Mainly good news on Charters but some bad too

Too much variation in performance

More collaboration required


Arne Duncan, the former head of Chicago schools, now US Education Secretary,  said in a speech last  week that “that high-performing charters have irrefutably demonstrated that low-income children can and do achieve at high levels.” “ In rigorous, randomized studies, high-performing charters have shown that great schools close both opportunity and achievement gaps.” But he added  charters are no longer a boutique movement of outsiders to the educational establishment.

“America now has more than 6,000 charter schools, serving about 2.3 million students. Almost four percent of students nationwide attend charters—and in some cities, like here in Washington, DC—more than 40 percent of students are enrolled in charters.”  Duncan referred to the most recent Credo study from Stanford University released at the end of last month which had many positives on the effects of Charter schools on outcomes.  He said “CREDO’s new study, released just last week, shows a significant improvement in charter quality from 2009 to 2013. And charters have especially boosted learning for black students in poverty and Hispanic English language learners. Compared to similar peers in traditional public schools, low-income black students at charter schools gain an additional 29 days of learning in reading and 36 days in math per year.That is a meaningful impact. And Hispanic ELL students make even bigger gains—50 days of learning, or 10 weeks, in reading, and 43 days of learning in math.  The CREDO study also shows that charters in several cities and a number of states are far out-performing comparable traditional public schools.”


“Yet”, Duncan continued “like so many studies of charter schools, the CREDO analysis tells a good news-bad news story. It shows enormous variation in performance.  We know that state policy and authorizing policies matter—and they matter a great deal to charter quality for children. States that were not careful about authorizing charters and let weak operators remain open year after year have a lot of low-quality charters. There are too many charters where students actually learn less than their counterparts in traditional public schools.”  Duncan was also disappointed in charters performance  in innovation. He said they  are supposed to be “laboratories of innovation—they were to be the R&D wing of public education.” But “while charters have pioneered a number of critical innovations, too many charters still look like traditional public schools—instead of developing and adapting cutting-edge, science- and research-based innovations to accelerate learning.  The bottom line is that the charter school brand has to stand for quality, accountability, cost-efficiency, and transparency. As far as the public is concerned, charter schools all have the same last name.So to fully deliver on the dream, charters schools must do more to take innovation to scale and continue to tackle the very toughest educational challenges.”


In short “the hopes of early charter advocates that successful charter schools would quickly create a tipping point in public education have clearly not materialized. As the Harvard economist Roland Fryer has pointed out, even with today’s rapid rate of charter growth, “it will take more than a hundred years for high-performing charter schools to educate every student in the country.”  What is needed is a change of mind set. Duncan says that “To make success the norm, I believe the charter sector will undergo a slow but profound shift of mindset. Charters will still be incubators of innovation. But they will no longer just be outsiders knocking at the door of the traditional school system.  To deliver on the dream, charters will become less like combatants in the battles over education and more like co-conspirators for change with traditional public schools. A new report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education discusses the real challenges to collaboration but also the progress that some cities are making in working together.”


“This shift toward collaboration is already under way in the charter sector. I see it in the partnerships that YES College Prep has formed with the Houston and Aldine school districts, and in KIPP’s partnerships in Houston. I see it in the new book from three Uncommon Schools leaders, Great Habits, Great Readers, which helps codify their schools’ K-4 reading taxonomy in the hope that it can help all elementary schools address the Common Core.And I see it in the groundbreaking collaboration of Roland Fryer with the Houston and Denver school districts.”


It is true that the charter schools brand has suffered from  inconsistencies in the quality of provision. There are some very good innovative chains  but there are others which have failed to open clear  blue water between themselves and other local schools. Its also  true that they tend to operate in the most challenging environment often with less per capita funding than other schools. But they still  need to keep raising their game if they seek to sustain the momentum. And States should ensure that their initial vetting procedures and regulatory regime are robust . Evidence shows  that autonomous schools only work effectively if they operate within a robust accountability framework


The Charter Mindset Shift: From Conflict to Co-Conspirators Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 2013 “Delivering On the Dream” conference JULY 2, 2013

Note:  The 2009 Credo study (Stanford University) issued the first comprehensive research into the performance of charter schools. The study, which considered 16 states, showed that just 17 per cent of charter schools outperformed mainstream schools, whereas 37 per cent performed “significantly worse”. The next (2013 )Credo study finds that charters in the original 16 states have made modest progress in raising student performance in both reading and mathematics, caused in part by the closure of 8 per cent of the charters in those states in the intervening years since the 2009 report as well as declining performance in the comparison traditional public schools over the same period. States have also tightened up their vetting procedures and  due diligence  for potential Charter providers . 



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