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Charter Schools

Summary

Educators were among the first to advocate for the creation of charter schools – but sadly , in many charters, we’ve moved away from their original intent. The original intent was for charters to be incubators for innovation to inform ways we can improve teaching and learning in traditional public schools. Unfortunately, the debate around charter schools has been hijacked by folks who seek to make a profit off of public schools dollars or who want to undermine the public school system generally.

Questions about the Oregon Education Association’s position on charter schools aren’t always easy to answer. The public often assumes that OEA opposes all charter schools in all forms. While not wholly accurate, we do not support the expansion of charter schools at the expense of traditional, neighborhood public schools. Charter schools are incredibly difficult to regulate and hold accountable, and often under-perform compared to traditional public schools.

Issues to Consider

Every new charter school created, particularly in declining-enrollment districts, dilutes the resources available for public education in Oregon. The same number of dollars must be spread across a greater number of institutions. This diminishes the resources available to all public school students for a high-quality public education.

Charter schools have potential, but need oversight and assistance. Public school opponents sometimes frame these issues in terms of "us versus them" or "charter schools versus traditional public schools". That only hurts students. We should focus on working in the best interests of all children.

Charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children. Whether charter schools fulfill this potential depends on how charter schools are designed and implemented, including the oversight and assistance provided by charter sponsors.

Charter school teachers are far less experienced, with 43 percent having taught for three years or less, compared to the 18 percent of public school teachers with that level of experience. Additionally, Oregon does not hold charter schools to the same teacher quality standards as traditional schools - only 50% of charter school teachers are required to be licensed.

Charter schools deliver mixed results for students. Although charter schools sometimes help students achieve on par with traditional public schools, many have less-than-stellar records. Research shows that, nationwide, most perform at or below their traditional public counterparts when similar demographic groups are compared. In Oregon, most are about equal, but some have troubling records.

The Department of Education took a closer look at the data in a report released in August 2006 and found that after adjusting for multiple student characteristics, the average charter school score in reading was more than 4 points lower than that of the average traditional public school. In math, after adjusting for student characteristics, the average traditional public school outscored the average charter school by 4.7 points.

he charter schools that have done better, including KIPP, have depended on longer school days; longer school years; federal grants of more than $7 million to help fund extended programs; additional grants from private foundations; and committed students, teachers, and parents. Still, attrition records suggest that KIPP is not working for all students who enroll. This is not a replicable model that districts can take to scale.

An analysis by the National Assessment Governing Board on 2003 NAEP data showed:

  • Traditional public school students outperform charter school students on almost every measure.
  • There are no measurable differences between charter school students and students in traditional public schools in the same racial/ethnic subgroup.
  • The scores of students taught by uncertified teachers in charter schools were significantly lower than those of charter school students with certified teachers, and charter school students with inexperienced teachers did significantly worse than students in traditional public schools with less experienced teachers. These points are significant because charter school students are more likely to be taught by inexperienced and uncertified teachers than students in traditional public schools.

Improving conditions for charter school teachers could improve charter school performance.

 

Many charter schools suffer from high staff attrition. The leaders of the charter school movement claim this is by design—they have more control over their hiring and firing than traditional public schools so they can achieve just the right mix of professionals who share the school’s mission and culture. Others in the movement explain that this turnover is part of their business plan—they can’t afford experienced teachers.

Whatever the reason, this is a disservice to our children. We know that experience improves teacher quality, and that novice teachers need mentoring by experienced teachers.

Additional Resources

A Look at 10 Years of Charter Schools in Oregon by OEA - an in-depth report from December 2009 examines the history of charter schools in Oregon since becoming available by law in 1999 and includes:
-OEA's Charter School Frequently-Asked-Questions
-Oregon Charter Schools Opened (and Closed) from 1999 to 2009
-Charter Schools Applications Receiving Incentive Grants in 2008 and 2009 Not Yet Opened
-Study of Charter Schools in 16 States Oregon Charter School Law & Provisions
- Various articles and studies analyzing the effectiveness of charter schools

The Nation's Report Card: America's Charter Schools by National Assessment of Educational Progress

Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program: Final Report - Department of Education study (2004) of the federally funded program found that charter schools in five states were less likely than public schools to meet state performance standards.