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Published in Print: October 18, 2000, as NSBA Report Casts Critical Eye On Charter Movement

NSBA Report Casts Critical Eye On Charter Movement

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Charter schools have failed to live up to the original promises made by their proponents and may lose the widespread support they enjoy today unless state legislatures improve the laws that govern them, a report released last week by the National School Boards Association warns.

"There is very little evidence—across the board—to suggest that charters have been successful in raising student achievement, providing greater classroom innovation, strengthening accountability, or influencing traditional public schools," said Darrel W. Drury, the NSBA's director of policy research and a contributing author to the report, titled "Charting a New Course: Fact and Fiction About Charter Schools."

For More Information

"Charting a New Course: Fact and Fiction About Charter Schools" is available for $20 by calling the NSBA at (800) 706-6722.

When the nation's first charter school opened in St. Paul, Minn., in 1992, proponents argued that such schools would inject a healthy dose of competition into an ailing public education system, spur innovations in teaching and curriculum, and improve student achievement.

Now, about 2,000 of the publicly financed, but largely independent, schools are operating in 33 states and the District of Columbia. As a group, they enjoy considerable political and public backing, but whether they are a superior alternative to regular public schools remains a major point of contention.

'Full of Holes'

There is little evidence that charters have had any dramatic effect on student achievement, according to the NSBA evaluation, which was co-written for the Washington-based organization by two University of Arizona researchers.

The researchers did not collect original data from charter schools to write the report; instead, they synthesized existing research and examined relevant state policies.

"Charter schools are supported in large measure because they are expected to increase student achievement," the report says. "Early advocates made sweeping, unwarranted claims about the power of charter schools in this regard. ... Currently, however, there is no evidence that would indicate that charter schools have made good on that promise."

The 45-page report concludes that "little, if any, real innovation has occurred in charter schools in terms of instructional practices." That, in turn, means charter schools have little to offer by way of improving public schools in general, the report says.

The NSBA report also raises the possibility that charter schools may be causing increased segregation of public school students by socioeconomic class, race, and ethnicity.

Those conclusions were rebutted last week by charter school proponents.

"The NSBA report is full of holes," charged Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based organization that supports charter schools and other alternatives to regular public schools. "It's no secret that the NSBA is among the staunchest opponents of charters, and the dozen lawsuits or more that have been filed against charter schools have been initiated by state school boards' associations, taking a cue from the national folks," she said.

Mr. Drury, however, characterized the NSBA's support of charter schools as conditional. The group maintains that only local school boards should be able to grant and terminate charters. In many states, however, state boards and agencies, school districts, colleges and universities, and even nonprofit groups have been vested with charter-granting powers.

If the charter movement is to succeed in the long run, the laws governing those schools must be changed, Mr. Drury said.

State lawmakers need to reassess the role of private school-management companies in public education, ensure that school records are available to the public, adequately subsidize charter schools and regular public schools according to their differences, clearly define charter-review processes and expectations for charter schools, and provide incentives for cooperation between charter schools and regular public schools, the report recommends.

Vol. 20, Issue 7, Page 9

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