Friday, June 15, 2007

Charter School Myths Debunked

In our ongoing fight to keep the current funding for all charter schools in the State of Ohio, and in some cases restore funding to previous levels, the teacher unions have become the cheerleader for those opposing anything but traditional public schools being funded by tax dollars. There has been no recognition by anyone in that camp that the public schools cannot meet every child's needs, or that they have not adequately met the needs of your non-typical student for a long time. Recently, the House and then the Senate passed the budget with no changes for eschools for the coming year. While I realize the fight isn't over as long as Strickland remains Governor of the State of Ohio, it is nice to know that organizations like the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Research are working to keep promoting the truth.

Here is an article that appeared recently in the Akron Beacon Journal. I encourage you to read it. Matthew Carr has done an excellent job debunking the myths promoted by the funding opponents.

Setting record straight on charter schools

By Matthew Carr

The writer is director of education policy at the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Research.

During the current debate over the future of Ohio's fledging charter schools, opponents often rely on myths and distortions to tar a promising educational initiative. It's time to set the record straight.

Charter school opponents typically forward a misleading three-point criticism. They say the schools fail to advance academic achievement. Charters ``drain'' or ``siphon'' scarce resources from traditional public schools. And the schools supposedly lack accountability. All three claims are false.

The first misconception is perhaps the most pervasive in the charter school debate. Charter opponents have repeatedly argued that charter schools are failing academically because their test scores and school ratings are lower than state averages for the traditional public schools. What is not mentioned is that charter schools, by law, can only be opened in failing school districts.

Comparing charter schools to the school districts in which they are allowed to open, one finds that they are in fact doing as well as, and in many cases better than, their peers. In the only rigorous value-added study of charter school proficiency rates in Ohio, charters were found to be making significantly larger gains than the large urban districts. A forthcoming analysis using updated proficiency rates finds that this trend is continuing.

The second criticism leveled at charter schools is that they adversely affect district finances. Specifically, opponents have stated that charter schools are depriving school systems of their local property tax revenues. This is false. Charter schools have absolutely no access to locally raised funds. It may be the case that the loss of students to charter schools means the district has to stretch local dollars further, but claims that such funds are leaving the district simply are not true.

This argument also raises an interesting contradiction. Opponents have stated that the loss of funds to charter schools reduces the ability of school districts to provide a quality education. But it is difficult to reconcile such claims whenever advances in student achievement occur in the large urban districts where charters operate.

Xenia City Schools Superintendent Jeff Lewis recently told his local newspaper that the Dayton schools ``realized $42 million in reductions for charters.'' However, in August, Dayton school officials held a press conference to celebrate their ``Continuous Improvement'' rating, up from ``Academic Emergency'' just a year earlier. This indicates that, if anything, charters are driving the Dayton district to improve. So the question is: Harm for whom? Clearly not students.

The third criticism of the charter program is that such schools are not accountable. Lewis argues that charter schools ``do not have to convince any local group of their need.'' It would seem that there is at least one local group whose support they need -- those parents who choose to send their children to the school.

Moreover, charter schools face the same academic accountability requirements as the traditional public schools. Their students take the same state exams and the results and subsequent ratings are reported in the same manner. Unlike the traditional public schools however, if a charter school receives the lowest rating for three consecutive years it will be closed. Also, unlike traditional public schools, charters that cannot attract enough students are forced to close.

Throughout their existence, charter schools in Ohio have faced a constant uphill battle. The statements of opponents have proven to be, once more, focused on protecting the status quo and closing down competitors rather than an honest attempt to improve what has shown to be a generally effective and efficient reform.

No comments: