Mixed results cloud the debate
But New York Charters set the pace
The New Schools Network recently set up here to promote free schools which draws inspiration from Charter schools in the USA and Sweden’s free schools highlights the particular success of the KIPP chain of charter schools in the US. .However the problem with the Charter movement is that not all Charter schools are as good as so called ‘Kippsters’, and they do not always demonstrate that they perform better than non-Charter schools.
Proponents initially argued that charter schools could provide a better education because they were allowed to operate independently. But the fact is that the research has turned up mixed results. Recently, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). published ‘Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States. Stanford, CA 2009) which surprised many as it claimed to show that a large number of Charter schools are failing to deliver on their promises. It compared the performance of charter schools and traditional schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia and found that only about 17 percent of Charters offered students a better education than traditional schools — and that 37 percent were worse. (NB the economist, Caroline Hoxby, formerly of Harvard, now of Stanford University, challenges the Stanford study, claiming it contains a statistical mistake that causes a biased estimate of how charter schools affect achievement. It also, she says, violates four rules for the empirically sound use of matching methods to evaluate charter schools’ effects)
However, when Stanford University then reported on New York’s Charter schools the results were very different. Pupils at more than half of its Charter schools are showing more academic improvement in maths than their traditional-school counterparts. The reading numbers, though not as strong, still reveal that nearly 30 percent of charters outperformed traditional schools.
The New York Times sought explanations. It found that New York has a rigorous mechanism for licensing charters as well as strong oversight of performance. The city also gives charter operators free space, and provides them with administrative support so that they can more easily get up and running and comply with state and federal education law. In short, New York has managed to create an environment that has attracted strong operators that had been treated almost like pariahs in other states.
The verdict is that Charters can make a significant contribution but not any old Charter school. Clearly some operators are better than others and these schools have to be monitored closely and be held accountable to high standards.
One damaging claim that the Stanford Studies categorically nail is that they cream skim the best pupils .Charters are in fact non-selective and if anything probably teach the most challenging pupils, often, and this is little known, with less resources than non-charter schools. They certainly don’t enjoy the extra funding that our own Academies enjoy to address very similar challenges.