As urban charters grow, where’s the tip?

Urban students are choosing charters in growing numbers, according to a new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nationwide, one in 20 students now attend charter schools. In post-Katrina New Orleans, 79 percent of students attend charter schools. Detroit has hit 51 percent. Washington D.C. is at 43 percent. Flint, Mich., Kansas City, Mo. and Gary, Ind. each have 30 percent or more of students in a charter school. More than 10 percent of students are enrolled in charters in Philadelphia and New York City.

But charter competition hasn’t had the effect once expected, points out Andy Smarick, a former Bush administration official who now works at Bellwether Education Partners.

Ten years ago, he recalls, proponents of the nascent charter school movement came to a consensus: If charter schools could reach 10 percent of market share in big cities, the movement would reach a tipping point and create enough pressure to spur public schools to improve in order to compete for students.

“That tipping-point pressure never materialized the way I expected,” he said. “We have not seen districts drastically improve even when charter school market share gets to 25 percent.”

In the face of fierce opposition, charter schools”are proving to be the toughest, most enduring of all education reforms,” writes Paul Peterson on Ed Next.  “Charter schools are gaining in respect, numbers, and political adherents, mainly because they are digging deep roots in local communities.”

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Comments

  1. Know what? If the charter or public school wants to take the kids, I DON’T CARE. What I care about? Is the fact that hordes of inner-city kids could be showing up at our local school because the state is allowing them to “transfer” next year. And why? Because the kids perform badly and the school district is a failure as a result.

    So. You wait about five years if this goes through. ALL the metro area school districts will nose-dive academically and it won’t be because the teachers in the ‘burbs suddenly started sucking.

  2. Ann in L.A. says:

    There is such variability in charters, that just counting numbers of them is insufficient. While many, probably most, have been founded on principles academic achievement, there are plenty that are not. Whether founded on principles of ethnic solidarity or on the idea that the most-important thing kids need to learn is to reuse, reduce and recycle; not all charters are rigorous academic havens.

    • Mr. Smarick doesn’t understand the public education system at all if he expects a competitive instinct to kick in when enough students are siphoned off by charters or other alternatives.

      Sure there’ll be a district here or there that responds to the existential threat but most won’t since the assumption that’s built into the public education system is that the kids are a tedious necessity only because no bright administrator has figured out a way to get funding for a school district that doesn’t have any attendance.

      The districts will watch their attendance dwindle, periodically running to the state legislature to try to get law passed reversing parental choice, and will spasmodically attempt to make their offerings more attractive as they’ve already done with various give-aways to entice kids into school. But in the main they’ll stand there, institutional jaws agape as they’re mowed down by all the educational alternatives.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    “Ten years ago, he recalls, proponents of the nascent charter school movement came to a consensus: If charter schools could reach 10 percent of market share in big cities, the movement would reach a tipping point and create enough pressure to spur public schools to improve in order to compete for students.

    “‘That tipping-point pressure never materialized the way I expected,’ he said. ‘We have not seen districts drastically improve even when charter school market share gets to 25 percent.'”

    One possible reason for this would be that bad schools are bad not so much because of their teachers or textbooks or what the grown-ups do, but because of the youngsters in them.

    This is a thought that is impolite to bring up in public. (I’m looking at you, Happy Elf Mom.)

    • And yet there are the outliers. Thirkell Elementary school is one I know of that’s 98% black and 86% poor yet manages to generate results that beat the state averages in almost every category in all tested grades.

      And Thirkell’s not a selective school like some in the DPS. Thirkell takes whatever the district sends them.

      Your “it’s the kids” hypothesis doesn’t account for such outliers so requires re-examination.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        The “it’s the kids” hypothesis should indeed be confronted with information about Thirkell. Is its success real? You have pointed out in the past how administrators sometimes lie about how good a school is, even going so far as to cheat on state tests. Is the success lasting? How has Thirkell managed to avoid the disappointing results that so often occur in situations like these?

        • Indeed and Thirkell’s been looked at pretty carefully for evidence of cheating, especially since there was a testing scandal in the DPS. But no evidence of cheating was found at Thirkell.

          The question that ought to arise is “why hasn’t the DPS made any effort to propagate Thirkell’s success?”

          My hypothesis is that these outliers are dependent mostly on a capable, tenacious and lucky principal.

          Since school district administrations aren’t particularly concerned with educating kids the people who make that happen aren’t assiduously sought out nor are their circumstances so arranged as to make success relatively easier. That’s why those outliers are uncommon and why they’re not encouraged. In my opinion.

  4. PhillipMarlowe says:

    ”Charter schools are gaining in respect, numbers, and political adherents, mainly because they are digging deep roots in local communities.”
    As is now being advocated by Mike Petrilli, people are selecting charters to be with people who share their value system, and unlike the popularity of Catholic schools after busing started in the neighborhood, you don’t have to pay tuition.