Charter Schools

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Late Report: A long-anticipated U.S. Department of Education study of student achievement in charter schools—originally slated for release last spring—was back under the knife this month for a reanalysis and rewrite.

Conducted by RPP International of Emeryville, Calif., the study is one of the final pieces of the department's four-year National Study of Charter Schools.

Previous reports addressed a range of topics concerning the publicly funded but largely independent schools, but nothing about the contentious issue of student achievement, which to date has been analyzed by only a handful of states and advocacy groups. When the department's fourth and final report was released in February, Gregory D. Henschel, a senior program analyst for the department's office of educational research and improvement, said a supplementary article on the achievement study was expected in the spring. Earlier this month, he said the results might be released sometime this fall.

"This isn't a failure; it's what is done," Mr. Henschel said of the lengthy process. "You take a try, do a draft, and rewrite if necessary."

The analysis relies on the Northwest Educational Association Test as a measure of student achievement and includes test results dating as far back as spring 1997. Researchers matched each of the 3,700 students in grades 3-9 from 45 charter schools that agreed to participate in the study with a similar student in a regular public school.

Mr. Henschel stressed that the study looks at schools in only seven states. "We're not attempting to definitively answer the question of whether charters are doing better than public schools across the board," he said.

Innovative Law: A national award, meanwhile, has provided a reminder of the origins of the country's first charter school law.

The 1991 Minnesota law, honored this month with one of 10 awards in the annual Innovations in American Government competition, began as a very rough draft at an education conference in the late 1980s, state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge recalls.

"We literally sat right down at the conference and sketched the idea out on a napkin, and I brought the napkin back to the Senate," Ms. Junge, a Democrat, said. "It took three years to pass it."

The Minnesota law allows for a number of different chartering agencies beyond local schools boards. It also authorizes start-up money and grants automatic waivers from most state and district rules and regulations.

—Darcia Harris Bowman [email protected]

Vol. 20, Issue 8, Page 5

Published in Print: October 25, 2000, as Charter Schools
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