Charters educate high-need students

The federal role in charter education is a “haphazard collection of laws, rules, funding preferences and rhetoric that lacks coherence at the policy or action level,” concludes the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings. Its experts recommend:

a) collecting and using more and better data on the performance of charter schools for purposes of authorizing, research, and informed parental choice; b) requiring states to provide equitable funding for charter schools relative to traditional public schools—including support for facilities; c) supporting higher standards for authorizing; d) revising rules and definitions that unintentionally disadvantage charter schools; e) promoting the growth as well as quality control of virtual charter schools; and f) finally and most importantly articulating and following through on a coherent policy with respect to charter schools.

Some 1.6 million children attend 4,900 charter schools in 39 states, the study notes. The best-known chains “create highly structured routines with uniforms, strict rules, and numerous drills.”

But charters take many other forms, including single sex schools, schools for the performing arts, schools for science and technology, bilingual schools, schools for the disabled, schools for drop-outs, and virtual schools where learning takes place online.

Charters attract a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students, especially blacks.  “Initial test scores of students at charter schools are usually well below those of the average public school student in the state in which the charter school is located,” the report finds.

Of five randomized studies, four found charter schools improved student achievement while one found no impact, Brookings concludes. The four positive studies involved urban schools serving minority students. The no-impact study found “students from poor, minority, urban backgrounds did better in charter schools in contrast to students from middle-class, suburban backgrounds, who did worse.”

Thus all the randomized trials are consistent in pointing to the success of charter schools in large urban areas.

In addition to looking at reading and math scores, a study of charter high schools in Chicago and Florida found positive effects on both high school completion and college attendance.

Milwaukee’s charter students do as well in reading and may do slightly better in math compared to students in district-run public schools after one year, concludes a preliminary study by John F. Witte of the University of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas.

Students in independent charter schools that were converted from private schools outperformed Milwaukee Public Schools student in both math and reading after controlling for factors such as student characteristics and school switching.

Charters are schools of choice often located in minority neighborhoods, writes Nelson Smith. That’s not segregation.

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