UPDATE (1/14/16): The Courier-Journal has published a version of this post in its online op-ed section.
Opponents of charter schools, who want Kentucky to remain one of only seven states that refuse this education option to low-income families, continue to make wild accusations that have little basis in fact.
Yesterday an op-ed in the Louisville Courier-Journal, written by a former New Jersey charter school teacher, accused charter schools of being run by greedy for-profit corporations, suggested that charter schools do no better than their traditional public school counterparts, claimed that charter schools cherry-pick the best students, and said teacher worker conditions in charter schools are poor.
Each of these accusations can be challenged with research data.
First, data collected by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows that only about 12% of charter schools nation-wide are run by for-profit education management organizations (EMO's). Twenty percent are run by non-profit chains, usually called charter-management organizations (CMO's). The highly-regard Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter organization is an example. The rest - 67% of charter schools - are free-standing independent charters run by groups of teachers, parents, public school districts, or other local entities.
Second, research seems to show that when you compare all charters to all traditional public schools, most of the differences in student achievement wash out. This is not entirely surprising because charters are as varied as traditional public schools in terms of their management style, the curriculum and instructional program they offer, and the cultures of the schools. However, data from the 2013 Center for Research in Educational Outcomes (CREDO) study make it clear that when students spend more than a year in a public charter school - especially if that student is from a low-income family or a minority - they do tend to achieve at higher levels than their demographically-similar peers in traditional public schools. These students from low-income and minority families are the ones who stand to benefit most from charter schools, especially in urban areas.
Charter opponents try to have it both ways by first suggesting that there is no difference in student performance, but then claiming that charters selectively enroll the top students to get good results. But data also show that charter schools tend to serve higher percentages of students of color and students of poverty, and nearly equal percentages of students with disabilities as traditional public schools. Charters don't cherry-pick their students; in fact, they most effectively serve students who face big challenges to their learning.
Regarding working conditions, a 2012 study published in Teachers College Record found that charter school teachers mostly regarded their working conditions similarly to teachers in traditional public schools. Charter school teachers did report working longer hours, but also reported that they had significantly more control and influence over school policies than their traditional public school counterparts.
The truth is that charter schools are public schools that must serve all students and tend to excel in teaching children with lots of learning needs. They provide an additional schooling option to low-income families who otherwise have little choice in where their children can attend school.
Some charter schools are excellent, others are failures. The same is true of traditional public schools. The difference is that a failing charter school can be closed down, while a failing traditional public school can defy all efforts at improvement and continue to drain taxpayer dollars for decades.
Kentucky has an opportunity to learn from the experience of other states and pass the nation's best charter school law, one that will give families in struggling urban neighborhoods more school choices and hold these schools to the highest levels of accountability.
- Kentucky doesn't need charter schools in name only
- Does school choice "drain money" from traditional public schools?
- Poll: Kentuckians strongly support school choice