NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charter Schools: Modern Education at Its Finest

May 31, 2013

Many politicians and political think tanks have been debating back and forth about the merits of school choice, and whether it would benefit U.S. children. In Arizona, charter schools are among the highest-achieving schools in the nation, with their students routinely topping nationwide comparisons. The government should encourage the use of charter schools throughout the nation, says Jonathan Butcher, education director at the Goldwater Institute.

With so many charter schools in operation, however, performance can vary from school to school. The variation has led some researchers to criticize Arizona charter schools. Reports of a decline in Arizona charter school quality have been exaggerated. Key indicators suggest that charter schools remain a powerful tool for improving student achievement:

  • Both low-income Arizona charter school students and average charter school students outperform their traditional public school peers on national assessments.
  • A higher percentage of charter schools earned A's on their school report cards than did traditional schools in 2011 and 2012, the first two years of Arizona's school report card system.
  • Charters represent a disproportionate number of the highest-performing public schools in Arizona.

These results should encourage lawmakers to remove roadblocks that prevent charter schools from serving more students.

  • Some districts have vacant or underused facilities that they refuse to make available to charters.
  • Arizona School Facilities Board data show that in more than half of the traditional schools (54 percent) in the 10 largest Arizona school districts, at least 1 out of every 4 available seats is empty.
  • Lawmakers should make sure vacant public school buildings are sold or leased to the highest bidder, charter school or otherwise.

To prevent widespread stagnation among charter schools, lawmakers must be careful not to impose the same regulations on charters that they impose on traditional schools. These requirements create fewer choices for parents because charters will not be free to use innovative approaches to teaching and learning that are serving students so well today. Encouraging charters to innovate and serve students while holding them accountable for results will create an education environment that prepares students for success.

Source: Jonathan Butcher, "Arizona Charter Schools: A Vision for the Next 20 Years," Goldwater Institute, May 22, 2013.


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