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Repackaging The Status Quo

Lots of school reform “experts”, including our current Secretary of Education, claim that charter schools, lots and lots of them, are the key to improving American public education.

Unfortunately, the ones we already have are not living up to the hype.

But for all their support and cultural cachet, the majority of the 5,000 or so charter schools nationwide appear to be no better, and in many cases worse, than local public schools when measured by achievement on standardized tests, according to experts citing years of research. Last year one of the most comprehensive studies, by researchers from Stanford University, found that fewer than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools, almost half offered an equivalent education and more than a third, 37 percent, were “significantly worse.”

Although “charter schools have become a rallying cry for education reformers,” the report, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, warned, “this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well” as students in traditional schools.

With few exceptions, charter schools use the same curriculum and the same instructional methods, maybe with a few small alterations (longer days, more days), as the public schools from which they draw students and money.

Charters are not reform. They simply repackage the status quo.


  1. Tony

    Understanding that there are many different flavors of charter schools, it’s safe to say that some (many?) are skewing the results. I work for a non seat-based charter school. Half of our students are independent study students that for one reason or another weren’t getting along in traditional school. Some are here for credit recovery, others had discipline problems, pregnancies, etc. Suffice it to say, the very fact these students are continuing their education here instead of flaming out entirely very much skews the numbers – the traditional schools have fewer under-performing students, while the charter school absorbs them. (Not all of our independent study students are under-performing. Some need the flexibility because of outside interests.)

  2. Tim

    Tony, it sounds like yours is not the typical charter school and that addresses my point. Why create an alternative to public schools that still looks, sounds and teaches like a public school? The whole concept of charters was to allow passionate educators to experiment with new methods of teaching and learning so that all schools could adopt the best of what worked. Instead, charter schools in many places like DC have become either a social/political statement or a business model.

    Does your school have a web site, Tony? If so, please post it. I’d love to learn more about what you’re doing.

  3. Dave

    I have to vote with Tony, I think there are the charter schools aiming to lead reform, the ones we debate about…and there are the real world multitude of charter schools that take in students facing atypical challenges.

    I read all this stuff about charter schools trying to break out of the mold and lead the way with reform, and there is one I personally know of that aims to do that. All the others I know of, however, exist for students who have been expelled from traditional public schools for discipline problems. Every couple years one of these other diploma mill charters will show up in the news for having horrible test scores (or cheating on state tests!) and will get shut down.

    Just my perception, though, with no research.

  4. Tony

    @Tim Here you go, Tim: http://viedu.org

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