Charter School Growth Due to Lagging Results

November 30, 2012

It has been twenty years since the first charter school opened in Minnesota. Over the last two decades, many states across the nation have acknowledged the urgent need to disrupt the public education system in a way that improves student achievement through innovation. On November 6, 2012, voters in Washington and Georgia voted in favor of expanding charter schools in their states.

It is not surprising that charter schools have slowly, but surely found allies given persistently high achievement gaps and dropout rates of public schools across the country. In 2010, the documentary Waiting For “Superman” shined a light on the horrific education that some students were receiving and the hope that was provided to just a few that were fortunate enough to win the charter school lottery and the chance at a better education.

As cited in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) annual report, 2011 – 2012 school year enrollment in charter schools increased by 200,000 students. This increase brings the total number of students being served in charter schools to more than 2 million—approximately 5 percent of total enrollment in public schools.

This increase is not shocking when you look at student achievement in the cities that have the highest growth. Below are the 2011 results for reading proficiency in 4th grade in 5 of the 12 communities identified as highest growth.

 
White
Black
Hispanic
Low Income
% Growth in Charter Enrollment
71%
14%
23%
11%
29%
57%
17%
23%
21%
23%
51%
11%
11%
11%
33%
36%
9%
11%
11%
24%
51%
20%
19%
26%
24%

For parents of children trapped in a district with results like these, the opportunity to try something different is the answer to their prayers. While there are critics that argue charter schools aren’t the solution, proponents need only point to the data (like the numbers shown above) to make their case for innovation and a new approach.

The NAPCS report also found that Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio, and Texas have the largest number of charter schools. Furthermore, seven school districts were found to have at least 30 percent of public school students enrolled in public charter schools including New Orleans (76 percent), Detroit (41 percent), Washington, D.C. (41 percent), Kansas City, MO (37 percent), Flint, MI (33 percent), St. Louis (31 percent), and Gary, IN (31 percent).

This evidence of a willingness to innovate and buck the status quo is promising. In addition to embracing new approaches, what is critically important is the quality of ALL schools.  Just this week the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) announced its “One Million Lives” advocacy campaign. 

NACSA represents government and other entities that approve and oversee charter schools and with this campaign they are calling on charter authorizers to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great ones. If authorizers are able to close the failing charters in the U.S. and replace them with twice as many excellent ones, more than one million students will have access to a quality public education, according to NACSA.

This focus on ensuring underperforming charter schools are not renewed is refreshing and the right thing to do. A quality education is what every parent wants for their child and what everyone in the education system should want for their students – whether it comes in the form of a traditional public school, a charter school or a private school.