The Truth About Charter Schools

By Jim Hull

These days, it seems that many people believe charter schools are like penicillin -- the cure-all for our educational ills. But what does the research say? Would our students really be better off attending charter schools instead of their traditional neighborhood public schools?

While examples of highly effective charter schools like the KIPP Academies and Harlem Children’s Zone exist, they are not representative of charters as a whole. As the Center for Public Education’s Charter Schools: Finding Out the Facts stated, in most cases students are no better off attending charter schools than if they had remained in their neighborhood traditional public school.

A study by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that just 17 percent of the charter schools it examined (located across 16 states that enroll 70 percent of all students in charter schools) were more effective at raising student achievement than were the traditional public schools those students would have attended.

On the other hand, in 37 percent of charter schools, students would have made greater academic gains had they remained in their traditional public schools. So it turns out that the KIPP Academies and Harlem Children’s Zone are not representative of all charter schools nationwide.

But that isn’t the full story either. Research on charter schools is quite clear that the quality of charters varies significantly from state to state. Nothing typifies this more than two reports released earlier this year that examined Pennsylvania and Indiana charter school effectiveness.

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