Academic journal article Journal of Private Enterprise

Can Charter Schools Improve Financial and Economic Education? the Case of the Milwaukee Urban League Academy of Business and Economics

Academic journal article Journal of Private Enterprise

Can Charter Schools Improve Financial and Economic Education? the Case of the Milwaukee Urban League Academy of Business and Economics

Article excerpt

This paper describes an inner city charter school-the Milwaukee Urban League Academy of Business and Economics-that speciales in a business and economics curriculum. We present an overview of charter schools and summarize some of the research on their effectiveness. We then describe the special curriculum in one charter school and present an evaluation of the second year of the effort to implement the curriculum.

What is a charter school?

Charter schools are a special sort of public school. Charter schools are public schools that are exempt from several of the regulations applied to other public schools. Charter schools operate on the basis of a contract approved between the school operator and the state charter authorizer. Charter schools are becoming a popular market-based educational reform. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are 2,695 charter schools nationally. Wisconsin has 128 charter schools.

Charter schools come in all shapes and sizes. Most have a special mission of some kind. Among the more prominent missions are alternative education, core knowledge, science, technology, at-risk, arts, direct instruction, leadership, and careers.

While charter schools are freed from many of the rules of regular public schools, they face many issues that could hamper their success. Charter schools are often start ups. A building may need to be renovated. Decisions have to be made regarding hiring teachers and administrators, selecting benefits packages, setting up the payroll, opening up bank accounts, recruiting students, selecting curriculum, deciding on assessments, and so forth.

Despite the challenges, the initial research on charter schools has been positive. A national study of charter schools was conducted by Greene, Forster, and Winters (2003). They compared test scores in charter schools serving regular student populations with the nearest public school also serving a regular school population. Their analysis included schools in 11 states. They used year-to-year test score changes. They found positive effects from charter schools serving general populations. For the most part, these were characterized as modest gains.

Witte (2003) is conducting an ongoing study of charter schools in Wisconsin. He notes several of the difficulties in conducting this sort of research. He points out, for example, that the types of measurements are limited to standardized tests scores and that many charter schools are designed to education at risk youth. Despite many caveats, Witte concludes that charter schools are better than traditional schools at insuring that students achieve minimal and basic levels of performance. He observes, given the fact that half of the charter schools in Wisconsin are for at-risk students, that this is a worthy accomplishment.

A final study conducted by researchers at the California State University at Los Angeles (Slovacek and others 2002) compared the academic achievement of children from low income families attending charter and non-charter schools in California. They examined average scores on the Academic Performance Index-a measure used by the Stanford Achievement Test. They found that the mean scores for students in charter schools improved more (22%) than for students in non-charter schools. The difference was even more pronounced in schools with higher levels of poverty.

We are beginning to see evidence that charter schools meet their basic academic goals better than traditional public schools. Is there any evidence that charter schools can accomplish their special missions? The following is one case to consider.

Milwaukee Urban League Academy of Business and Economics

The Milwaukee Urban League Academy of Business and Economics (MULABE) is a charter school in its third year of operation in the central city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The mission of the school is to provide a strong academic program with stress on reading, mathematics, science, and social studies. …

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