NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Evaluating Charter Schools

April 2, 2002

The charter-school movement is only about decade old. Public schools have had centuries to get their act together -- and some urban public schools are still at the bottom, academically speaking. But there are now sufficient numbers of charters -- at least 2,357 nationwide serving 600,000 students -- to begin to evaluate and compare how they stack up to public schools. The findings: under the right conditions, they work. Problem is, those conditions, for various reasons, don't always obtain.

  • A study by researchers at California State University, Los Angeles, found that at 93 charters educating children from low-income California households, the students did better academically than their public-school counterparts.
  • But while California and Arizona -- with 777 charters between them - give many students a chance for improvement, in many other states, charters are much rarer.
  • Virginia and Rhode Island, for example, have only six charters each.
  • In some states, that is due to overly-strict state rules -- with Virginia, for instance, requiring that only school boards can sponsor charters.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ohio exercises little discretion over who runs a charter school, and recently overpaid an Internet school $2 million despite the fact its administrators knew little about operating a technical school. Ohio's 68 charters don't have to meet the same standards as district schools (as those in California must), and their performance is far below those in California. In urban Ohio districts, most existing charters would reportedly warrant the state's lowest ranking: "academic emergency."

Source: Editorial, "States Ignore Traps Tripping Up Charters," USA Today, April 2, 2002.

For text


Browse more articles on Education Issues