Unpacking Charter Schools: A Knapsack Filled with a Few Broken Promises

Article excerpt

There has been much hoopla surrounding the notion that charter schools may be a viable option for urban youth. However, the existing information on this issue may be easily dissimulated considering less sloganeering about charter school theories and more research on how charter schools enhance the academic experience of the students they serve are needed. Alter all, Bernstein (2004) argues that "Charter school advocates, however, seem to show little or no interest in research data about charter schools" (p. 228). Miron and Nelson (2001) add that "the research and evaluation literature has not yet produced clear and unambiguous statements of fact about achievement in charter schools" (p. 1). Why have there hardly been any research studies on the impact of charter schools on at-risk and urban youth'? I can only figure that the issue is not necessarily a pedagogical or theoretical philosophy whose claims require validation.

Notwithstanding, charter schools have merit--really. Charter schools have the potential of reinventing education through curricular initiatives. Proponents contend that "charter schools can facilitate stronger education outcomes and ease some of the bureaucratic problems that hinder school improvement" (Jain, 2002, p. 4). In fact, "the case for charter schools is quite simple-the arguments typically revolve around the alleged failure of the public schools" (Bernstein, 1999, p. 227). The general purpose of charter schools is to "prompt innovation in largely monolithic public school systems and provide parents with more options for their children's education" (Jain, 2002, p. 4). But it almost requires a complete bouleversement of part of that purpose to determine what some of the real problematic issues surrounding charter schools are which include:

1. First, charter schools may preserve inequities among students;

2. Second, charter schools have not fulfilled their promise to close the academic achievement gap while dollars are being split between public and charter schools to improve education; and,

3. Third, charter schools--in general--present irreparable financial harm to school districts; in the long run students in both the charter and public schools suffer.

Promoting Inequalities among Charter School Students

In 2004, the United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, a landmark case in which the Supreme Court decided that segregation was unconstitutional and prohibited in public schools by the United States Constitution (Hirsch, Kett, & Trefil 2002). This decision dismantled the idea that racial segregation is constitutionally appropriate provided that any conveniences Blacks and Whites used were fairly equivalent (Hirsch, et al 2002). This separate-but-equal doctrine appears to manifest itself clandestinely in charter schools. Finn, Manno, and Vanourek (2004) posit that "According to the Center for Education reform, over half of all charter schools are in urban districts" while "40 percent of students serve dropouts or students at risk of dropping out" (p. 223). These findings parallel to research conducted by Harman, Bingham, and Hood (2002). They add that

   Minority student participation in the
   charter school option is revealed in
   the US Department of Education's
   fourth-year national study of charter
   schools (Nelson, 2000) which
   found that, on average, charter
   schools in 1998-1999 enrolled a
   much larger percentage of African-American
   students (27% versus
   17%) than all public schools in the
   27 states with open charter schools.
   Mirroring the national trend, 47.3%
   of North Carolina students enrolled
   in charter schools were African-American,
   versus 31.8% for all
   public schools in the state. Notably,
   charters nationally also served a
   slightly higher percentage of students
   eligible for free or
   reduced-price lunch than all public
   schools (39% versus 37%) in the 27
   states with open charters. …