Opinion: Charter Schools Aren't Solving Education's Ills

Marion Herbert's picture
Friday, March 23, 2012

Talk K-12 education for more than five minutes, and inevitably, the conversation turns to charter schools - those publicly funded, privately administered institutions that now educate more than 2 million American children.

Parents wonder if they are better than the neighborhood public school. Politicians tout them as a silver-bullet solution to the education crisis. Education technology companies promote them for their profit potential.

But are charter schools living up to their original mission as experimental schools pioneering better education outcomes and reducing segregation? That was the vision of the late American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker when he proposed charters a quarter-century ago. According to new data, it looks as if those objectives are not being realized.

In recent years, major studies suggest that, on the whole, charter schools are producing worse educational achievement results than traditional public schools. For example, Stanford University researchers discovered that while 17 percent of charter schools "provide superior education opportunities for their students," a whopping "37 percent deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their students would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools." Likewise, the National Center for Education Statistics found that charter school students performed worse on academic assessments than their peers in traditional public schools.

These numbers might be a bit less alarming if charters were making sure to "not be school(s) where all the advantaged kids or all the white kids or any other group is segregated," as Shanker envisioned. According to a new report from the National Education Policy Center, however, charters "tend to be more racially segregated than traditional public schools" - and in lots of places, they seem to be openly hostile to children who are poor, who are from minority communities or who have special education needs.

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