Latest charter school review: Look before you leap

In a new report from the Center for Public Education, charter schools get a big picture review. The findings reflect the mixed results of other charter studies and suggest caution before any state, including Georgia, assumes that more charter schools equal more achievement.

The report concludes that it’s  imperative that more research take place as charter schools are expected to surge in numbers with the emphasis on them by the Obama White House.  The report states:

Charters are largely misunderstood – only 41 percent of voters even know that charter schools are in fact public schools. The incomplete research base behind charters means that many states may be heading into a reform strategy without a clear understanding of how charter schools work best, or how they interact with and affect traditional public schools. Charter schools need more research, oversight, and true evaluation to fulfill their purpose of being laboratories that traditional public schools can learn from.

Key findings  of the report:

-Reliable charter school research is still in its infancy. One recent analysis rejected 70 out of the 210 studies it found. Many studies are descriptive snapshots of a school or district’s achievement, rather than examining achievement across states or comparing charter school achievement to traditional public schools.

-Of the reliable research, studies generally showed that charter school students did better in elementary school reading and middle school math, but worse in high school. The recent Center for Research on Education Outcomes study found that, overall, some (17%) charter schools do better than traditional public schools, but the majority do the same (46%) or worse (37%).

-Local education agencies (school boards) are the most common authorizers of charter schools.

-States with “multiple authorizers” — i.e., various pathways for authorizing charter schools — had the weakest student achievement data for charter students when compared to students at traditional public schools.

-Charter schools remain primarily an urban strategy. The National Charter School Research Project reports that 89 percent of U.S. school districts “have no charter schools within their boundaries, perhaps in large measure because so many school districts are so very small.”

-For profit education management organizations (EMOs) run about 16 percent of all charter schools. (Non-profit EMOs run about 13%.)

-Virtual charters are a small but growing segment of the market. However, very little research is available about the impact of these schools, and what is available indicates “mixed outcomes.”

-Charter schools generally are not drawing the best students away from local traditional public schools, and the racial composition of charters is similar to that of the traditional public schools the students previously attended.

38 comments Add your comment

Douglas

March 24th, 2010
5:36 pm

Why all of the sudden over the last couple of days, has the focus been taken off of the budget situation and the slashing of school funding.
Are we all just going to sit quietly by and allow these cuts to take place? Let the local school boards and teh state legislators decimate our children’s educations.

Here in Douglas County the citizens are being kept in the dark about what the plans are. Nobody is saying anything. The teachers and other employees know nothing if you ask them. The parents know nothing.
I figure it is intentional as to allow our leaders here in this county to slash and do away with whatever they please. They are trying to wait out the parents, hoping to catch us when our attention is on spring break or school getting out and nobody is paying attention to what they are doing. Makes me sick.

Norma Rae

March 24th, 2010
5:54 pm

You are so right. It is sickening and unbelievable.

ronda

March 24th, 2010
6:13 pm

Your point is valid…until you say parents and teachers know nothing. These groups hate little voice and have to be reactive when governments and school boards make cuts. Parents are teachers are often left in the dark and don’t know decisions are being made in the school until after it is published in the AJC. I challenge you to discuss this with teachers you know and you find they are in the dark and kept there just like everyone else. You can’t do anything about something you don’t know about. Remember, teachers are hired annually and if you make too much noise then you just might not get a contract…keeping your mouth shut means you get to keep eating and a roof over your head.

Orlando

March 24th, 2010
6:37 pm

I have always been under the impression that charter schools were just another way for religions to get public money to support their schools. There was no mention of this possibility so I am remaining with that assertion.
I have no objections to religious schools, of course, but, I just don’t want public money going to schools promoting their type of religion being paid for by those not of that religion.

Orlando

March 24th, 2010
6:39 pm

I have always been under the impression that charter schools are just another way for the conservative right-wing religious groups to get public money for their religious schools. Am I wrong?

Hey, it's Enrico Pallazzo!

March 24th, 2010
6:41 pm

“-Of the reliable research, studies generally showed that charter school students did better in elementary school reading and middle school math, but worse in high school. The recent Center for Research on Education Outcomes study found that, overall, some (17%) charter schools do better than traditional public schools, but the majority do the same (46%) or worse (37%).”

