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 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.
The 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.
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.
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.