Are Charter Schools Worth It? A Cautionary Tale On Quality

4798 Charter schools are the fastest-growing sector of public education, taking root in most U.S. states, thanks to a big push by the education reform lobby and the federal government's Race to the Top competition. And since the movement's inception in the early 1990s, its founders have learned a few things.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks at the White House in Washington, DC, April 20, 2012. Advocates of charter schools, like Duncan, are reassessing quality and accountability after mixed results in Michigan. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Across charter schools, there are similarities in what works to boost student achievement. A 2011 study identified five successes of charter schools: "frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time and high expectations."

But just because charter schools have the flexibility to become successful in these ways doesn't mean all of them meet those five criteria. In fact, most probably don't.

"Are they living up to their promise?" asked Harrison Blackmond, who works as the Michigan director for Democrats for Education Reform, a national pro-charter group. "No. I'm not so sure."

Many charter school advocates are now taking stock of the fruits of their lobbying efforts, and finding that for the movement to succeed, it has to get better at policing its own duds. It's hard to cobble together a coherent, quantitative answer to the question of whether charters live up to their funding levels across the country. But one state -- an early believer in the promise of charter schools -- offers a representative example.

Michigan has been at the center of charter school growth. In 1998-99, there were 138 charter schools in the state. This year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are 280.

In the early 1990s, a small but influential group of Michigan politicians, professors and activists led by then-Gov. John Engler (R) had an idea: Public schools should focus more on the business of teaching and learning. They wanted to be able to make changes to schools happen faster, but the bureaucracy of school administration, they felt, was always standing in their way. Moreover, they didn't think families and children should have to be confined to neighborhood schools -- especially if those schools were failing.


Source: Huffington Post | Joy Resmovits
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