Charter schools: Not all the same

The New York Times offers a take-down of charter public schools, saying, ”

But for all their support and cultural cachet, the majority of the 5,000 or so charter schools nationwide appear to be no better, and in many cases worse, than local public schools when measured by achievement on standardized tests, according to experts citing years of research. Last year one of the most comprehensive studies, by researchers from Stanford University, found that fewer than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools, almost half offered an equivalent education and more than a third, 37 percent, were “significantly worse.”

Nearly two-thirds of charter schools do at least as well as comparable traditional schools. Considering that they typically do so with less money than traditional schools, that’s a pretty good record.

I have a empirical question that isn’t answered in the article. It says that 37 percent of charter schools performed “significantly worse,” while 20 percent “offered a better education.” How much better did that 20 percent offer, at what cost, and to how many students? If the successful schools enrolled more than 20 percent of charter school students, they’re doing more than we expect them to.

While charter schools share a few similarities–in the words of the Times, they are “publicly financed schools that are independently run and free to experiment in classrooms”–they’re remarkably dissimilar in dissimilar ways, as the Times acknowledges. Traditional public schools show wide variation, too.

EduWonk offers some quick reactions to the article. The Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter group, reacts to the report that is the hook for the article in the Times. I may update this list as I come across more reactions.

The most serious challenge that I saw in the NYT piece is this: Can the record of successful charter schools be widely replicated, or are there natural limits to how large the idea can scale up?

Meanwhile, it’s not as if the schools that enroll the 97 percent of non-charter public schools are uniformly doing such a great job that we need to strangle charter schools.

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