know enough about the reasons why to justify this significant expansion?

The Research

Educators and policymakers who want to learn more about the facts can find a good resource in the recent Center for Public Education study, Charter Schools: Finding Out the Facts (available at www.centerforpubliceducation.org), which examines the most sound research to date. The results may surprise you.

As it turns out, research shows that charter schools do not justify the level of promotion and support they are receiving. A 2009 CREDO study (Center for Research on Education Outcomes) from Stanford University found that just 17 percent of charters outperformed traditional public schools, while 46 percent performed the same and 37 percent did worse. In other words, 83 percent of charters were no better or worse than traditional public schools.

Since the methodologically sound CREDO study involved 15 states and the District of Columbia--representing 70 percent of the national charter school enrollment--significant weight needs to be given to its findings. A number of other studies, however, involve success stories of specific schools or districts, such as the Hoxby study of New York City's charters. But those case studies do not fully isolate the reasons for success or whether the favorable conditions can be readily found or replicated elsewhere. Others look at factors outside test scores as their basis for claiming better comparisons with traditional public schools.

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Many charters are established as alternatives to poorly performing schools in low-income communities with high enrollments of African-American or Hispanic students, but it's important to note that nationally their performance is mixed in this area. …