Are Charter Schools the Future?
Charter schools are a fascinating hybrid of public schools and private schools. They're taxpayer-supported public schools, but they're operated by individuals or private corporations under a charter or grant of permission from a state or school district, allowing them to experiment with innovative methodologies and sidestep various bureaucratic regulations. In return, the charter school is expected to improve students' academic performance and raise standardized test scores.
Since the first charter-school statute was enacted by the Minnesota legislature in 1991, and the second was enacted by California in 1992, charter-school laws have been adopted in the District of Columbia and in forty of the United States.
If you've got your heart set on working in a charter school, then be especially careful about where you decide to live, because ten states currently carry no statutes on their books authorizing the creation of charter schools. The ten nonchartering states are Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington (state), and West Virginia.
If you're in love with the idea of charter schools and you've decided that a charter school would be the perfect place for you to advance your teaching career, you should know that charter schools do sometimes fail, just like private schools. Currently, over 10 percent of all schools chartered nationwide since 1991 have ceased operations.
Also, regarding the enhancement of students' academic performance — the reason why charter schools were created — a 2003 report compiled by researchers Howard Nelson, Bella Rosenberg, and Nancy Van Meter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), titled “Charter School Achievement on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress,” concluded that charter-school kids perform about as well statistically on standardized tests as public-school kids. The AFT report was publicly excoriated in 2000 by Caroline Hoxby, an economics professor at Harvard University, who said that the report's reliance on the test scores of only 6,000 students invalidated the published conclusions.
However, a 2006 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) titled “A Closer Look at Charter Schools Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling,” concluded that the measurable academic performance of charter-school students in mathematics and reading was somewhat lower than the performance of public-school students. This report has also been criticized as flawed, most notably by the Washington, D.C. based Center for Education Reform, a conservative nonprofit corporation established in 1993 to promote charter schools and other educational reforms.
Research a charter school carefully before signing on, because some former proponents of charter schools point to an unintended consequence: decreased job security for teachers. A former charter-school booster, Pennsylvania Representative Mark Cohen, has been quoted as saying, “The evidence to date shows that the high turnover of staff undermines [charter] school performance more than it enhances it. …”
Charter schools have also been criticized for interfering with longstanding societal aims of fostering racial integration. University of Georgia sociology professor Linda Renzulli and sociologist Vincent Roscigno offered evidence in their 2007 article “Charter Schools and the Public Good,” published in the Winter issue of the journal Contexts,that charter schools are serving to solidify racial segregation. Thus, as with private schools in general, if your ambition is to teach a diverse, multicultural group of kids, research charter schools carefully.