Charters Still Not So Hot

Despite their fans, charter schools clearly underperforming in Texas, nationally

The same week that the Governor's Business Council issued a report calling for more charter schools (see "Capitol Chronicle," p.18), the U.S. Department of Education issued a report showing that charters lag behind regular public schools in meeting state accountability standards. Way behind. In Texas, researchers found that just 66% of charters met state accountability standards – based primarily on students' scores on standardized tests – compared to 98% of public schools. Texas charters were nearly the worst-performing in the five states used as case studies in the federal report.

That didn't stop charter advocates from spinning the data into a faith-based press release touting the wonders of school choice. The Center for Education Reform first praised charters for serving a high proportion of minority and low-income students. (That part, at least, is true.) It then went on to say that although regular school students test better, "charter school students perform at similar levels as conventional students when racial demographics are taken into account."

Umm ... no. In Texas and North Carolina, the report clearly states that even when race and income are taken into account, public schools still out-performed charters. In Massachusetts and Colorado, charters tested as well as regular public schools only when they served both whiter and wealthier populations. The CER's argument, however, did hold true in Illinois.

The USDE research also showed that states are struggling with how to hold charters accountable for the public dollars they spend. And the Business Council report (which, as it cited no actual research, is perhaps better described as a manifesto) tempered its call for more charters with a call for greater oversight. But hey, who needs research when you've got ideology?

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

charter schools, Governor's Business Council, U.S. Department of Education, USDE, Center for Education Reform

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