Marking National Charter Schools Week for the sixth time, charter supporters seasoned their celebrations last week with assessments of setbacks they have suffered and obstacles they face.
Fourteen years after the nation’s first charter school opened in Minnesota, the independently run public schools now enroll an estimated 1 million students in 3,400 schools in 40 states plus the District of Columbia.
Many of those schools hosted events throughout the week of May 1-7 to highlight innovative approaches, unusually strong results with disadvantaged youngsters, or other successes.
They were helped by a record 25 officials from the U.S. Department of Education, who fanned out to pro-charter events in 13 states and the District of Columbia to underscore the Bush administration’s support.
Yet the mood was not entirely upbeat. In a report titled “State of the Charter Movement 2005,” the Charter School Leadership Council concludes that the sector has racked up “plenty of accomplishments—particularly in offering new options to minority and low-income students.”
At the same time, says the report by the Washington-based advocacy group, charter schools are “consumed with avoiding death by a thousand cuts: start-up challenges, facility problems, reregulation, caps, misinformation, meddlesome legislation, high-profile meltdowns, legions of data-hungry researchers and journalists, and more.”
Both the leadership council and another Washington-based group that supports charter schools, the Center for Education Reform, released results of polls suggesting that many members of the public do not know what such schools are. High percentages in both national surveys thought they were private schools, for example.
Data from the center also show that growth of charter schools is picking up in some states, such as Maryland, Minnesota, and New York, but has slowed sharply in others, including Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin.