Benefits of Charter School Reform
published on April 23, 2021 by Sonia Mastros
Are charter schools a good way to create better outcomes for children in school? For a long time, many have said so. Privately owned charter schools, funded from the same coffers as public schools, were supposed to offer competition and alternatives for parents looking for the best learning environment for their children.
However, now, roughly 30 years after the beginning of the movement, charter schools are starting to lose their luster. Many are calling for charter school reform, or even their de-funding. It's a complicated issue, but let's take a look at some of the basic matters under debate.
Major Areas of Charter School Reform Being Discussed
1. Student Outcomes
The #1 question surrounding charter schools is, "Are they actually producing better results?" Unfortunately, so far, the answer generally seems to be "no," despite some superficial data to the contrary. Some schools and states have pointed towards the success rates of their charter schools but ignore one important confounding factor: These schools choose their students and, therefore, can deny entrance to children who would pull their numbers down.
Meanwhile, standardized studies of charter schools that use randomized lottery-based entrance policies have shown them to be almost exactly on-par with public schools - no better, no worse.
So the most common argument cited for charter school reform is that they aren't producing the results they were supposed to.
2. Lack of Financial Oversight
Another controversial issue surrounding charter schools is that, being privately operated, they have less accountability than public schools. Yet, they're still paid largely from public coffers. Many groups, such as the PSBA in Pennsylvania, are concerned that these schools are over-charging for their services. They're calling for charter school reform focused on stricter financial controls, and more burdens on the schools to demonstrate a need for public funding to prevent even the appearance of corruption.
3. Too Many Mediocre Schools
The other most common call for charter school reform involves qualifications to get a charter in the first place. States such as Arizona, Texas, and Ohio basically opened the floodgates and issued charters to almost anyone who asked, resulting in a flood of poor schools. This has led to high charter school failure rates nationwide - 25% in a five-year period, and 50% over 15 years, according to The Washington Post.
Staunch proponents of charter schools will claim this is the market in action, but we're talking about children's development here. Every time one of these schools fails, it represents thousands of disadvantaged students who received a bad education and then got displaced after the school failure - further disadvantaging them. "The market will fix it!" doesn't seem like a compelling argument when these failures will produce life-long problems.
But, what do you think? Can meaningful charter school reform save the system, or are charter schools a failed experiment? Let's talk about it in the comments!