Charter schools

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Charter schools are a form of public school designed to be autonomous while still adhering to the same state testing of other public schools. They provide school choice options to parents while offering the school staff significant opportunities to explore better teaching methods.

Currently 5% of students who attend public schools in the United States are enrolled at charter schools. This 5% is composed predominately of African-American and Hispanic students and the charter school's enrollment is overwhelmingly low-income. This is because there is a demand for charter schools in areas where these demographics comprise a larger portion of the population.

Myths about charter schools

Myth -- Charter Schools Don't Do Any Better

This claim is based on older research on charter schools which overall indicates they do not perform better than public schools.

However, this claim is now being disproved by the most recent studies.

For example, a 2009 report, "Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States" from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University paints a different picture when charter schools are examined on a state by state basis.

"Multiple Choice" found that charter schools definitely do outperform regular public schools in five of the 16 states the report examined.

Those states where charter schools outperform regular public schools include: Arkansas, Colorado (Denver), Illinois (Chicago), Louisiana and Missouri.

Furthermore, this same CREDO study showed that once students have been in charter schools for three years or more, they do outperform their regular public school peers, as this graph from the report shows.

Charter Effect Over Time.jpg

Furthermore, a recent supplement to the first CREDO study, which examined charter schools in New York City, found that students in that city's charter schools definitely performed better than regular public school students.

The findings in the CREDO report are replicated by another report on New York City charter school performance by Stanford researcher Caroline Hoxby. Hoxby found New York City's charter schools have dramatic performance advantages using a very high quality research approach that is basically a random sample study.

There are more, recent examples of specific charter school models that do remarkably better than the regular public schools.

For example, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools are posting extremely good results despite the fact that these schools serve predominently minority populations. For example, the KIPP schools in the Bay Area of San Franciso outperform the regular public schools in their school district.

Finally, charter schools in Boston were recently examined. This report also used the high quality random sampling approach used by Hoxby. Once again, the performance findings strongly favored charter schools. In fact, the middle school charter school advantage in Boston was found to be truly remarkable, and it grew strong for each additional year that a Boston child was in one of the city's charter schools, as this next graph from the report shows.

Charter School Performance in Boston by Grade.jpg

On this graph, the performance of regular public school students is represented by the black horizontal axis as a constant zero performance and the added performance of charter schools in math and English Language Arts is shown by the two colored lines. For example, by the eighth grade, the charter school advantage in math was found to be 0.8 units better than the regular public school performance. To give this arbitrary performance number some meaning, the report says this 0.8 performance increase equates to moving from the 50th to the 69th percentile of student performance, a remarkable improvement.

Thus, as Kentucky considers charter school laws, it is important to consider those states where charter school performance is better and those specific charter school models that also outperform. It is also important to understand that older reports on charter schools do not reflect findings in the latest studies. It took time for successful charter school models to evolve and prosper, but that clearly is happening now. However, only recent reports can capture the true charter school picture accurately.

Finally, it is now definitely incorrect to universally claim that charters don't outperform public schools. That is a myth. In cases where state laws and implementation have been effective, and where the best research models are used to make the analysis, charter schools do outperform.

Typical Opposition Position vs. The Facts

Typical Opposition Position Charters drain money from public schools.

The Facts Charters are public schools. No money goes to private/parochial schools here. Also, depending upon the model Kentucky actually chooses, charters have proven more efficient than regular public schools, as well.

Typical Opposition Position Unions don’t favor and can’t exist in charter schools.

The Facts Some charter schools have adoped unions, on January 10, 2010 the Los Angeles Times reported that unions there are even talking about starting their own charter schools. The concept is flexible. That is the whole point. Union resistance, however, has been very inflexible.

Typical Opposition Position Poor performance in public schools is parents' fault.

The Facts Charters thrive on parent engagement and many polls show charters have been very successful at engaging parents. Regular public schools in contrast have a weak record of engaging parents. Parents should have the option of choosing their schools. We trust them to choose their children’s health care providers, why not their schools?

