the myth of the effective charter school…

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Our nation’s model charters haven’t cracked a code for educating inner city students; they have cracked a code for isolating motivated inner city students and parents who see education as a way out of poverty, and filtering out the rest.—John Kuhn



Well, the title of this post just about says it all, doesn’t it?  Let me state right up front that I believe there are effective and high-performing charter schools in this country—I also believe there are good, well-meaning politicians out there somewhere, too, but like Bigfoot, both groups are rarely encountered in the flesh.  Like all myths, there is always a nugget of truth buried somewhere in the narrative, but the rare success stories you typically see about charter schools don’t equate to a majority, nor do they tell the whole story.


According to a 2013 Texas Education Agency report, since 1996 here in Texas 309 Open Enrollment charters have been awarded.  During that time 105 of them have been revoked, returned, rescinded, renewal denied, expired, merged, abandoned, or never used.  That means over one third that have opened in this state have been failed endeavors.  Let that sink in before we get to the performance issues of the ones still running.

A 2011 report on charter school ratings in Texas shows that most charters fell into the Academically Acceptable (the lowest possible positive outcome) or Academically Unacceptable categories.  There were a few Exemplary (the highest ranking), but the remainder were considered Recognized—which is just another way of saying average.  Almost none qualified in any category for the Gold Performance Acknowledgements.  Broken down by region, it is easy to see where the success are, as most are in affluent areas, while the poorest performing are in economically depressed areas.  Just like regular public schools.  Of course, charters in Texas also are using a different rating system than public schools (for the most part), and some are not even required to submit to the report.

In other words, even with a playing field tilted heavily in favor of charters, they still perform no better (and many times, worse) than their co-located public schools.  In 2011, 60% of charter schools were rated as below average or failing, while only 43.8% of public schools fell into those categories.

The question, obviously, is why?
Sure, neither statistic is no great shakes, but, again, the data usually boil down to socioeconomic status of the test takers.  And where all other factors are equal, charter schools consistently perform worse than their public school counterparts.  

There are many reasons for this, but teacher training (or lack thereof) is one indicator.  Another is the inherent profit motive involved, and there are many studies that back up the idea that adding a profit motive to schooling negatively impacts performance. 


 The most likely problem, though, is that many charter schools (and most of those serving underprivileged communities) lack a comprehensive arts program, and specifically, an instrumental music program.  The ones that do, typically perform at the same level or above public schools in academic subjects.  This is, of course, a complete article in and of itself, and will be the subject of future discussion here.

charter-school-protest-1Regardless of the reasons, it’s time government officials (and the reform hucksters) stop lying to parents about the relative worth of charter over public schools.  In nearly every instance, charter schools offer zero advantage over a similarly located public school, and in many cases offer a distinct disadvantage.


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