What are the percentages of the Public Schools? Are more than 17% better than the average PS, and are less than 37% doing worse than the average PS? I do understand mean, mode, average, and median; quantify these statistics.

Warren Buck

March 24th, 2010
6:50 pm

Orlando – Yes. You are wrong. Very wrong.

RobertNAtl

March 24th, 2010
6:58 pm

I have been learning a little bit about “charter” schools in the past couple of weeks, as the (public) school my daughters attend has been going through the process this year of having their “charter” renewed.

What I have found (and please, those with superior knowledge correct me if I am wrong) is that the definition of a “charter” school is a school (public or private) which enters into a contractual arrangement (”charter”) with the state and local authorities under which (a) the school agrees to reach specific “targets” over the term of the charter with respect to student achievement (for example, increasing, say, math proficiency in a measurable way), in exchange for which (b) the state and local authorities agree to “waivers” of certain state and local regulations which the school believes are standing in the way of achieving their “targets.”

I am beginning to believe there is a logical conundrum in the entire “charter school” concept, to wit: If a school believes that a given state or local regulation is impeding its progress towards academic improvement targets, isn’t that evidence (not conclusive evidence, but at least probative evidence) that the regulation in question shouldn’t exist in the first place? Why should any school (charter or non-charter) be bound by a regulation that at least some schools blieve is counterproductive to their mission?

And, by the same token, shouldn’t setting goals or “targets”, numeric or otherwise, be a regular feature of central administration, and a feature that seems to be unique (at least legislatively) to “charter” schools?

The overall thrust of “charter” schools seems to be increased flexibility, in exchange for increased accountability. But shouldn’t this be the philosophy of all schools, in all school systems?

catlady

March 24th, 2010
7:07 pm

While the move to charters is significant (I am not saying positive or negative), it affects very few students, and that is unlikely to change much over the next year. We have been inundated on this blog in the last few weeks (this is the 4th I think) about charter schools. Yes, the blog has also focused on the immediate emergency in public education funding, but for the next year or more, the funding issues are much more important to the majority of our students.

ScienceTeacher671

March 24th, 2010
7:40 pm

I realize that AJC is a metro paper, and I realize that the metro systems are the largest in the state, but most of the systems in the state are not large enough to either benefit from charter schools or provide much of a market for private schools.

alice

March 24th, 2010
7:55 pm

s a school (public or private) which enters into a contractual arrangement (”charter”) with the state “and local authorities under which (a) the school agrees to reach specific “targets” over the term of the charter with respect to student achievement (for example, increasing, say, math proficiency in a measurable way), in exchange for which (b) the state and local authorities agree to “waivers” of certain state and local regulations which the school believes are standing in the way of achieving their “targets.””

In GA, at least, existing private schools may not convert to charter status.

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ScienceTeacher671

March 24th, 2010
9:51 pm

@RobertNAtl: “If a school believes that a given state or local regulation is impeding its progress towards academic improvement targets, isn’t that evidence (not conclusive evidence, but at least probative evidence) that the regulation in question shouldn’t exist in the first place? “

Yes, probably even further evidence that the General Assembly shouldn’t be passing regulations on schools…isn’t it ironic that the same organization trying to send money to private schools in the form of vouchers because “public schools aren’t working” is responsible for many of the problems which hobble public schools in the first place?

catlady

March 24th, 2010
9:55 pm

In MANY counties in the state there are no charter schools, and few private schools. Our county has 4 very small private schools, all Christian, with a total of about 100 students enrolled. We get more of them back every week into the public schools. We encourage dissatisfied folks to go to the private schools or homeschool their kids if they wish.

I just think spending so much time on charter schools is a waste, as the option for using one or even starting one is moot for most of us.

Warren Buck

March 24th, 2010
10:17 pm

Most? Aren’t there about 5 million people in the metro area who are able to use and/or start one? For a lot of people, charters are a big issue, especially as we seek solutions to problems. One of the best things about the charter I work for is the heightened efficiency we are able to attain, which keeps our costs well below a regular public school. Isn’t that about as relevant as it gets these days?

