NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charting a Better Course

July 19, 2012

Charter schools have been successful because they offer freedom to shape the school to the pupils, rather than the other way round. Schools can change the length of the school day, fire bad teachers and spend their money as they wish, all with the goal of achieving superior education outcomes for their students, says The Economist.

Though the deliberation is far from over as to the results these schools are able to achieve, that their gradual takeover of public education continues is a testament to their popularity.

  • Today there are 5,600 charter schools, and they serve more than 2 million pupils in 41 of America's 50 states.
  • Though charter schools cover only 4 percent of the country's public school students, the number of these schools has grown at an annual clip of about 7.5 percent each year since 2006.
  • Moreover, the schools' implementation has soared in metro areas that are eager to better-cater education toward minority students: charter schools in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, for example, enroll 44 percent and 67 percent of public school students, respectively.
  • Nina Rees, the new head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, says more than 600,000 children are on waiting lists to attend these schools nationwide.

Critics of charter schools derive more ammunition from the fact that their performance varies widely. Much political capital has been made of a 2009 study of 16 states that found that only 17 percent of charter schools were better than public schools while 37 percent were worse.

However, state-by-state analysis demonstrates that charter schools can be made to work if implemented properly.

  • Margaret Raymond, director of the Centre for Research on Education Outcomes, points to the state of Arizona's terrible charter results in 2009, which were the result of lax screening of those who were allowed to set up charter schools and no serious reviews thereafter.
  • Ohio, where most charters are worse than the traditional schools, gained a reputation as the "Wild West" of charter schools because it exercised almost no oversight.
  • Massachusetts, meanwhile, has had excellent results and is strict about the schools it allows to operate; the state will step in and close an underperforming school at short notice.

Charter schools can only be as good as the laws that authorize them.

Source: "Charting a Better Course," The Economist, July 7, 2012.

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