Sunday, May 2, 2010

Do Charter Schools Really Work?

Governor McDonnell has been a proponent of charter schools throughout his campaign and since he was elected. One of his major initiatives this session was a bill to improve the charter school authorization process. Most people expect this issue will be back before the end of his term.

President Obama is also a strong proponent of charter schools through his Administration's "Race to the Top" Program.

Last fall, The Washington Post declared in an editorial that the charter school debate was over.

OPPONENTS OF charter schools are going to have to come up with a new excuse: They can't claim any longer that these non-traditional public schools don't succeed. A rigorous new study of charter schools in New York City demolishes the argument that charter schools outperform traditional public schools only because they get the "best students." This evidence should spur states to change policies that inhibit charter-school growth. It also should cause traditional schools to emulate practices that produce these remarkable results. Charter Success, Washington Post (Sept. 27, 2009).
Today, the New York Times is reporting that a much bigger study found exactly the opposite.

Ms. Hoxby’s study, released in September, followed by three months the much
broader investigation by a Stanford colleague
, at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which showed discouraging results for charters nationally. Drawing on data from the District of Columbia and 15 states (but not New York), that study’s finding that 83 percent of charter schools are doing no better than local public schools shocked many advocates. . . . Despite Push, Success at Charter Schools is Mixed, The New York Times (May 1, 2010).

No story from The Washington Post, but WAMU recently ran a story about how charter schools are overwhelming poorer neighborhoods and causing problems in those neighborhoods. Still no new editorials.

The Post also ran a story in March about how athletics ignored in charter schools and when they do have athletic programs, "they play by their own rules."

At most of the District's charter schools, sports are little more than an afterthought. . . .[B]ecause schools such as Friendship, KMA and Cesar Chavez are operating their boys' basketball teams as independents, they are free from restrictions from any central authority. Residency is just one issue; some rosters include players competing in their fifth high school season. "Even though public charters are public schools, we operate like private schools. We make our own rules," said KIMA Coach Levet Brown. . . . D.C. Charter Schools Still Play by Their Own Rules On the Baskeball Court, The Washington Post (Mar. 19, 2010).

Other papers have run stories about teacher turnover at charter schools being significantly higher than at typical public schools.

We found that 25% of charter school teachers turned over during the 2003-2004 school year, compared to 14% of traditional public school teachers. Fourteen percent of charter school teachers left the profession outright and 11% moved to a different school, while 7% of traditional public school teachers left the profession and 7% moved schools. Using multi-nomial logistic regression, we found the odds of a charter school teacher leaving the profession versus staying in the same school are 132% greater than those of a traditional public school teacher. The odds of a charter school teacher moving schools are 76% greater. Our analysis confirms that much of the explanation of this “turnover gap” lies in differences in the types of teachers that charter schools and traditional public schools hire. The data lend minimal support to the claim that turnover is higher in charter schools because they are leveraging their flexibility in personnel policies to get rid of underperforming teachers. National Center on School Choice (2009).

Charter schools also do not do anything to reduce school expenditures. When charter schools are created, no one talks about shutting down community schools - the third rail of school politics. Therefore, the school system still has the same fixed costs for overhead and staff, notwithstanding the new schools.

Finally, another fundamental problem of charter schools is that in order to get accepted, students frequently have to win a lottery. The idea that a child's public educational future is the function of a lottery is Anti-American. We are all in this world together. When everyone is in the same boat, it incentivizes everyone to want the best for our entire community. Systems that allow people to opt out of local neighborhood schools dilute interest in and support for local schools in our public school system.

The schools in the West Potomac and Mount Vernon Pyramids have some of the most challenging needs of all schools in Fairfax County and are just as much in need of resources as many other schools in this Commonwealth. There are schools in my district with incredible PTA support and others with none where teachers pool their resources to help their kids. Different schools have different needs and different resources.

Charter schools are not the silver bullet. The major problem is a lack of government support. Fairfax County mostly pulls its weight - it is the state that does not when it only picks up 19% of our education budget, while paying over 75% in other jurisdictions.

In light of the new over the last eight months since their editorial, I am still waiting for the new editorial from the Washington Post, but I don't have a feeling that it's coming.

1 comment:

  1. And what good, exactly, would an editorial do?