Vast Majority of Charter School Studies Show Positive Findings, Report States

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Five years of studies on charter schools prove they are meeting the needs of traditionally underserved children and forcing regular public schools to change for the better, the Center for Education Reform concludes in a report released last week.

For More Information

"What the Research Reveals About Charter Schools," Nov. 2, 2000, is available from The Center for Educational Reform.

A Washington-based organization that supports educational choice, the CER says that 50 of 53 studies conducted since 1995 show charter schools have been innovative, accountable for results, and successful in providing new opportunities for children and reforming the traditional education system.

The center said it included in its overview only "research-based studies that draw mainly objective conclusions based on evaluation of data." It said it left out reports it deemed more opinionated, including its own literature.

The roundup is intended as a source of one-stop shopping for policymakers and others looking for opinion-free information about charter schools, according to the center's president, Jeanne Allen.

"The microscope on charter schools is focused so sharply right now that reporters and policymakers are faced with a barrage of information on whether or not they are a reliable reform," Ms. Allen said. "It's easy to reach the conclusion that they are not, without data to the contrary."

Report Criticized

Charter schools have been the focus of scores of studies since the first one opened in St. Paul, Minn., eight years ago. Now, with more than 2,000 of the independently operated public schools across the country, the competition to have the last word on whether they work is fiercer than ever.

A leading advocate for the charter movement, the Center for Education Reform goes beyond simply providing a list of studies in its latest report; it interprets the findings of those studies and uses them to counter the claims of charter opponents.

Not surprisingly, the overview drew fire last week from researchers who have been more critical of charter schools. Even before the report was released, the Center for Education Research, Analysis, and Innovation at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee unleashed a panel of experts from its Education Policy Project to offer "other perspectives" on charter schools.

One such expert, the independent researcher Gerald W. Bracey, picked apart the CER's individual summaries of the 53 studies and questioned the group's claim that an "overwhelming majority" of them found charter schools are working.

"They are being highly selective with these studies in terms of what they choose to report from them, and [Ms. Allen is] clearly misrepresenting some of the findings," Mr. Bracey asserted. "I would tell policymakers to ignore the summary from CER and have their staffs read the reports themselves."

Luis Huerta, a research associate with the research group Policy Analysis for California Education, at the University of California, Berkeley, said the list of studies was a useful tool, but he cautioned that any broad conclusions—such as whether charter schools are improving student achievement—were premature.

"The big thing missing in the charter school research world is any substantial, reliable evidence that tells us whether charter students are doing better than regular public school students," Mr. Huerta said. "That's the bottom line."

One often-heard criticism of charter schools that the CER report rebuts is that charter schools are driving a "Balkanization" of public school students by class, ethnicity, and race. The center argues that the research suggests charters "serve essentially the same population as the surrounding area."

Bruce J. Biddle, a co-author of the 1995 book The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools, disagreed.

"Charters promote segregation because they allow parents with all sorts of prejudices to protect their kids from undesirables," Mr. Biddle said. "If parents don't like the kind of kids their child is associating with, they can open a charter school and resegregate American public education."

Ms. Allen said she expected criticism of her organization's report and invited it as a means of improving the list of studies. "But we want to vet the arguments," she said. "This is for people who do have an open mind and want to look at objective evidence."

Vol. 20, Issue 10, Pages 18-19

Published in Print: November 8, 2000, as Vast Majority of Charter School Studies Show Positive Findings, Report States
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