Opinion
Federal Opinion

Changing the Debate on Charter Schools

By Meghan Carton — February 14, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As charter schools have dominated public discussion on education in the past several years, the debate at times has appeared to be between charter schools for the whole country or no charter schools at all. This black-and-white take on charter schools (and many other programs) does a disservice to the complex, multifaceted problems that face our education system. Trying to frame the research that has emerged about charter schools as completely positive or completely negative misses the nuanced approach that most research attempts to take. The problem with charter schools lies not in the research, but in the structure of the argument itself. The argument should instead be about where and when charter schools can make a positive difference.

There needs to be a national shift in the way we examine, address, and resolve issues on education. We need to understand that there is a difference between rural and urban, between poor and rich, between blue-ribbon and turnaround. And, most important, we need to emphasize that within these differences, states and schools must maximize opportunities to provide equitable educations for their students. Instead of wasting time debating whether charter schools should be launched across the entire country, we should instead be examining how to use them well and which communities would benefit from them most.

There needs to be a national shift in the way we examine, address, and resolve issues on education."

Not all areas are right for charter schools. Research has shown that charter schools can be successful, particularly in low-income or historically low-performing areas. A number of factors must be considered in identifying where, when, and how the role of charter schools should be expanded.

Where: When examining a geographic location, consider how well the traditional schools in that area are performing. A 2010 study by the federal Institute of Education Sciences found that charter schools serving higher-income, as compared with low-income, communities actually had a negative impact on student mathematics scores and led to no significant improvements in students’ reading scores. If local schools already have relatively well-performing students (“relatively” being defined as at or above the national average) and sufficient funding to support the existing schools, then it doesn’t make much sense to promote the creation of charter schools. Granted, some parents may be interested in charters, but that isn’t enough to tip the scales.

When: Think about how the state (or district) funds schools. Is there enough money to support both traditional public schools and charter schools? On average, when schools must compete for funding, the funding disparity is anywhere between 4.8 percent and 39.5 percent per pupil. If local or state regulations require charter schools to compete directly with traditional public schools, or make it difficult for charters to access public funding, then promoting charter schools may not be in the best interests of students. Charter schools have the advantage that they can lobby for nonpublic funds, but if they do not have local funds to fall back on, their creation is a gamble. But charter schools should not be a gamble. They should be a tool used when circumstances make them the best option.

How: Even if a zone or region can be identified to promote the use of charter schools, it still does not guarantee that the composition of the school will allow it to provide equitable education to students. Several key studies have demonstrated that in areas that hold lotteries for admission to charters, there is not a statistically significant change in student achievement. Charter schools, and those who administer charters, should carefully consider how students will be admitted and what the student body will reflect. Will a school have a student body that mirrors the region? Or does the school promote a racial or income (i.e., class) imbalance? States need to determine the necessary provisions when granting charters to ensure that all students are served in their communities and within the school itself.

Finally, charter school opponents and proponents alike often raise questions about sustainable funding for such schools. Take the case of Montgomery County, Md., where school zones have been designated green (high-achieving) and red (struggling), with higher amounts of funding being channeled to red zones. Montgomery County uses its budget to focus on income/race imbalance in traditional public schools and to ensure equitable education within the county. In districts like Montgomery County, where there is already a budget focus on equity, charter schools might not be the best tool.

In the end, if we can move beyond the polemics of the charter school debate, we can begin to design the policies that make the most sense when it comes to charters and individual districts.

A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2002 edition of Education Week

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Working Smarter, Not Harder with Data
There is a new paradigm shift in K-12 education. Technology and data have leapt forward, advancing in ways that allow educators to better support students while also maximizing their most precious resource – time. The
Content provided by PowerSchool
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Citing Educator and Parent Anxieties, Senators Press Biden Officials on Omicron Response
Lawmakers expressed concern about schools' lack of access to masks and coronavirus tests, as well as disruptions to in-person learning.
5 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, testify at a Senate hearing about the federal response to COVID-19.
Greg Nash/Pool via AP
Federal Miguel Cardona Should Help Schools Push Parents to Store Guns Safely, Lawmakers Say
More than 100 members of Congress say a recent shooting at a Michigan high school underscores the need for Education Department action.
3 min read
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the residence of parents of the Oxford High School shooter on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the Crumbley residence while seeking James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Biden Administration Lays Out Its Top Priorities for Education Grants
The pandemic's impact and a diverse, well-prepared educator workforce are among areas the administration wants to fund at its discretion.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington on Aug. 5, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a White House briefing.
Susan Walsh/AP