NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charter Schools Outperform Traditional Public Schools

January 21, 2011

Since the 1930s, traditional public schools have been centrally run from the top down by state legislatures, school district administrators and by collective bargaining agreements negotiated by powerful unions.   In addition, administrators in traditional public schools have never been held directly accountable for student performance.  Public schools that fail to educate students adequately often remain open and unchanged year after year.  In the early 1990s, education leaders in some states took a different approach by authorizing independent charter public schools, says Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.

  • Principals at charter public schools are allowed to control their budgets, teaching staff and educational programs with little or no central bureaucratic control.
  • States with well-designed charter schools hold administrators accountable for student performance.
  • Charter public schools that consistently fail to educate students can be closed or placed under new management.

According to Finne's study:

  • Charter public schools are popular with parents -- 365,000 students are on waiting lists to attend a charter public school.
  • Across the nation, over 1.7 million children now attend 5,453 charter public schools -- this number increased by 9 percent in 2010 alone.
  • Well-run charter public schools perform significantly better than traditional public schools.
  • Charter public school students are no different in academic background and motivation than students attending traditional public schools.
  • Charter public schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere have closed the achievement gap between minority and white students.

Source: Liv Finne, "An Option for Learning: An Assessment of Student Achievement in Charter Public Schools," Washington Policy Center, January 2011.

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