Charter Schools vs. Traditional Public Schools: Which One is Under-Performing?
Published July 10, 2009
Written by Grace Chen
Charter schools have becoming the modern rival of public schools, but does the reality of charter performance match the hype? According to Change.org, "Charter schools get overwhelmingly positive press and make a lot of claims about their success. But actually, numerous studies confirm that their achievement is indistinguishable from that of traditional public schools. Some are very successful, some are troubled and struggling, and the rest are somewhere in between just like traditional public schools."
In a closer examination, charter schools, as the US News and World Report explains, are publicly funded institutions that operate under their own standards of conduct and curriculum. Although these institutions are funded by tax dollars, charter schools are ultimately given the freedom to establish their own methods of operation, similar to how many private schools are able to operate their instructional and social practices.
Yet, despite these freedoms, many experts argue that the charter schools are under-performing in comparison to public schools. On the other hand, supporters of charter programs argue that the data used to draw negative attention to charter school scores is mis-leading, biased, or falsely computed. With staunch supporters on both sides of the debate, charter schools and public schools are continually being thrown into the boxing ring.
Test Scores: Charter Schools vs. Public Schools
In evaluating some of the statistical studies that seek to compare charter vs. public school performance, recent investigations conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University reveal that students' test scores may prove that public schools are now outperforming charter schools. As CREDO, a national organization devoted to charter school research reveals, the Stanford analysts compared reading and math state-based standardized test scores between charter school vs. public school students in 15 states, as well as scores in the District of Columbia. In fact, in further evaluating the data, experts found that 37 percent of charter schools posted improvements in math scores; however, these improvement rates were significantly below the improvement rates of students in the public school classrooms. Furthermore, 46 percent of charter schools experienced math improvements that were "statistically indistinguishable" from the average improvement rates shown by public school students.
Ultimately, this data surmises that in the category of math alone, only 17 percent of charter schools have reported achievement rates that surpass public school performance results. Similarly, charter school students' reading scores improvement rates were also below their public school counterparts.
Looking Between the Numbers
While recent reports seem to support the triumphs of public schools, a deeper assessment of various studies and statistics reveals that students who come from lower-income families and / or students who are English language learners revealed higher success and performance rates in charter schools than their public school counterparts.
Adding to these positive findings, supporters of charter schools also tend to boast that their programs offer significantly more rigorous challenges and requirements than public school classrooms. In addition, math and reading scores alone may not be a sufficient analysis of the performance of charter schools, as some institutions cultivate students with a particular talent for arts, technology, or music.
Conversely, however, opponents argue that charter schools lack extensive special needs programs; therefore, many believe that charter schools simply pick and choose the brightest students without adjusting their programs for accommodating circumstances.
What Does the Future of Charter Schools Hold?
In their most ideal form, charter schools were originally meant to serve the poorest of the low-income students. In reality, however, charter schools may accept small percentages of low-income kids, but they generally do not admit extremely high risk, high need, or challenging students.
In addition, charter school enrollments are propelled only by self-initiative. By law, a school leader cannot demand that a student attends a charter program; thus, only parents who are made aware of the benefits of various local charter programs are able to sign their child up for such opportunities. As a result, parents who are unable or unmotivated to take a driven interest in their child's education typically leave their children in traditional public schools. Sadly, it is this same pool of children who typically are the under-performing students.
As Change.org further asserts, educators who are working with unique family circumstances and challenges are forced to deal with "Parents who have been charged with drug possession, prostitution, and other crimes. These are the types of parents who aren't likely to be researching the best charter schools for their children and filling out all the forms."
While the debate between charter and public school programs continues to gain controversial attention, President Obama has declared his strong support for charter school investments. In fact, President Obama has even allocated a large sum of stimulus money towards the enhancement of charter schools across the country.
Unfortunately, since charter schools have only been in existence since the 1970s, it may be too soon to tell whether or not these institutions are fairly, justly, and effectively providing students with more rigorous challenges and opportunities than their public school counterparts.
US News and World Report, available at http://www.usnews.com/blogs/on-education/2009/06/17/charter-schools-might-not-be-better.html
CREDO, "National Charter School Study," available at, http://credo.stanford.edu/
Change.org, "Charters Exclude the Most Challenging Students," available at http://education.change.org/blog/view/charters_exclude_the_most_challenging_students_part_1