The Charter School Debate Continues

The charter school debate saw another flurry of activity this past week. KARE (Kentuckians Advocating for Reform in Education) released its second ad on the small screen, while KARE frontmen Hal Heiner and Dr. Wayne Lewis put their pens to work for an editorial in the Courier Journal.

The CJ editorial was an overview of how charter schools work, thumping hard on the “public” nature of charter schools. Check it out here.

The editorial does not however, address a key concern for many in the charter school question—additional funding for charters from private entities. Many charter school opponents fear that this aspect of charter school funding would put our children’s education at risk of being manhandled by corporate interests.

And although the aim of the editorial was to paint a broad-stroked portrait of an ideal charter school system, it probably could have benefited from a few facts. Most of the opposition out there can root itself in the fact that when it comes to the hard, cold stats, charter schools overall really haven’t been shown to create advantages for their students.

There are exceptions however, if you look at individual states. The CREDO study, shows that Indiana’s charter schools are making some real progress for its students within the state. According to the 2011 study, almost all charter schools in Indiana show learning gains greater or equal to traditional public schools in reading and math.

But then you have states like Georgia, where charter schools had a negative effect on student achievement. And overall the study shows that nationwide only 17 percent of charter schools showed gains greater than their traditional public school (TPS) counterparts. 37 percent showed gains that were worse than TPSs and 46 percent showed no difference from TPSs in learning gains.

The 11 states in white do not allow for charter schools.

The data is complex. And there are certain trends within charter school policy that are decidedly more effective than others. For example, according to the CREDO report, charter schools in states that limit charter school growth perform worse than charters in states that don’t limit their growth. Also, charter schools in states with multiple charter authorizers perform worse than those in states with only one charter-granting entity.

But talking just about charter school performance, good or bad, does not address the effect of decreased funding on traditional public schools. There is the worry that siphoning off funds from TPSs has the potential to create a culture of haves and have-nots within the education system—the haves being the kids in charters and the have-nots being the kids in de-funded TPSs.

There are obviously a lot of moving parts. This is the KARE ad: “Dreams” ad from KARE