CharterStarter, too

March 24th, 2010
10:48 pm

Catlady, Georgia’s charter school market share is relatively small – 4%; however, it is growing. There are other states with a much larger market share. Don’t make broad generalizations. There is plenty of room for growth of the charter sector in communities that desire parental choice. Did you know that the New Orleans public school system has a 56% charter school market share? Washington D.C. has 36%. Detroit has 31%…several others have 25% or more. Nationwide it’s a growing movement…don’t assume Georgia isn’t and won’t grow. It needs to be quality growth with authorizers providing fair, but rigorous requirements and appropriate oversight. That’s a win-win for everyone. Especially the kids and the families. Here’s a link to some data about charters published by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (yes, a charter supporting organization, but you can get the basics and go check the facts your self on the state website which is neutral) – http://www.publiccharters.org/dashboard/home

Catlady, I find it so humorous (well, sad actually) to see that you encourage dissatisfied public school parents to go to the private schools or to homeschool…in other words, we don’t care if you are satisfied or not…if you don’t like our free public education that you’ve paid hard earned money for in state and local taxes, you can just get out and go pay for it again in the private sector! How about this parents…when Catlady’s county encourages you to leave…try a charter. It’s free! And the charters WANT you to be satisfied – in fact, they depend on your satisfaction and will work to earn your trust!

RobertNAtl, you’ve almost got it. Private schools (including religious schoolsO may not covert to charters. Charters are never private in Georgia. The real difference with charters (start-ups) is that if the school does not perform, it can be shuttered. That doesn’t happen in traditional public schools. Incidentally, many of our charter schools that are public schools CONVERT to charter status to obtain flexibility. These are DISTRICT LED schools. Interesting, huh?

Science Teacher671…so by your logic, people in small school districts can not benefit from better educational options and don’t deserve a choice in their child’s public education (which they also paid for) because they live in a small town? Are you kidding me? Do you mean to tell me that the parents in rural southwest Georgia whose kids are scoring way, way below state averages and have some of the highest drop out rates in Georgia do not NEED or DESIRE another option? Is that logical to you – or for that matter, even fair? From that mentality, we will just perpetuate the cycle of poverty in Georgia.

Nobody says that charters will fix the whole public school system. The hope, though, is that they will cause a rising tide by providing healthy competition and parental choice. Is every charter a good one? Of course not! For those that aren’t, I’m an advocate for revoking the charter….otherwise, what’s the point? But for those that ARE working, leave them alone. Treat them fairly and with respect. Support the work that they are doing with kids and their great outcomes. Be fairminded about it.

CharterStarter, too

March 24th, 2010
10:50 pm

Warren, I love that parents and community members have a DIRECT and SUBSTANTIAL voice in governance. How many layers upon layers upon layers are there to even have your voice heard in a large school district by the real decision makers?

Dumb as a cat(lady)

March 24th, 2010
10:55 pm

Catlady, I agree with you and this is a first. Maureen never seems to waste an opportunity to slam the charter school sector. I am sure Maureen would highlight a meaningless charter school study by Che’ Guevara if he could come back from the dead to write one.

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Heron Bay parent

March 25th, 2010
6:33 am

Cheers to Charterstarter,too! Well said! SO many people are misinformed about charter schools.

RJ

March 25th, 2010
8:28 am

I am for charter schools and vouchers…and I’m a teacher! Parents need choices. Unfortunately everyone can’t afford to live in a community that has top public schools. There is an increase in the number of charter schools in Fulton County. Many of the high schools are converting to charter schools. All of those schools have been in North Fulton.

The bottom line is parents need choices. If their local public school isn’t performing well, they should be able to put their child in a school that meets their child’s needs.

