Charter Schools Are a Bright Spot in Public Education

May 2, 2016

Takeaways

Many high school graduates become "idle" after graduation, but attending charter schools could help.

A good job is the best path to a better life, and countless businesses across America are eager to hire young people who are ready for the workforce. Unfortunately, too many young Americans find themselves detached from economic opportunity.

According to a new study from the Economic Policy Institute, 15.5 percent of recent high school graduates are “idle” – neither in college nor at work. That’s 1.4 million lives on hold.

One reason may be that high schools aren’t doing a good enough job preparing students for the next step. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released the latest results from the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress. Bad news. Average reading and math scores have been stagnant for at least a decade. As the Washington Post noted, “Eighty-two percent of high school seniors graduated on time in 2014, but the 2015 test results suggest that just 37 percent of seniors are academically prepared for college course­work in math and reading.”

The sad reality is that, by and large, the education sector is failing in its responsibility to give young people the skills they need to do the jobs that are available today and will be available in the future.

Yet amid the bleak statistics, one bright spot in public education stands out: public charter schools.

This week is National Charter Schools Week. It’s a big celebration, as the movement marks 25 years since Minnesota passed the nation’s first charter school law. Today, 43 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws on the books. About 3 million students are being taught by 150,000 teachers at nearly 7,000 charter schools across America.

Charter schools are public schools, yet freed from some of the bureaucratic restraints other public schools face. They have independent boards and take pride in getting parents involved in school.

If you work in a charter school, you believe that every student can succeed, regardless of background, income, family circumstances, or any other external factor. In many communities, charter schools are helping students beat the odds.

Charter schools are also innovative. Charter networks like Rocketship Education are completely rethinking the way students and teachers interact with technology. Many other charter schools offer STEM-based curricula, as well as specialty programs such as language immersion, project-based learning, and environmental and agricultural studies. Some schools benchmark all of their students against international education standards to ensure that they can compete in the global workforce.

If you work in a charter school, you believe that every student can succeed, regardless of background, income, family circumstances, or any other external factor. In many communities, charter schools are helping students beat the odds. For instance, Chicago’s Urban Prep, whose student body comes entirely from minority and low-income families, just announced its seventh consecutive year of sending every senior to college.

In the Washington Post’s recent ranking of America’s most challenging high schools and U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of best high schools in America, charter schools accounted for one-third of the top 100 schools on each list. This is amazing considering that charter schools make up just seven percent of schools in the country.

Even better, we’re beginning to see evidence that the benefits of a charter school education persist beyond graduation. A peer-reviewed study from Mathematica Policy Research and scientists at Georgia State University and Vanderbilt found that Florida charter school graduates were more likely than their peers to attend college, graduate from college, and earn more after graduation.

One million student names are on wait lists to attend charter schools, and continued generosity from the business community will be essential to serving more students.

Though there are many theories around why charter schools produce these enduring benefits, one answer may be that students in charter schools learn skills like persistence and problem-solving that equips them to be not only great students but also great workers.

The business community has helped to fuel the growth of charter schools, especially in urban areas. Success Academy, a network of 34 schools serving low-income and minority students in New York, recently raised $35 million in philanthropic funds, mainly from donors in finance who want to invest in educational efforts that show real returns for students. The fundraising is critical because, even though charter schools are publicly funded, most states provide significantly less funding to charter schools than they do to other public schools.

One million student names are on wait lists to attend charter schools, and continued generosity from the business community will be essential to serving more students. Charter school leaders are also eager to collaborate with local businesses that can give students real-world perspective and show them the economic opportunities that await them.

National Charter Schools Week is a great time to learn more about the charter schools in your community and explore ways you can work together to put more graduates on the path to economic opportunity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nina Rees is president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.