Commentary

Report highlights list of failed charter schools, growing cost to taxpayers and students

charterschoolsAs North Carolina lawmakers continue to push for an ever-more-rapid expansion of charter schools — even at the expense of traditional public schools — a new report released this week by the Center for Media and Democracy raises additional questions about the merits of such a course.

According the report, which is based on U.S. Department of Education data: “nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools.”

Not surprisingly, school closures can have a large and negative impact on student achievement. This is also from the CMD report:

“In a 2014 study, Matthew F. Larsen with the Department of Economics at Tulane University looked at high school closures in Milwaukee, almost all of which were charter schools, and he concluded that closures decreased “high school graduation rates by nearly 10%.” He found that the effects persist “even if the students attends a better quality school after closure.”

Of course, it goes without saying that traditional public schools can and do fail large numbers of students too — sometimes even when they don’t physically close their doors. Still, the long list of charter school failures (which include 29 schools in North Carolina) brings home what a tenuous solution to what ails public education that charters can be.

Whereas charters were first introduced and sold to Americans as “incubators of innovation” that would develop new and creative ways of teaching that could then percolate back through traditional public schools, increasingly their proponents push them (along with private school vouchers) as full-fledged alternatives that can and should replace the traditional system.

Seen through this lens, the notion that such a high number of charters are failing raises real questions about the wisdom of further expansion.

In a assessing the CMD report, advocates at national anti-privatization nonprofit, In the Public Interest, put it this way:

“Instead of giving children the ‘disruption’ of a school closure, we should do everything we can to give every child access to a great school.

Earlier this month, teachers and school staff in Seattle did just that. After a five-day strike, they won a better education for students at traditional public schools across the city. Elementary school students now have guaranteed daily recess, which many parents had wanted and special education teachers will teach smaller, more individualized classes. And there will be caseload limits for other specialists at city schools, including psychologists and occupational therapists.

The Seattle win also helps families: equality committees will be created at some city schools to focus on issues like disciplinary measures that disproportionately affect minorities.

Two very different ideas of how to educate our children are at odds in this country. One says that the market is the most equitable way to distribute goods, even public goods like education, and that failing schools should open and close like businesses. The other says that failure isn’t an option.”

One Comment


  1. Bryan Setser

    October 3, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Only two ideas on how to educate our children? This kind of article is exactly what polarizes the argument and misinforms educators and communities. Perhaps you’d do well to actually profile the top 10 models in public ed and the top 10 models in charters. We can learn a lot from analogs in both spaces that are doing amazing things for kids. This is not an either/or discussion – it is a both/and discussion.

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