amazed

March 25th, 2010
2:04 pm

O.k. I have been involved with helping support a Charter school in Cherokee county. This has been a two year process. Just got back from a meeting from one the other night. What is happening here, the true fact of the matter; the government doe doesn’t want this to happen. Why? because it is a win, win for everyone; public system still receives 33% of funding while the charter will receive the remaining 67% which adds up to be roughly $6400 per year per student verses roughly $10000 per year per student. It’s still government funds the Charter still has to adhere to the GPS guide lines except that they can offer more with less because of the fact they can go beyond and are backed by the Charter please read more. About this @www.charterschoolsusa.com for a clearer understanding. The doe public system doesn’t want this because they are affraid that more of these will start up and take away there full piece of the pie. WAKE UP parents, your public systems are about to slice their budgets which means cuts to music, athetics, art programs curriculum we are 46% in the country it WON”T be getting any better with these cuts!!! Stop drinking the kool-aid!! These charters that have been around for a long time like Charter USA not a mom and pop start up charter knows what they are doing they have revamped many Florida system. To think we were wondering how we could get the word out more. THANKS AJC for the free publicity!!! Go to http://www.cherokeecharter.org to help support and complete a survey if you truly want to help out your local school system. These charters from Charter school usa will have school uniforms, spanish starting in kindergarten, true music classes w/instrument which will be gone in public elementary school throughout GA as of next year. Proven track record. Once again look up http://www.charterschoolusa.com. It’s time do take charge of our children’s future.

Kira Willis

March 25th, 2010
2:56 pm

I absolutely support charter schools. Everyone should be able to have a choice, and right now, charter schools are the only public school choice out there. School choice would be the best answer, but for right now, charters must be a viable option.

Just a Thought

March 25th, 2010
5:14 pm

What no one is talking about is what happens to the kids once they get there? Maybe charterstarter too can provide some insight. I keep hearing that in many charter school kids can be kicked out for nor maintaining good behavior, a certain gpa, etc. So even if it is a lottery to get in….are they staying in? This is in effect “self-selection” and the rules of the school will eventually weed some kids out. I don’t believe this should be allowed. Public schools can not weed out any student. If they are in your district they stay. The same rules should apply to charter schools or else it does become a de facto private school. I would love some insight on this from someone who really knows what they are talking about.

Just a Thought

March 25th, 2010
5:14 pm

Pardon the typos….long day.

erased

March 25th, 2010
5:50 pm

Just a thought; contact http://www.georgiacharterfoundation.org they will answer any questions you have! This has been very insightful and educational for me. Hope you will think so too. At least your thinking and being open minded.

Warren Buck

March 25th, 2010
6:41 pm

Just a thought – a lot of what you’re hearing is spin. What often happens, and I imagine this is what you’re hearing about, is that some students(and families) tire of rules being consistently enforced, and consequences consistently applied, so they exercise their choice to go back to the neighborhood school.

Most(not all) charters are extremely patient with such students because of the need to keep enrollment up. Unfortunately, not all students are as patient with charters…

ScienceTeacher671

March 25th, 2010
8:57 pm

CharterStarter too, there are 120 systems in Georgia with fewer than 5000 students. At some point, the system is going to be too small to support charters AND regular schools.

I know there is the one regional charter being considered, but many students would be excluded from such a school unless transportation is provided. We have students who don’t come to school if they miss the bus, because their families don’t have the means to bring them.

CharterStarter, too

March 25th, 2010
10:07 pm

ScienceTeacher671, I appreciate what you are trying to say about smaller systems, and I agree to some extent. A district of 500 will have a hard time sustaining both system and charter (unless they collaborate and share services!!!). Honestly, I do not see a charter school attempting to market to 5000 and being sustainable – there is a flat bottom line that it costs just to open your doors, but I do see charters covering 2, 3, 4, 5…districts that are close, like Patuala is doing. You are right the transportation plays a role, and the charter founders are well aware of it and seeking a solution; however, there is NO public funding for transportation for Commission schools and start-ups that are district approved don’ t often get their full transportation funding. So, the charters do as well as they can being funded WITHOUT facility dollars and WITHOUT transportation. It does become an equity issue, I agree, but it’s one the legislature and state have to fix.

Just a Thought…the charters are schools of choice. Parents CHOOSE the discipline code and the parent volunteer codes (if the schools have these). The charters often DO enforce discipline more consistently, and as Warren Buck stated, there will be kids who leave the charters and go back to their districts if they don’t like this enforced discipline plan. That’s ok. It’s a school of choice. What makes them work is the culture that is created by consistently enforced discipline codes and strong parental involvement. That’s why people CHOOSE to go to the charter. To answer your question, yes, charter schools do expel students for disciplinary issues, just like the public schools do according to their discipline policies; however, they too must follow due process to ensure the student is treated fairly, and they also have to follow federal mandates related to SPED and discipline.

