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Charter Schools Are No Magic Solution

Convinced that bureaucracy and union contracts are responsible for poor achievement, some public school critics assumed that deregulated charter schools would certainly outperform regular schools. To prove this, the Charter School Leadership Council pressed the National Assessment of Educational Progress for a special 4th-grade sample of charter schools in 2003. When NAEP results were released last year, however, they showed average charter school test scores to be no better than those of regular schools in reading or math for students overall, for low-income students, for black students or for students living in central cities. Data for disadvantaged students were especially surprising because many charter school advocates have claimed they can overcome the persistent achievement gap.
Convinced that bureaucracy and union contracts are responsible for poor achievement, some public school critics assumed that deregulated charter schools would certainly outperform regular schools. To prove this, the Charter School Leadership Council pressed the National Assessment of Educational Progress for a special 4th-grade sample of charter schools in 2003. When NAEP results were released last year, however, they showed average charter school test scores to be no better than those of regular schools in reading or math for students overall, for low-income students, for black students or for students living in central cities. Data for disadvantaged students were especially surprising because many charter school advocates have claimed they can overcome the persistent achievement gap.

In response, charter school advocates denounced NAEP as inadequate for measuring school performance. They wrote op-ed articles and took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, calling the NAEP data untrustworthy and suggesting the results somehow reflected a union plot to discredit charter schools.

Evidence that average charter school performance is no better than that of regular schools should not by itself be fatal to charter school advocacy. When public education is deregulated, some charter schools may develop better and more creative ways of doing things. But without regulation, some also may develop worse (and occasionally corrupt) ways. While some charter schools may hire well-prepared teachers without formal certification, many charter schools may not. Average teacher qualifications (for example, the percentage of secondary school teachers with majors or minors in subjects they teach) are actually lower in charter schools than in regular public schools.

This article was written by Richard Rothstein, who is a visiting professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and research associate of the Economic Policy Institute. It appeared in the October 3rd, 2005 publication in School Administrator.

Published Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2005

Charter Schools Are No Magic Solution

Convinced that bureaucracy and union contracts are responsible for poor achievement, some public school critics assumed that deregulated charter schools would certainly outperform regular schools. To prove this, the Charter School Leadership Council pressed the National Assessment of Educational Progress for a special 4th-grade sample of charter schools in 2003. When NAEP results were released last year, however, they showed average charter school test scores to be no better than those of regular schools in reading or math for students overall, for low-income students, for black students or for students living in central cities. Data for disadvantaged students were especially surprising because many charter school advocates have claimed they can overcome the persistent achievement gap.

In response, charter school advocates denounced NAEP as inadequate for measuring school performance. They wrote op-ed articles and took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, calling the NAEP data untrustworthy and suggesting the results somehow reflected a union plot to discredit charter schools.

Evidence that average charter school performance is no better than that of regular schools should not by itself be fatal to charter school advocacy. When public education is deregulated, some charter schools may develop better and more creative ways of doing things. But without regulation, some also may develop worse (and occasionally corrupt) ways. While some charter schools may hire well-prepared teachers without formal certification, many charter schools may not. Average teacher qualifications (for example, the percentage of secondary school teachers with majors or minors in subjects they teach) are actually lower in charter schools than in regular public schools.

This article was written by Richard Rothstein, who is a visiting professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and research associate of the Economic Policy Institute. It appeared in the October 3rd, 2005 publication in School Administrator.
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