Data: problems with charter school “myth”

Summary.  Charter schools tend to promote segregation by race, wealth, disabling conditions, and language.  One carefully controlled study did find that some charter schools (17%) are superior to matched public schools, but that fully 37% are clearly inferior to matched public schools.


Below is a quote from an article that came in from Jim Vining after I had composed and sent my first plea for legislative contacts to register your opinion about the proposed SC Charter School amendments in H.3241.  Written by P.L. Thomas as an op-ed piece in the Feb. 20, 2011 Greenville News, titled False claims drive two education reform ideas (link here).

“The overwhelming body of evidence on charter schools shows that they are essentially the same as public schools. Also problematic is the inequity common in charter schools: “The analysis found that, as compared with the public school district in which the charter school resided, the charter schools were substantially more segregated by race, wealth, disabling condition, and language. While charter schools have rapidly grown, the strong segregative pattern found in 2001 is virtually unchanged through 2007,” reveals a review from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC).”

I have, by the way, made a visit to our local charter school and found the conditions as described above acknowledged by the Chairman of their Board, Craig Craze.  York Preparatory Academy has three (1%) students with special needs, 10% minority, and 10% qualifying for free/reduced meals.  In Rock Hill Schools meal subsidies must be provided to 54% of our students, just under 50% are minority (including African American, Hispanic, other nationalities), and 14% of our students are identified as having special needs.

Clearly there is a national effort to promote charter schools.  For example, a Google search for Waiting for Superman Watch Parties today returned 29,900 hits for new web pages created in the last thirty days.  The Superman documentary is a paean (dare one say a propaganda piece) to the goodness of charter schools, following a number of families working to get their children into local charter schools.  It works very hard to give one the impression that all charter schools achieve “amazing results” and must be the answer to all our school problems.,.  Quoting one publicity blurb for one of the thousands of watch parties, “The film shows not just what is but what could be, a fact that prompted much conversation about the ideas posed by Guggenheim and his collaborators.”

But do the data support the conclusion that all charter schools produce “amazing results?”  They do not!  A recent review of the Waiting for Superman in the New York Times Review of Books by Diane Ravich is entitled The Myth of Charter Schools (link here). Quoting from the article:

Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film’s quiet acknowledgment that only one in five charter schools is able to get the “amazing results” that it celebrates.  Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic.  It is drawn from a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond.  Known as the CREDO study (link here), it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school.  The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent.  Why did Davis Guggenheim pay no attention to the charter schools that are run by incompetent leaders or corporations mainly concerned to make money?  Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting?  [Emphases added]

To reallocate public school funds based on a myth of the “amazing results” all charter schools achieve and to promote increased segregation and inequalities of the state’s schools appears to me to be very poor public policy.

This entry was posted in Charter schools, K-12 Funding. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Data: problems with charter school “myth”

  1. Jim Vining says:


    Good post. Thanks.