Study: Charter competition boosts public schools

Milwaukee public schools improve when they face competition from an independent charter school, according to a study by Hiren Nisar, now an analyst at Abt Associates. Black and low-achieving students show the greatest gains.

Milwaukee’s district-sponsored charters don’t trigger significant improvement in traditional public schools, concluded Nisar, who did the research for his University of Wisconsin doctoral thesis. He theorizes that principals don’t feel as much pressure to make changes that will persuade parents to keep their children at the traditional school.


About Joanne


  1. I don’t know about Milwaukee, but our local public schools do care (somewhat) about kids lost to private and charter schools. I see this more in the lower grades than in high school. The high school offers different levels that better meet the needs of individuals. The lower schools basically tell parents to take it or leave it, and they are surprised how many leave it. I’ve talked with the principal of our middle school about this in relation to full inclusion. They know that more able kids do not get what they need. Ironically, the private school my son was in ended up being less flexible because they thought that all of their kids were above average. When our son came back to the public school, the principal was thrilled and offered to let him skip a grade. Some clearly feel the need to compete.

    • That’s individual principals or superintendents. Some are going to be sensitive to the loss of students to charters and some won’t be. It’s the institutional bias though that’s important to the nation, or the state, as a whole.

      Since for a very long time even the concept of competition, or consequences for professional incompetence, were unimportant the institutional bias isn’t in favor of those concerned, energetic individuals but in favor of those who don’t rock the boat, don’t cause embarrassment to their superiors, don’t make their fellows look bad by excelling. It’s hardly a surprise that many people see that as a proper state of affairs having known nothing else.

      Of course it isn’t a proper state of affairs if you want kids to be educated to their potential or even somewhere close to their potential. It isn’t a proper state of affairs if you want public money to be responsibly and carefully expended. But it is a proper outcome of the political system since compromise, done properly, pleases no one but is better then settling matters the old fashioned way.

      That’s why as little as possible – but no less – should be left to the tender mercies of the political process.

  2. There’s an interesting article at “The Teachable Remnant”, which discusses the failure of many schools to meet the needs of able, motivated students. The system is increasingly targeting the lower end, which includes many who are cognitively or emotionally non-teachable and many who have no motivation whatsoever (it’s not used in the article, but “intentional non-learners” seems to be the current term of art); those motivated kids of average-or-better ability are often ignored. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “those kids will do fine, anyway” – from admins, teachers, politicians and spec ed parents. It’s no wonder that parents of these kids are desperate to get their kids somewhere where they will be challenged, or at least removed from the general chaos so they can work on their own.