HOW ARE THEY WORKING?
HOW WELL are America's charter schools doing? The answers are necessarily tentative. That the most ancient among them are barely seven years old—and the vast majority are in their first few years of operation—means that definitive data are scarce, particularly concerning pupil achievement. 1 Though organizational flaws can sometimes be glimpsed within weeks or months of a school's launch, no clear judgment can be made about any school's effectiveness after only a year or two with students. As Arizona State Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan cautions, "I don't think one claims victory until [one sees] three to five years of sustained improvement." 2
Efforts to appraise charter schools' efficacy are also handicapped by the information vacuum that weakens our entire public education system. Conventional public schools are derelict when it comes to documenting their performance. State and local systems are awash in data about inputs (e.g., teacher credentials, expenditures, and graduation rates), but the gaps are wide when comparing schools or districts on their effectiveness. American education still has no agreed-upon system of performance accounting, and the partial evaluation systems that exist render schools anything but transparent. Charter schools, like other schools, function with this information deficit. Thus the evidence presented here is suggestive, not dispositive.
In this chapter, we first examine such achievement data as can be obtained, followed by a demographic profile of charter students. Next, we examine satisfaction levels among students, teachers, and parents, and look at the innovativeness and efficiency of these schools. Finally, we report on the demand for charter schools both in the United States and abroad.____________________