7:51 am CST - March 25, 2010
Posted under The Scoop
Senate Interim Charge #1 = Charter Schools
Public school choice remains one of the last bipartisan issues of our time, and Charter Schools are getting a great deal of national and statewide attention lately. Barack Obama, Rick Perry, Al Sharpton, Newt Gingrich, Bill Gates & Bill White can all agree on one thing – they like effective charter schools. Charter Schools introduce choice in public education and generate healthy competition that elevates all public schools.
For the first time, the Senate Education Committee took a special look at charter schools in an interim hearing on Monday, March 22nd. We are eager to work with Chair Florence Shapiro and the full Committee; the more people learn about charter schools, the more they like them.
The discourse on Texas charter schools has evolved in a positive way – we have finally moved beyond discussion about the value and reliability of charter schools, and now continue the dialogue about the steady and essential improvement of charters.
Until the Texas Charter Schools Association formed a little over a year ago, the movement lacked a unified voice to counter all the critics and the negative press attention. Critics of charter schools would prefer the status quo in public education. Misinformation about charters is incessant, but quite simple to correct. Consider the three most common criticisms and the rebuttals against them:
Funding – A very popular claim is that charters drain funds from public schools in spite of the fact that charter schools are public schools authorized by the State Board of Education (SBOE). These schools must comply with the same accountability standards of every other public school. In terms of dollars, charters receive approximately $1200 less per student than their traditional school counterparts in Texas. Unlike neighborhood school districts, they have no ability to raise revenue through local property taxes and are limited in how they can fund and finance school construction.
Enrollment – Critics claim charters cherry-pick the best students in one breath and then charge them with segregating minority students in the next. These contradictory accusations are disproved by two facts. First, like every public school, charters cannot discriminate. Once the charter is approved by the SBOE, campuses take students on a first-come, first-serve basis until they reach capacity, or conduct lotteries to fill their seats in the event more students apply than can be enrolled. Second, students and parents choose to attend a charter school. No one is forced to leave a neighborhood school or forced to choose a charter school.
Academic Achievement – The most adverse charge relates to the academic achievement of charter schools. Critics claim charters perform no better or much worse than neighborhood schools. Protectors of the status quo point to low graduation rates, similar accountability ratings, and declare charters a failed invention. The results are not that simple. First, there is no one type of charter school – so lumping them together to make broad comparisons about academic achievement is a surefire way to diminish the true impact of charter schools.
The charter statute in Texas was created in part to address the dropout crisis. About 40% of our charter schools are dedicated to educating this population.
Our critics ask why dropouts are indeed dropping out … by that same logic, they’d ask a heart hospital why so many patients were dying of heart failure.
Educating dropouts is not a walk in the park, but you better believe we’re going to – and we’re going to keep at it. Dropout recovery schools are part of what make this movement significant.
By definition, students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping are struggling academically. 2009 TEA data confirms that charters schools enroll more economically disadvantaged and minority students than traditional schools. 70% of students enrolled in a Texas charter school are economically disadvantaged. 83% of students enrolled in a Texas charter school are minority students.
Many of these students need intensive help and come to charter schools several grade levels behind. Our schools are transforming lives everyday, and I’m proud to be part of it.
Last year, a national study conducted by Stanford University was very critical of charters in 15 states and the District of Columbia, but it showed Texas charter schools were doing a better job of educating English language learners (ELL) students, poor students, and those who stayed in the charter schools three or more years.
The results indicated these charter students were doing better academically than similar students in the schools they left behind.
The number of charter schools that receive the top ratings from TEA is steadily increasing. The percentage of schools that are rated exemplary or recognized in the standard accountability system has increased 26% over the last five years. 33% of Texas charter campuses received the top designations in 2009, compared to just 7% in 2005. Dropout recovery schools are not the only charter model making progress. Much attention has been paid to college preparatory charters that are doing an outstanding job graduating many first generation college goers. These schools have found the right approach to preparing low-income students for post secondary education.
In spite of these attacks, or perhaps because of them, parents who enroll their children in charter schools have very strong feelings about their positive impact.
A June 2009 report by the Texas Center for Education Research (TCER) listed the top reasons parents and students choose charter schools. 80% did so because they believed the school was better than the neighborhood school they left. 77% said the teachers were stronger and more able. 72% selected the school because of the classes it offered, and 60% said the school’s size was important.
The Texas Legislature created charter schools in 1995. Since then, the demand for charters has steadily grown in Texas and across the country, where the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools indicates the ranks of charters grow by hundreds every year. Even so, more than 365,000 names linger on charter school wait lists – 40,000 of them are Texas students according to the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
It’s past time to end the campaign to discredit the impact of charter schools and now time to focus instead on how we can transfer what works in charter schools throughout the entire public school sector. Texas should also allow charters to grow and serve more students.
Lawmakers and educators should be ready to shutdown any public school that doesn’t educate the population they set out to serve. But, let’s ensure we look at useful data, make honest and fair comparisons, and have a clear understanding of the students being served before we condemn a school. Using the standards set for college-going seniors to measure the academic success of students who have previously dropped-out, but are fighting their way back, is simply not fair.
Charter schools in Texas are part of the dropout solution as well as preparing low-income students for college, and we would be wise to learn how and why.
And now, so what? And, why do charter schools matter to you, me, or the Senate Education Committee?
They matter because they are part of the solution we so desperately need in public education reform. Think of it this way, charter schools are the result of free market capitalism principles applied to education.
Charter schools create what every Texas student deserves – a reliable and real choice to gain an education that suits them best.