The Bluegrass Institute’s Bluegrass Policy Blog also took a look at how charters in two of the largest charter states, Texas and Florida, did with their African-American kids. Both states had notably lower scores for African-Americans on the National Assessment of Educational Progress back when KERA began in the early 1990s. Today, blacks in both states outscore us. The score trend change started around the time both states started their charter school programs and was especially notable in Texas.

By the way, charter enrollment in both states has skyrocketed since the mid-1990s. It is over 100,000 students in both states now. Do you really think that would happen if charters were not very popular with parents?

Typical Opposition Position Reports show charters don’t do any better, and often do worse than regular public schools. For example, a June 2009 report from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University says that charters don’t do well.

The Facts Actually, that CREDO reportsays that once students have been in charters at least three years – they outperform regular public schools.

Furthermore, CREDO since issued another report on charters in New York City. That shows charters in the Big Apple most definitely do outperform their public school counterparts. Furthermore, that latest CREDO study just echoes findings from a report by Caroline Hoxby, released a few months earlier, that found amazing results in favor of charter schools in a reasonably random sample type study, which is the gold standard for such research. Right now, CREDO is being asked questions about why their two reports look so different, while Hoxby’s solid research remains stable and has consistently shown charters are performing very well.

Typical Opposition Position Charter schools accept teachers who don’t have certification. They may not be qualified, and they don’t have the background checks and monitoring that regular public school teachers have.

The Facts Private schools don’t require certification, either. Sadly, certification is no guarantee of competence, something many key educators are admitting and trying to change. What charters do provide, if they have a good principal, is the ability to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom. Due to overly protective union contracts, that never happens in Kentucky’s regular public schools. So far as the background checks go, that can be addressed in a good charter school bill with little difficulty.

Typical Opposition Position Kentuckians don’t want charters.

The Facts Not true. The results of a poll sponsored in 2007 by the Bluegrass Institute showed that more than three out of four Kentuckians want charters after they learn more about what they really are.

Typical Opposition Position Charters won’t help rural schools in Kentucky.

The Facts Why not? They already work in the rural Albany, Georgia area, as you can see in a You Tube we featured in the Bluegrass Policy Blog on December 18, 2009. Charter schools can also be organized district-wide, as is happening in some other states. A district charter would give every school in the district the flexibility it needs to really do reform right while offering parents some choice options.

Typical Opposition Position Charter school principals don’t have the same training as we require for regular public schools.

The Facts That’s generally wrong. The KIPP program, for example, won’t let a person take over a KIPP school without completing a full training program. We posted a blog item on that on December 9, 2009.

Typical Opposition Position Charter schools just cherry-pick the best students.

The Facts Actually, charter schools are overwhelmingly populated by minorities and children from low-income homes. Furthermore, most charters select students by blind lottery. That makes it impossible to cherry-pick students.

Typical Opposition Position The NAEP studied charter schools and found they didn’t perform any better than -- and sometimes worse than -- public schools

The Facts First of all, those NAEP-based charter school reports are all based on a single, one-time special sample of charter school students that the NAEP conducted way back in 2003. Those are rather stale results.

Many charter operations had not been in place very long when the NAEP studies’ test sample was collected. So, the finding, which even the NEA acknowledges, that “students taught by teachers with at least five years' experience outperformed students with less experienced teachers, regardless of the type of public school attended” is therefore important.

Not many charters had that long a track record in early 2003 when the NAEP test was administered. Even according to the NEA, as of 2004, the year after the NAEP sample was taken; more than a third of the charters had been in operation for less than three years.

Due to the way NAEP samples schools, the comparisons NAEP could make between charters and regular public schools involved sometimes rather small samples, even with oversampling.

Finally, the NAEP study is what researchers call “correlational” only. It is not even close to the quality of randomized type studies such as used by Professor Caroline Hoxby, who is consistently finding charter students perform better.

