Two Studies Conclusively Prove that Charter Schools Suck and They Are Awesome Too

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Two very important studies on charter schools came out this week.

The first notes that students with higher achievement tend to seek out charter schools, despite the fact that lower performing students would benefit most from attending.

The second notes that the Texas charter sector started off underperforming the traditional sector and now roughly achieves the same performance.

After spending a little time with these two studies (I need to spend more), my mind was admittedly spinning a bit, as there’s much for both charter lovers and haters.

Of course, these are just two studies amongst many, but they paint an interesting picture that’s worth grappling with.

I’ll try and give both sides there due.

I Told You Charter Schools Suck

1. The first study shows that charter schools are attracting students from higher-performing (read: more motivated) families. We told you so! It’s highly likely that all these studies that show urban charter schools work are missing unobservable effects, so I don’t really trust that your charters are really doing any better. The whole movement is a sham based on student selection.

2. The Texas study shows that it took charters seven years to get to the point where they basically perform at the same level as traditional school. Seven years! And this is study is good for charter schools? Imagine if we had invested all that time and resources in improving (real) public schools. In what world is taking seven years to achieve no results a sign of progress?

I Told You Charter Schools are Awesome 

1. Well, if higher achieving students and families are seeking us out, this is evidence that traditional urban public schools aren’t good: anyone who has the ability to leave your schools does so as soon as possible. And we’d love to serve more lower achieving students. Studies clearly show disadvantage kids benefit the most from our schools. We’re in support of unified enrollment systems that actually make it easy for all families to enroll, but the district refuses to build such a system because they know families will flock away from their schools. It’s the government that’s keeping kids out of our schools.

2. All smart charter advocates know that charter schooling is governance strategy not a school strategy. Our theory of change has always been: authorize good applicants; see what works; grow the best; close the worst. In case you haven’t noticed, it takes time to build functioning markets. Many Eastern European saw their economies tank the first few years after communism ended, but as whole they are much, much better now. Sure, it took us seven years to catch-up up with traditional schools in Texas. But now that the foundation is built, we’re going to radically outperform the traditional sector over the next seven years.

In Sum

Much for everyone here. Unsurprisingly, I’m a little more on the charter schools are awesome side. But I think these studies both show that there are serious complications / weaknesses in how charter sectors currently work.

Much work remains.

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