Has the charter school experiment failed?

From the USAToday

by Richard D. Kahlenberg

Replicating good charter schools and rejecting bad ones sounds eminently reasonable, but it’s far easier said than done. For decades, educators have been trying to scale up high-achieving, high-poverty schools, but success often comes down to hard-to-duplicate factors, such as a charismatic principal, a supply of teachers willing to work extraordinary hours or particularly motivated students.

After two decades, it’s time to fundamentally rethink the charter school experiment. The prevailing charter model isn’t working because it is based on two profoundly flawed ideas: that teachers’ unions are the biggest problem in education; and that packing poor kids into separate, high-poverty charter schools will produce educational success.

Today’s charter school theory says unions block schools from firing bad teachers and paying good ones more, so if we eliminate the union, we’ll improve outcomes for kids. But the hypothesis hasn’t panned out. Even though 88% of charters are non-union, only 17% of charters outperform regular public schools. Non-unionized Southern public schools have never done particularly well, and the lack of teacher voice in charters means substantially higher teacher turnover, which is bad for students.

Likewise, the predominant charter school model of trying to educate the maximum number of disadvantaged kids hasn’t worked because economically and racially segregated schools are almost always unequal. Although charters could, as schools of choice, be more integrated than neighborhood public schools, data show charters have even higher concentrations of poverty than those schools.

The news media pay outsize attention to successful high-poverty schools, but nationally, middle-class schools are 22 times as likely to be high performing. Low-income students given the chance to attend more affluent schools are two years ahead of low-income students stuck in high-poverty schools.

It’s time to return to the original vision for charter schools outlined in 1988 by American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, who wanted charters to be schools that provide teacher voice and educate students from all walks of life.

Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2011-06-21-Rethink-the-charter-school-experiment_n.htm

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