NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 10, 2009

Charter schools reached a new milestone this year.  According to the Center for Education Reform, more than 5,000 charters are now operating in 39 states and the District of Columbia.  Considering that the first charter didn't open until 1992, and that these innovative schools have faced outright hostility from teachers unions and the education bureaucracy, their growth is a rare gleam of hope for American public schools, says the Wall Street Journal.


  • More than 1.5 million students now attend charters, an 11 percent increase from a year ago.
  • That's only about 3 percent of all public school students, but the number has more than quadrupled in the past decade.
  • And it would be much higher if the supply of charter schools was meeting the demand; as of June, an estimated 365,000 kids were on waiting lists.

The students who attend these schools, which are concentrated in urban areas, tend to be low-income minorities.  Yet they regularly outperform their peer groups in traditional public schools often located blocks away.  In their 18-year history, only 740 schools have lost their charters and been shut down for poor performance.  Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools must be re-authorized every few years, which means they don't exist in perpetuity to fail multiple generations of youngsters, says the Journal.

Despite this record of accomplishment and accountability, the charter school movement continues to face all manner of obstacles, says the Journal:

  • Eleven states ban charters, and even those that don't can make it very hard for them to succeed and multiply.
  • Charters typically receive less money per pupil and, unlike other public schools, they must pay for the buildings they occupy.
  • In many states, charter enrollment is capped and only school districts -- which generally oppose charter schools -- are allowed to approve charter applications.

The Obama Administration has said it will withhold discretionary federal education dollars from states that block the creation and growth of charter schools.  Hopefully it will follow through, says the Journal, because the charter movement is perhaps the most successful education reform in recent decades.

Source: Editorial, "Charter Schools Against the Odds; They're growing, despite union hostility," Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2009.

For text:


Browse more articles on Education Issues