Thursday, February 21, 2008

Answering 6 Common Criticisms Against Charter Schools

Here is an excellent article from the Center for Education Reform:


1) Creates Balkanization in Education
(The “Charter Schools Segregate” Argument)

More than 22 studies demonstrate that charters are over serving those
under served by failing schools, such as low socio-economic
populations and students at
risk of dropping out. Three studies suggest
that the charters examined serve essentially
the same population as the
surrounding area.

Charter schools either serve the same demographic characteristics as in
public schools, or focus on students in danger of failing.
Variations, which may exist,
depend upon the neighborhood where the
schools are located, but in all cases mitigate
in favor of serving larger
numbers of minority and ethnic populations.

The reason for larger service to minority children is not owing to
but to the fact that where traditional schools fail to
serve their students, the parents
want out, and nowhere is this more
prevalent than in failing urban public schools
serving mostly
African-American and Hispanic students.

2) Competition Has No Impact (The Anti-Ripple Argument)

The combined research of five districts by the State University of
New York, by
University of California scholars and by both state
and national institutions finds
extensive evidence of changes in
programs, approaches, behavior and an increased
to consumers as a result of charters. In some places the impact is
by policies advocated by opponents of charter schools that
protect districts and schools
from harm when children choose to leave.

Competition has had the greatest impact where there are strong charter
laws; the
weakest impact where there are weak charter laws. Prior to
the passage of strong
charter school laws and the establishment of the
resulting charter schools, real reforms
moved slowly - or not at all.

3) Innovation Is Lacking (The Prove It's So Different Argument)

Numerous studies cited show that innovative practices and programs
are being
implemented in charter schools. The flexibility these schools
enjoy has not prompted
them to make risky experiments, but rather
allows them to use programs that are often
not permitted or not extended
to teachers because of oversight from distant

Charter schools also prompt traditional school districts to substantively
classroom instruction. This impact includes such improvements
as adopting instruction
programs used by charter schools, developing
and building thematic schools to meet
the community demand
demonstrated by charter schools and partnering with
community colleges
for better instruction and program expansion.

The “No Innovation” argument relies on a vague definition that ignores
the local
variations that exist in public education. Because each charter
school responds
essentially to local conditions, what may be innovative
in one area (i.e., block
scheduling or year-round schooling) may be common
in another. A charter school
offers the opportunity to employ new practices
that may otherwise be blocked by
bureaucratic or political considerations
of the traditional public school district.

4) More Accountability is Needed (The Process Versus Progress Argument)

Critics argue that charter schools lack the oversight of publicly accountable
and institutions. As proof they point to the fact that charter schools
close when they do
not serve their mission and to personnel policies that do
not mandate district oversight.
In reality, that is the kind of “accountability”
that has long been absent from public

In teacher surveys, freedom from procedural rules and related constraints
often cited as what charter teacher’s value most. Charter school
accountability is based
on goals set and the extent to which parents who
choose those schools believe the
school is meeting their expectations.
Traditional public schools that consistently fail to
meet goals (in those
rare instances when they are set) are propped up and continue to
do a
disservice to the children attending them. Charter schools that
consistently fail to
meet goals (which are always set) are closed;
this is an important, powerful measure of

5) No Evidence That They Work (The Double Standard Argument)

In his report for the National School Boards Association, Thomas
Good argues that
there is no achievement evidence and therefore,
the claim that charters will be better
does not hold up. Later, he
says that the research is not credible for purposes of
student achievement. In reality, many charter schools are not
comparable to
similar public schools because of the time in which
children have spent there and the
benchmarks are not always the
same among all schools.

However, research is building in states that administer statewide
objective tests
based on proficiency in key standards. Fifteen
studies show positive achievement and
gains among charter
schools which, while preliminary and not comprehensive, in fact

do show that there is evidence that many work. Nearly every
study demonstrates that -
although the charter schools reviewed
focused on “at-risk” students who entered the
school performing
significantly below grade level – students’ progress was at or above

the progress recorded by students in surrounding traditional
public schools,
demographically comparable schools, or the
state average.

6) The Common Good Is Undermined, Sort Of (Choice Is Bad For

Critics say that the common good of public education is undermined
people choose to associate with people whose values they share.
The values most
identified by parents as reasons for their choosing
charters is the value of a good
education. Charters are a response to
failing schools and deficiencies in traditional
public schools.
Therefore charter schools should be judged on how well they satisfy
need and desire for alternatives and not on some larger notion
of public good that
doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in good schools.

Charter schools are based largely upon accountability. They must be
by a state agency designed to review the quality and
effectiveness of these schools. If
the applications cannot clear the
bar, or if the schools do not meet their contractual
the public good is not served and the school will not be approved
or will be
shut down.

Can traditional public schools make the same claim?

The Center for Education Reform is a national, independent, non-profit
advocacy organization
providing support and guidance to individuals,
community and civic groups, policymakers and
others who are working
to bring fundamental reforms to their schools. For further information,

please call (202) 822-9000.

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