Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Charter School Case

Charter schools are something that the current administration would like to see everywhere, and the No Child Left Behind program encourages their establishment. It comes as a bit of a cold shower, then, to find out that the most recent study shows charter schools doing poorly:

The data shows fourth graders attending charter schools performing about half a year behind students in other public schools in both reading and math. Put another way, only 25 percent of the fourth graders attending charters were proficient in reading and math, against 30 percent who were proficient in reading, and 32 percent in math, at traditional public schools.
Because charter schools are concentrated in cities, often in poor neighborhoods, the researchers also compared urban charters to traditional schools in cities. They looked at low-income children in both settings, and broke down the results by race and ethnicity as well. In virtually all instances, the charter students did worse than their counterparts in regular public schools.

Supporters of charter schools say that there is no cause for concern yet; these data are 'just the baseline' and besides, charter schools may have enrolled the most troubled children from the public school system. It would then be expected that the schools would do poorly at first.

Yes. But there is no evidence on the types of students that charters have attracted. Maybe they attracted the most talented students in the public school system? If this is the case the findings are worrisome indeed.

What's more worrisome is the fact that:

The findings, buried in mountains of data the Education Department released without public announcement, dealt a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration.
(bolds mine)

This smacks of an attempt to hide the findings from public scrutiny. Why on earth would the government want to do that? Except, of course, to continue pushing for more charter schools.