Charter School Myths Debunked
Special Report - January 7, 2010
Contrary to some of the myths advanced by the educational establishment, charter schools do not deprive traditional public schools of needed funding, but do precipitate higher academic achievement in students, and do positively impact the educational environment of surrounding public schools. A new policy brief from the Pioneer Institute uses analysis of the Massachusetts charter school program to debunk 10 common myths about public charter schools. “Debunking the Myths About Charter Public Schools” by Cara Stillings primarily focuses on addressing arguments that charter schools negatively impact public school funding and that charter schools do not provide better academic outcomes for students. The report defines charter public schools as similar to their traditional counterparts with the major difference of enjoying “some freedoms and autonomies that district schools do not in exchange for being subject to additional accountability requirements.”
While the report looked specifically at data from Massachusetts, many of the complaints addressed in it are heard in North Carolina as well. Specifically, arguments surrounding revenue shifts from traditional public schools to charter schools and academic achievement differences have been at the forefront of the debate over whether to raise or eliminate North Carolina’s cap on charter schools. Stillings points out that traditional public schools who lose students to charter counterparts are not nearly as affected by shifts in funding as opponents of charters posit because those traditional public schools “are no longer educating the students for whom those funds were allocated.” The funds that follow the student to the charter school or that never leave state coffers do not fund overhead and administrative needs like “sports programs, teachers’ salaries, or municipal services.”
Secondly, the report summarizes data from Massachusetts as well as national studies which indicate that “charter schools outperform their school district counterparts,” including a 2009 study by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which found that middle school students in Boston charter schools experience increased academic achievement over their peers in traditional public schools that is “roughly half the size of the black white achievement gap.”
Finally, the brief concludes that “charter public schools actually spur many district schools on to implement positive changes for students.” In many states, including North Carolina, charter schools were founded to provide “laboratories for education innovation that could offer choice for families and competition for traditional district schools.” According to the brief, national studies have found that the innovation and competition offered by charter schools has shown “that proximity to charter schools actually causes many district schools to ‘make greater academic progress.’ Theoretically, district schools that lose students to charters implement beneficial reforms, such as smaller class sizes and individualized instruction, which ultimately help students to achieve at higher levels.”
North Carolina, like Massachusetts, has capped the number of charters available for public charter schools in the state. North Carolina’s cap has been at 100, since the legalization of charter schools in 1996. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have both urged states to expand charter schools and lighten or eliminate restrictions on them as part of states’ applications for additional federal funds to support innovation in education.
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