Charter School Funding: Bugaboo Factor

Graph funding CS100s of charter school studies have assessed the viability of the movement particularly on student achievement as measured by standardized tests. One study shows charter schools students do better than comparison groups, another shows they are about the same, another shows charter school students do poorer than comparison groups.

Two major criticisms of these studies have been made aside from their conflicting findings. One regards a definition of charter schools. Are we talking about innovative charter schools vs. those following traditional approaches, charter schools in their first few years vs. well-established ones, charter schools with mostly beginning teachers, schools serving mostly at-risk students, etc.? One may as well say parochial schools achieve better than public schools; that would dismissed as making an incomplete and unwarranted comparison.

The second major criticism of charter school studies regards a level playing field on finances. Repeated studies by Ball State University show that in all states, charter schools receive fewer revenues and in many states substantially fewer revenues–on the order of 20 percent less revenue. This factor also makes student achievement comparisons suspect and unfortunately is rarely mentioned or factored in. The study, Charter School Funding: Inequity Persists updates an earlier study which also found a considerable difference in the resources available to charter schools as compared to district schools in the same locales.

People want to know about this major reform effort, charter schools and its degree of success. Once again, the complexity of valid research rears its annoying head. I, for one, want to see charter schools actually depart from conventional practices. That is the primary purpose of charter school statutes! My observation and experience with charter schools from the earliest years show that the majority of charter schools reconstitute the conventional school. A small percentage, perhaps 30 percent, (my estimate) pioneer different approaches to education. Those interesting schools have much to teach us about learning and the results for producing responsible citizenship, productive careers and lifelong learning. How about research along these lines rather than the repeated flawed and unhelpful existing studies?

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