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Debate: Charter schools

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Are charter schools a good idea? In New Orleans?

Background and context:

Charter schools are elementary or secondary schools in the United States that receive public money but have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school's charter. While charter schools provide an alternative to other public schools, they are part of the public education system and are not allowed to charge tuition. Where space at a charter school is limited, admission is frequently allocated by lottery based admissions. Some charter schools provide a curriculum that specializes in a certain field-- e.g. arts, mathematics, etc. Others simply seek to provide a better and more efficient general education than nearby public schools
Some charter schools are founded by teachers, parents, or activists who feel restricted by traditional public schools. State-run charters (schools not affiliated with local school districts) are often established by non-profit groups, universities, and some government entities. Additionally, school districts sometimes permit corporations to open chains of for-profit charter schools. After Minnessotta first enacted charter school laws in 1991, the charter school movement has grown substantially, with 40 states adopting charter laws by 2008 and over 3,400 charter schools opening to serve roughly one million American students. A major demonstration of this rising popularity is occurring in New Orleans where, following hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city has rebuilt its education system predominantly around charter schools. As the movement has growth in popularity, so has the debate. The main questions involved in the debate include: Do charter schools and students perform better? Do charter teachers work more freely and effectively? Is the more specific mission focus of charter schools valuable? Do charter schools compete with other traditional public schools? Is this good or bad? Do charter schools create a two-tiered and segregated system of education? Do charter schools give parents/students greater choice? Are charter school more cost-effective? Do the overall pros and cons favor charter schools for public policy?

See Wikipedia: Charter schools for more background.

Contents

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Performance: Are charter schools and students performing better?

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Yes

"Orleans charters score better on LEAP than traditional schools". The Times Picayune. July 31, 2007 - "In scores released this week, charter schools such as Wright posted higher scores at every grade level, with some showing vast improvement over their pre-Katrina, pre-charter performance under the Orleans Parish School Board."
  • Adaptive charter schools can make necessary changes Jonathan Bertsch, KIPP's director of operations in New Orleans, said in a June 2008 Washington Post article: "The main difference is that most of the charters have the freedom to change, to get better, to hire the people they need to make the school better." [1]


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No

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Teachers: Do charter schools promote better teachers and teaching?

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Pro

  • Charter school administrators can hand-pick the best teachers New Orleans' Fischer Elementary School principal Dahme Bolden was quoted in an October 2006 NPR article saying: "The difference [between the former system and new charter schools] is I can hand-pick my teachers. As a result, I see more leadership from the teaching staff, [more] enthusiasm, I see more teaching and learning going on."[2]
  • Competition b/w teachers in charter schools incentivizes performance New Orleans KIPP Believe College Prep school teacher Scarlet Feinberg said in a October 2006 NPR article: "It's great pressure, I mean it's pressure that makes you work harder, that gives you a sense of urgency every day that they must learn these skills. If you don't produce the results that need to be produced, it's very possible that you could lose your job."[3]


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Con

  • Charter schools spend more on administration Deborah Bach. "School Board digs in against charter schools". Seattle PI. December 17, 2003 - "The Seattle School Board intends to make a pre-emptive strike against charter school legislation that came close to passing last session, despite being turned down by voters twice in the past. [...] At its Jan. 7 meeting, the board is expected to adopt a resolution opposing charter schools. [...] The proposed resolution cites a study last year by the American Federation of Teachers that found that charter schools spend a greater percentage of their resources on administration, less on infrastructure and provide fewer services than the districts they reside in."
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Mission: Are the missions of charter schools sound?

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Pro

  • Charter schools focus more on behavior and self-esteem "Charter Schools' Big Experiment". Washington Post. June 9, 2008 - "many New Orleans parents are embracing charter schools. Shajuandra Steptore, a nursing student, said she was not impressed by the regular public schools that her bright but sometimes troublesome daughter A'sha attended before the hurricane. When Alford's school opened, Steptore said, she was drawn to its promise 'to focus on behavior and on self-esteem.' After a year at Langston Hughes, A'sha is finishing fifth grade. Her behavior has improved along with her reading and math, and Steptore plans to keep her in charters permanently."
  • Charter schools combine the best of public and private schools. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded, and so free to the public, like public schools. Yet, charter schools are free of many state regulations, making them particularly adaptive and responsive to student needs, much like private schools. The combination of these two strengths makes charter schools a very attractive option for students.
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Con

  • Charter schools are unaccountable and dictatorial Charter schools are not bound by the same regulations that exist on public schools, nor by the democratic processes that make it possible for citizens to pressure public school administrators. This make them less accountable to the desires of a community.
  • Charter schools create two-tiers; lets public schools fail Charter schools, and the competition they introduce, produce a two-tiered education system in which public schools are essentially abandoned for what are supposedly better charter schools. This is because charter schools have the power to deny students enrollments if they do not qualify, generally on the basis of merit. This stands in contrast to public schools that must accept those in the district that enroll. The problem is that this creates an "exclusive" tier in the public schooling system, leaving public schools with those that are "less qualified". This degrades public schools and their intellectual environment, and makes it harder for public schools to show statistical improvements and obtain needed funding. Instead of this, why not make public schools work for all students, including the gifted and less gifted.


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Choice: Do charter schools offer beneficial choices to parents/students?

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Pro

  • Charter schools offer parents choices in public schools John McCain said in the last US presidential debate in October 2008: "Charter schools aren’t the only answer, but they’re providing competition…choice and competition amongst schools is one of the key elements that’s already been proven in places like New Orleans and New York City and other places."[4]
  • Charter schools are based on funding students not schools Bruno Manno. "The Case Against Charter Schools". School Administrator. May 2001. - "Allegation No. 1: Charter schools rob funds and students from regular public schools. While they may benefit a few youngsters, they hurt those left behind by biting into district budgets. [...] While it is true that charter funds are typically subtracted from district revenues, that is because their students are subtracted from district rolls. The fundamental concept of any school choice regimen is that the money follows the child to the school the family selects. Public dollars are meant to be spent for the education of that particular student, not entitlements for school systems. The premise of the allegation is backwards."


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Con

  • Many factors constrain "choice" introduced by charter schools Larry Kuehn. "Ten Problems with Charter Schools". British Columbia Teachers' Federation. 1995 - "Hidden impediments get in the way of real choice. [...] Proponents of "choice" through charter schools often claim that the choice is open for any parents. In practice, hidden factors, such as the cost of transportation or the lack of skills to take part in meetings, get in the way of any real opportunities for many to choose. A case study on one California district demonstrated that a school choice program designed to overcome economic inequities resulted in increasing stratification because of these hidden factors. [...] As James Guthrie told Education Week, 'let me tell you why schools aren't like chocolate bars. When you or I eat a chocolate bar, the gratification and the effect is virtually immediate. Schools have a lagged effect, some of the consequences of which are not immediately evident.' In the absence of data, he says, 'parents will make a judgment based on the social class of students.'"


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Competition: Do charter schools foster beneficial competition?

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Pro

  • Charter schools spur competition that forces all schools to improve Charter schools add a new model into the mix, in addition to private and public schools. For both private and public schools to survive in the face of charter schools, they must improve themselves. In this sense, competition with charter schools will improve private and public schools.
Barack Obama said in the last US presidential debate in October 2008: "I doubled the number of charter schools in Illinois despite some reservations from teachers unions. I think it’s important to foster competition inside the public schools."[5]
John McCain said in the last US presidential debate in October 2008: "Charter schools aren’t the only answer, but they’re providing competition…choice and competition amongst schools is one of the key elements that’s already been proven in places like New Orleans and New York City and other places, where we have charter schools, where we take good teachers and we reward them and promote them."[6]
  • Regulations restrict charter schools and their competitiveness Elly Jo Rael. "A Summary of Arguments For and Against Charter Schools" - "Charter schools do not create school competition. The instability of reform laws, lack of adequate funding, the lack of a profit motive, and many remaining restrictions on who can establish a charter school and how it can be run will restrict their creation, as will the lack of technical assistance, start-up capital, and facilities. The application process (e.g. through a local school board) and accountability procedures (e.g. annual standardized tests) will both restrict the number of charter schools and reduce the variation between them. Most state laws also restrict the number of charter schools allowed."
  • Public schools are cushioned from enrollment losses to charter schools "Does Charter School Competition Improve Traditional Public Schools?". Manhattan Institute for Public Policy. June 10, 2000 - We studied Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts, Jersey City and Trenton, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia (D.C.), to appraise how charter schools are affecting the traditional public school system.2 We found that charter competition has not induced large changes in district-wide operations, despite the fact that a significant number of students have left district schools for charter schools. [...] This may be explained by the fact that state policies generally cushion districts from the financial effects of departing students. Demographics play a role, too. Rising total enrollments, a by-product of the 'baby boom echo,' and recent high rates of immigration, have helped districts avoid fiscal pain; some have maintained absolute enrollment (and budget) levels even as their market share has shrunk."


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Con

  • Charter schools compete with and threaten public schools Leigh Dingerson, education team leader for the Center for Community Change in the District, says Louisiana school authorities have "opened a flea market of entrepreneurial opportunism [with charter schools] that is dismantling the institution of public education in New Orleans."[7]


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Economics: Are charter schools more economical?

