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David Sirota
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Friday 23 March 2012
In recent years, major studies suggest that, on the whole, charter schools are producing worse educational achievement results than traditional public schools.

Charter Schools Are Not the Silver Bullet

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Talk K-12 education for more than five minutes, and inevitably, the conversation turns to charter schools — those publicly funded, privately administered institutions that now educate more than 2 million American children. Parents wonder if they are better than the neighborhood public school. Politicians tout them as a silver-bullet solution to the education crisis. Education technology companies promote them for their profit potential. Opponents of organized labor like the Walton family embrace them for their ability to crush teachers unions.

But amid all the buzz, the single most important question is being ignored: Are charter schools living up to their original mission as experimental schools pioneering better education outcomes and reducing segregation? That was the vision of the late American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker when he proposed charters a quarter-century ago — and according to new data, it looks like those objectives are not being realized.

In recent years, major studies suggest that, on the whole, charter schools are producing worse educational achievement results than traditional public schools. For example, a landmark study from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes discovered that while 17 percent of charter schools "provide superior education opportunities for their students," a whopping "37 percent deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their students would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools." Likewise, the National Center for Education Statistics found that charter school students performed significantly worse on academic assessments than their peers in traditional public schools.

These numbers might be a bit less alarming if charters were at least making sure to "not be school(s) where all the advantaged kids or all the white kids or any other group is segregated," as Shanker envisioned. According to a new report from the National Education Policy Center, however, charters "tend to be more racially segregated than traditional public schools" — and in lots of places, they seem to be openly hostile to children who are poor, who are from minority communities or who have special education needs.

A smattering of headlines from across the country tells that story."Nashville Charter Schools Blasted Over Racial Imbalance," blared a recent headline in The Tennessean. "Charter Schools Face Discrimination Complaints," read The Chronicle of Philanthropy. "Colorado Charter Schools Enroll Fewer With Needs," screamed The Denver Post. "Charter Schools Enrolling Low Number of Poor Students," reported The Miami Herald. The list goes on and on.

Some apologists might claim that for all their faults, charter schools are the solution to our education challenges because they are saving school districts money during tough economic times. But in many places, that's not even close to true. Indeed, as evidence from Ohio to New Mexico to Tennessee to Florida to Pennsylvania suggests, charter schools are often more expensive than their counterparts, meaning taxpayers are paying a premium to underwrite a segregated system now producing worse academic results than traditional public schools.

Does this all mean that charter schools are inherently bad? Of course not — there are some terrific charter schools out there. However, the data do suggest that charter schools are not a systemic answer to America's education crisis. In many cases, in fact, they make the crisis worse, not only exacerbating inherent inequalities, but also distracting attention from the real ills plaguing the education system — ills rooted in economic inequality and anemic school budgets.

Such challenges aren't sexy, simple or politically convenient — but they are the true problems at the heart of our education system. No matter how many charter schools pop up, and no matter how often education "reform" activists pretend they are a cure-all, those problems will continue harming kids unless they are addressed.


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ABOUT David Sirota

David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado.

As I see charter schools,

As I see charter schools, they are corporate welfare. Charters are state funded, meaning taxpayer money is going to make large profits for some while teachers in most charters learn significantly less than teachers in the public school system. Charters also have the ability to expel troublesome individuals, whereas the public schools have to find a desk for them, somewhere. The troublesome students pull down the achievments of the whole school district. The charters skate on this issue.

ho hum..I love Sirota

ho hum..I love Sirota but...

David-some of us have taught at "other western democracy" schools, with whom U.S. schools compare "grades", (having also taught U.S. schools)...which is how rationalization for charters comes to be. Do ANY of these "other western democracies" utilize charter schools? No. They don't.

People need an education regarding education. First, when comparing grades, we need to comprehend those "others" intend to educate all through 4 year university or vocational equivalent, and for order to create taxpayers for a lifetime; productive, educated members of society. As such they graduate over 70% from...U.S. students show 4 year university or vocational equivalent graduation rate of less than 20% and dropping, which is also intended...

A U.S. economic system simply cannot-does not intend to employ "fully educated workforce, though it is ECONOMIC opportunity people seek-not educational opportunity...

Towit, after 8th grade, those "others" focus on 3 disciplines-within student aptitude. When we compare test scores-science-math, we compare ALL U.S. students against only those with science-math aptitude, who continue pursuit of. Isn't it interesting we are unaware of...? What is behind media propaganda against public schools? Those with the long view may realize education has become propaganda..moved first to "charter" status (which is already failing), then to internet schooling, where curricula can be totally more messy teachers free more teacher's pensions=wages, no more teacher's unions. Meantime, (and MEAN is operative), U.S. economic-financial sectors, comprising 19% of U.S. economy circa 2001 but 41% today, will continue to scapegoat public schools, teachers, unions, pensions for economic demise-poor performance..which is a damn lie.

Here's the truth of economic meltdown:

Ted loses me when he

Ted loses me when he says,
"So please learn more about the subject before you attack all charter schools."

Since Sirota specifically DIDN'T "attack all charter schools", Ted, I have to assume your indignation is prompted by something else. Is it that you want to continue to enjoy the political advantages of alliance with those corrupt, underperforming, taxpayer boondoggle, for-profit charter networks? It seems to me an honest charter school would be glad to see them exposed and cut off from the public trough.

Before TED CLOAK raps his

Before TED CLOAK raps his ruler across the knuckles of the author, maybe he should come right out and say what he so studiously avoids saying in his verbally "obese" paragraph. Does his charter school actually deliver better student outcomes than the surrounding New Mexican public schools?

In New Mexico, charter

In New Mexico, charter schools are subject to the same enrollment rules as any other public schools. The Media Arts Collaborative Charter School, on the governing council of which I am proud and happy to serve, requires students to take a full curriculum of core subjects and to meet state standards in them. In addition we offer an array of Media Arts electives and encourage our students to take advanced placement courses at the University of New Mexico and at Central New Mexico Community College. 40% of our students have individual instruction plans; we think this is because these students know they have a much better chance of success with out smaller classes and individual attention. Moreover, we have to apply for re-authorization every five years, demonstrating that we have fulfilled the promises we made on the Charter (sic!) we signed with the State of New Mexico. Otherwise we will have to close our doors, and that has happened with several charter schools already. As you may be aware, we have a very serious problem with heroin in New Mexico; our school, MACCS, in cooperation with the conventional public schools, is heavily involved in using media to make parents and students aware of the problem and involve them in trying to solve it.So please learn more about the subject before you attack all charter schools.

What does heroin use have to

What does heroin use have to do with the subject of the article?

Schools have been providing anti-drug information for decades. BFD!

The point is, many charter schools are less effective at educating our children than conventional public schools.

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