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Charters May Not Be A Good Choice

An editorial in today’s New York Times comments on a recent study by the federal Department of Education showing that fourth graders in charter schools scored worse on reading and math test than students in public schools.

The report comes at a time when charters enjoy increasing popularity with parents in some urban areas like New Orleans, where they account for 60% of the newly reopened schools this fall, and DC.

It follows another recent federal study concluding that students from equivalent socio-economic backgrounds did no better in private schools than similar students in public.

However, one or two studies really aren’t enough to make a conclusive judgment about a topic as complex as education. And popularity often has little or no connection to quality.

So, why the push by many politicians to privatize public education, despite minimal accountability required of the alternatives and little evidence of student improvement?

Too many lawmakers seem to believe that the only thing wrong with American education is the public school system, and that converting lagging schools to charter schools would cause them to magically improve.

School choice as a magic wand. We hear that a lot from voucher supporters as well.

But in the end, there is one major reform that would go a long way to improving American education, something that has nothing to do with public money funding of charter or private schools.

Four years later [after the passage of NCLB], the national teacher corps is still in a shambles. Until Congress changes that, everything else will amount to little more than tinkering at the margins.


charters, school choice, education


  1. Doug Johnson

    Hi Tim,

    Just a point of clarification… My understanding is that charter schools are NOT private schools, but public schools that operate under a governance structure different from that of a regular public school district. Most (at least here in Minnesota where the movement began) are run by a small group of parents and teachers who have a vision of what effective education looks like.

    Although I am a long-time public school employee and advocate, I appreciate much of what the best charter schools are trying to do – educate kids in a non-traditional way which often involves project-based learning. My sense is that charters don’t always do well on standardized test comparisons because they often work with a non-traditional group of learners in non-traditional ways. In other words, they don’t teach solely for the test.

    There are also terrible charter schools, so it’s tough to paint the whole movement with a single stroke.

    All the best,


  2. tim

    Actually, I’ve always been a big fan of the charter school concept. The best of them experiment with non-traditional approaches to teaching and learning, some of which might be incorporated into “regular” schools.

    However, the reality is that most charters are attempting far more than they can handle with the budget and/or quality of staff they have to work with.

    What bothers me the most, however, is how the school choice advocates assign some kind of magical powers to schools that are not mainstream public. The quality of a school depends on many different factors. Just being outside the public school bureaucracy isn’t enough.

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