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Pro

  • Agile charter schools can quickly respond to meet demand In the aftermath of Katrina, Jeanne Allen, president of the pro-charter Center for Education Reform, said in a Washington Post article: "Charter educators and friends took games and books and organized dozens of small classrooms while the national government scratched its head over what to do."[8]
  • Charter schools make good use of empty school buildings Robert Holland, Senior Fellow at the Heartland Institute. "Use the empty school buildings". Washington Post. August 9, 2008 - "Across the nation, charter school operators report that finding adequate space is their single biggest challenge. Fearing competition, officialdom often hoards surplus property that could house these independently managed public schools. [...] One might think that things would be different in the District, where charter schools have been a lifeline for families more than they have been just about anywhere else in the United States ["Respect for Charter Schools," editorial, Aug. 4]. Long a model of education failure, Washington has a chance to be an exemplar of urban education reform, largely because of its charter schools, which now serve almost one-third of the city's schoolchildren. Yet D.C. officials are being super-stingy about letting charter operators lease the city's surplus school buildings. [...] Washington's families deserve better. School stewardship should be about what's best for children, not how best to conduct turf wars."


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Con

  • Charter schools don't add efficiency, but more administrative costs Larry Kuehn. "Ten Problems with Charter Schools". British Columbia Teachers' Federation. 1995 - "Charter schools don't reduce spending on administration. While some have argued that administrative efficiencies will be improved with competition, experience doesn't bear this out. In Britain, grant-maintained schools have spawned new agencies to serve administrative needs. Many individual schools have had to create jobs for people to handle finances; where schools have not, the principal ends up spending a great deal of time on day-to-day business administration, like insurance, benefits, and building repair, rather than educational concerns. The advantages of bulk purchasing and efficiencies of scale are lost, making materials and services more expensive. Salaries of principals in the grant-maintained schools have soared."
  • Charter schools have a poor return on investment Scott Elliott. "The case against charter schools in Dayton". Dayton Daily. November 12, 2005 - "If charter schools are about free enterprise, markets and bringing business sense to the world of education, then I’ve got three words that the proponents should consider: return on investment. [...] Last year, Ohio spent $424 million on about 250 charter schools statewide. In Dayton alone, the cost was about $45 million on 33 charter schools. So what did we get for our money? [...] Statewide, 71 percent of charter schools were rated in 'academic emergency,' the lowest rating category. [...] In Dayton, no charter schools were rated excellent or effective at the top two rating categories. Many Dayton charters, about 39 percent, got no rating for a variety of reasons, while another 40 percent were rated in academic emergency. [...] And this is part of a continuing pattern."


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Diversity: Do charter schools help promote diversity and integration?

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Pro

  • The disadvantaged deserve access to better schools Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation, which funded the research - "There is no justification for keeping a charter cap in place that is denying urban, mostly black and brown children the opportunity for a demonstrably better result."[9]


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Con

  • Charter schools can exclude special needs students Larry Kuehn. "Ten Problems with Charter Schools". British Columbia Teachers' Federation. 1995 - "Charter schools may exclude students with special needs. [...] In a system based on an educational marketplace, students with special needs may detract from the marketability of the school. Research in Britain indicates that the 'most effective strategies are 1. to recruit more students who are likely to perform well academically, and 2. exclude students who are likely not to do well academically. [...] There is concern in Britain over the trend away from integrating children with special needs into the regular classroom. These students are seen as impediments in achieving test scores that can be used to comparison-market the school."
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Reform: Do charter schools help advance education reform?

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Pro

But in the wake of charters, four professional women running as a team were able to raise $200,000, mostly from CEOs and large companies, and capture a majority of four school board seats by outspending their five opponents by a 20-1 margin combined! They took control, set about professionalizing the top administration, replaced half the district’s principals and began instituting a systemic curriculum and instruction reform."


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Con

  • Charter schools are about niche education, not broad reform Larry Kuehn. "Ten Problems with Charter Schools". British Columbia Teachers' Federation. 1995 - "Charter schools don't encourage system reform and improved quality. [...] The theory put forward by many charter school advocates is that the competition of charter schools will lead to reform and improvement to the mainstream of the public schools. [...] In the U.S. and Alberta, most of the charter proposals have been for 'niche schools' that serve a particular special population. Charter schools end up serving special interests, rather than creating programs that develop alternatives that would be offered to most students. They divert money and attention from improving all schools to enhancing a few."


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New Orleans: Are charter schools in post-Katrina New Orleans a good idea?

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Pro

  • Charter schools cut through red tape, quickly opening after Katrina Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in an interview for a June 13, 2006 New York Times article: "Just the fact that the charter schools are the ones that are open is testament to their ability to cut through red tape and be responsive to families where and when they need them."[11]
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Con


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Pro/con resources

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Pro


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Con

See also

External links


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