Just a Thought

March 25th, 2010
11:20 pm

Thank you for your responses. I really want to understand the pros and cons of the charter school movement but I am always left with one question. Charters give PARENTS a choice. Who advocates for the kids whose parents will not or can not advocate for their best interest? Should the students who are “left behind” be punished for their dysfunctional parents? Why are we not focusing on improving education for all kids? This is mostly rhetorical as this is the question I keep coming back to. What about the ones that don’t get in? Who advocates for them?

justbrowsing

March 26th, 2010
7:57 am

@Just a Thought- improving education for all kids can only happen when parents are supportive and engaged in the process. Simply put, charters are great for students with concerned and engaged parents. This is not the status quo in a large number of schools. Students in charter schools do well because, typically, they have always done well. Any student who is blessed with parents who place a premium on academic excellence will do well and thrive in an environment with like minded persons. Public schools are bound in bureaucratic tape to not only teach everyone, but to also address the inherent disciplinary issues lots of students with behavioral issues bring to the school. While these types of students will deselect themselves as Warren stated in charter schools, local schools are not accorded that option. Why open up charter schools when we can provide similar options to public schools? Well- where else would problem students, and low achieving students go?

Warren Buck

March 26th, 2010
8:27 am

justbrowsing – You are painting with a very broad brush there. Many, actually most, of the students at our charter have been anything but successful at their other school, and have been (not so) gently nudged to our school by administrators at their home school.

Our school does have some amazing parents, and probably a slightly higher level of parent participation, but it is not strikingly dissimilar from the Title 1 school I worked at previously.

Another point I think you miss is that “alternative schools” are a discipline option in most(every?) districts for students that have reached a certain level of discipline violations. I know the GIVE centers in Gwinnett took plenty students from our school in Gwinnett.

Careful with your brush…

catlady

March 26th, 2010
12:21 pm

Charterstarter2, the closest charter school is 90 miles away. Not an option. Parents who complain do just that–complain. They are not willing to help solve problems. They just want it fixed so that little Junior gets his way and makes all As. Let them advocate for improvements for ALL the students, or go buzz somewhere else. Many want to posture, instead of actually moving the school forward in a positive way. THAT’s what lots of folks are tired of!

CharterStarter, too

March 26th, 2010
2:25 pm

Catlady…if you’re 90 miles from a charter school, you’re certainly ripe for one.

Parents (even in the charters) DO complain….sometimes valid, sometimes not. Don’t think that dissatisfied parents won’t “do anything” about it though. How do you think a lot of the charters get started?

I don’t get your beef with charters at all. What’s the deal?

B. Killebrew

March 26th, 2010
2:30 pm

Just a Thought…

You should read this:

The Death and Life of the Great American School System
by Diane Ravitch

http://www.amazon.com/Death-Great-American-School-System/dp/0465014917

*It will answer all of your questions. (And the questions you are asking are the ones everyone who truly cares about the America should be asking…)

ScienceTeacher671

March 27th, 2010
12:20 am

CS2, I agree that charter schools provide an alternative choice for parents, and I think they can provide very good alternatives for concerned parents. As I said before, I don’t think they are practical even for all concerned parents, and as others have stated, they won’t be a cure for “everything that ails” public schools, because you can’t get buy-in from all parents….

In fact, if all schools could enforce the discipline charter and private schools can enforce, arguably all schools would improve.

CharterStarter, too

March 31st, 2010
1:50 am

ScienceTeacher671, I think you’re right on your last statement….unfortunately they can’t/don’t, so charters have a distinct place. The huge difference I see in charters is the school climate and culture…discipline (and parental involvement) make all the difference in increasing achievement.

Chuck UGA

May 6th, 2010
8:43 pm

The most amazing thing about all of this is the fact Georgia schools (for the most part) are FAILING. This is allowed due to the absurd power of teacher’s unions as well as political forces. We are destroying the basic tenants of education while making sure kids ‘feel good about themselves.” Sorry folks, this is failure, not to mention this “feel good” mentality is equally matched by the so-called indoctrination pushed down to the student from the teacher via the union message. Not true you say? Then refer to the rankings of Georgia Public Education nationally. Statistics don’t lie, people do. Let’s hope the lawsuit fails as a beginning to overhauling our disasterous educational system and it’s evil proponents.