May 11, 2006

The War On Charter Schools

The NYTimes goes after charter schools in yesterday's editorial.

The charter school movement began with the tantalizing promise that independently operated schools would outperform their traditional counterparts if they could only be exempted from state regulations while receiving public money. It hasn't quite worked out that way. With charter laws now on the books in about 40 states and thousands of schools up and running, the problem has turned out to be too little state oversight, not too much.
The whole thing turns around the word "outperform".

We'll come back to that.

Even states with disastrously low-performing charter systems can point to a handful of outstanding schools. But several studies have shown that on the whole, charter schools perform no better than other public schools. Beyond that, some states have opened so many charter programs so quickly that they can barely count them, let alone monitor student performance. Where charters have clearly failed, the states often lack the political will or even a process for closing them down.
Performance. Success. Failure.

The oversight issue has become crucial since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires students in charter schools to meet the same standards as students in traditional schools.
Ding ding ding ding.

In other words, we're judging schools by the context of "No Child Left Behind", which relies on massive batteries of standardized testing to compare schools' "achievement" - in other words, to compare their ability to teach to the test.

Is that a valid comparison?

Charter schools, even in Minnesota, face fairly rocky road; many of them fail financially in their first years of operation (in the same way public schools would fail if they had to operate on their own).

But given that charter schools are an option many parents seek out when they've had enough with the public system, it might be better to measure individual student progress over time, compared with their time in the public system. Given the editorial's observation in the second paragraph that charters perform "No better" - meaning, one might presume, "No worse" - than public schools, of course, that would be the place to look for a difference. If the average grade in a public and a charter school is (to pick an absurdly oversimplified example) "C", but the kids from the charter all had "D"s when they were in the public system, it's an improvement. Right?

The whole thing is worth a mildly infuriating read.

Posted by Mitch at May 11, 2006 05:30 AM | TrackBack
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