Charter schools in Kentucky

There are currently no charters schools in Kentucky. Two bills (HB 63) (HB 21) have been pre-filed for the 2010 legislative session that would introduce charter legislation. Rep. Brad Montell and Rep. Stan Lee are responsible for introducing the prefiled legislation.

Kentucky lags behind other states

Charter schools have only been in existence in the United States for about 20 years. Yet more than 5,000 charters are now operating in 41 states. California, Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Texas all had more than 200 charter schools operating in their states during the 2009-10 school year.

Check out this map on education researcher Jay Greene's blog to find the number of charters in your state. You will notice there are none in Kentucky while neighboring Ohio has 332 during the 2009-10 school year.


No charter schools in Kentucky: Big deal or little concern?

Everything is big in Texas, even its charter school program

Enrollment is big


…so is performance, especially when compared to Kentucky


  • Texas’ black students increased their math scores by 23 points – more than twice the progress of Kentucky’s blacks -- all during an era of dramatic enrollment increase at charter schools.
  • When will Kentucky lawmakers who claim to care about minorities act to bring a taste of Texas to Kentucky by adding charter schools to the commonwealth’s educational tool chest?

Why Kentucky needs Charter Schools

  • In 2008, more than 10,000 students were trapped in Kentucky’s 34 Tier 5 schools – schools failing to make adequate progress for at least six years.
  • Despite the abject failure of their schools to improve, six of the 2008 Tier 5 school principals held their jobs since at least the 2002-03 school year.
  • In 2009, not a single one of those schools earned its way out of Tier 5 status. Most – 27 of them – sank further into the Tier-5 abyss. These schools could be turned into charter schools.
  • Failing schools disproportionately affect poor, black and disabled students.
  • Of the 34 “No Child” Tier 5 schools in Kentucky in 2008, 29 failed student groups other than the learning disabled. After the learning disabled, the worst-served student groups are Kentucky’s black students, followed by students from low-income households.
  • Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby asks in the title of one of her publications on charter schools: “Could School Choice be a Tide that Lifts All Boats?”
  • Most poor parents cannot afford to send their children to private schools. Kentucky has more than 400 nonpublic schools where tuition averages between $4,500 for elementary school and $6,700 for high school.
  • "Fears that school choice negatively affect public schools aren't merely overblown. They're simply wrong." Hoxby

Grad rates & charter schools: What's not known can hurt Ky

Grad rate graph.JPG

Q: What is Kentucky’s graduation rate for minorities?

A: We don’t know.

Q: Why?

A: The Kentucky Department of Education won’t tell us.

Q: Considering the state is reporting either no – or unreliable – information, what does the Bluegrass Institute’s research reveal about Kentucky’s graduation rates?

A: They’re not good. Using a formula developed by Johns Hopkins University, Kentucky’s graduation rates are not only unacceptable but going in the wrong direction.

Q: What do the lines shaded in gray in the table reveal about Kentucky’s graduation rates?

A: The percentages of students graduating in those schools and racial groups fell between the 2003-04 and 2007-08 school years. Notice, for example, that graduation rates for Atherton High School’s black females dropped an average 1.4 percentage points every year since the 2003-04 term.

Q: Would charter schools help improve Kentucky’s graduation rates?

A: Yes. Consider:

  • Dayton, Ohio’s graduation rate rose by more than 28 percent between the 2000-01 (51.1 percent) and 2005-06 (79.5 percent) school years. During this time, “Dropout Recovery Charter Schools” were introduced in the Buckeye State. Cleveland and Cincinnati, which have similar charters, also had notable improvement.
  • Two charter high schools in Providence, R.I. graduated all of their Class of 2008 students. That’s compared to 61 percent average among all state schools.
  • Nearly one-half of all minorities fail to graduate each year. What will Kentucky do?
  • Nationwide, reducing the dropout rate in half would reduce health care, welfare and crime-related costs by $45 billion, a significant amount of which would find its way into Kentucky coffers. It’s likely that charter schools will lead the way. What is Kentucky waiting for?

See Also

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