Do charter schools outperform traditional public schools?
- Charter schools are projected to grow quickly since many organizations and billionaires are ready to help promote and fund them
- The academic performance of charter schools is debatable
- More importantly, what are the underlying motives for Gates, Broad, Walton, and others to invest billions of dollars in this project?
The controversy over the performance of charter schools is escalating. In 1991, Minnesota was the first state to authorize charter schools. Since then, the number of charter schools has been increasing and expanding. Today, approximately 2.9 million students attend more than 6,700 schools nationwide. This number constitutes 6% of public school students.
Charter schools are projected to grow quickly since many organizations and billionaires are ready to help promote and fund them. Charter schools were originally created to experiment with innovative school and instructional ideas, to increase teacher input, and integrate all aspects of a student’s education (parent and community involvement, etc.).
How do these non-traditional public schools evolve into charter schools?
They usually start by securing contracts with state, district, and local agencies that authorize the establishment of charter schools. Parents, teachers, and community members/organizations are typically part of the process to start charter schools and ensure that the proper agencies give the green light.
Charter schools were established within traditional public schools (using tax dollars allocated to public education), but without some of the burdensome regulations that critics said were impeding a student’s academic progress.
Advocates of charter schools also contend that competition will force traditional public schools to reform and improve student learning. They also argue that charter schools may provide an alternative to underperforming schools, particularly in poor neighborhoods.
A greater percentage of African American and Hispanic students (57 percent almost evenly split) than white students (36 percent) attend charter students. Nationwide, African American and Hispanic students make up 39 percent of non-charter schools, while 52 percent of white students are enrolled in non-charter schools.
Many consider charter schools a viable option. Americans’ perception of traditional public schools is ambivalent and persuasive marketing ploys are convincing many that charter schools may offer a desirable and advantageous learning environment for certain students.
However, the academic performance of charter schools is debatable. In certain areas of the country, they outperform traditional public schools and in other areas they underperform their counterparts.
There is another critical issue that should not be overlooked. Some charter schools have high attrition rates (up to 56%). It is hard to genuinely and accurately assess the overall performance of charter schools when students have high attrition rates. They also serve fewer special education students compared to their traditional counterparts.
Furthermore, students who took classes over the Internet through online charter schools made significantly less academic progress than students in traditional public schools.
Private for-profit companies, supported by the likes of the Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation (named after the billionaire Eli Broad), and the Walton Family Foundation, are contributing billions of dollars to promote charter schools and school choice.
In general, charter schools do not have a clear academic advantage over traditional public schools and they are not particularly innovative (one of the main reasons why they were established). Critics of charter schools maintain that diverting money away from an already underfunded public school system is senseless and disastrous.
Charter schools are either praised by advocates or vilified by critics. Each side interprets student achievement data either to bolster charter schools or revile them.
Last year, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled charter schools unconstitutional. Although this decision has a limited impact on the whole charter schools movement, other states might use the same arguments to slow its momentum and contain its expansion.
The main reasoning propounded by the Washington State Supreme Court was that charter schools are “common schools” (public schools) and, therefore, cannot be funded by tax dollars.
Furthermore, publicly elected bodies should oversee the common schools, which is not the case for charter schools.
The academic performance of charter schools is a mixed bag. More importantly, what are the underlying motives for Gates, Broad, Walton, and others to invest billions of dollars in this project? Is it to undermine public education and consequently cripple the unions representing public school teachers?
With the Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association ruling by the US Supreme Court looming, there is little doubt that a concerted assault on public education and public sector unions is under way by billionaires and “concerned” parents to gradually curtail and eventually wipe out one of the most potent countervailing forces that has the willingness and the ability to curb the ever-growing power of the moneyed elite.