Aug 30, 2004
For years there's been a great hullabaloo about charter schools in this country. They have been pushed as the answer to failing public school systems. At least 3,000 of them have been set up around the country in the last decade. Allowed to operate outside the authority of the public school systems, without the regulation and testing required of public schools – they nonetheless get their money from the public school system.
Up until now, there were few studies done on these schools. But recently the federal Education Department carried out a national study, comparing student results in charter schools to results in regular public schools. It showed exactly what should have been expected – charter schools did a worse job of preparing students!
The study depended on math and reading tests given to fourth grade students around the country. The charter school students performed about half a year behind other public school students. Only 25% of the charter school students were proficient in math and reading compared with over 30% for other fourth graders. When students from exactly the same impoverished areas and backgrounds were compared, the charter schools still did even worse.
It's no wonder – since charter schools are often set up for different purposes than education. Many were set up to make profits for private corporations, others to give churches a place to push their beliefs, others as money-making ventures for universities or just as a gift to the friend of some politician.
It's true the public schools in working class areas throughout the country do not provide an adequate education for most children. The test results show that, when only 30% of public school children are preforming at grade level, something is wrong. But reducing that number to 25% at charter schools only makes things worse.
In fact, the inroads made by charter schools pose an even bigger threat to education in this country because they are draining money away from the public schools. What's wrong with public schools today? Money – or lack of it. The public schools don't have enough money to hire fully qualified teachers, or to keep class sizes small. They don't have enough to provide up-to-date text books, labs and equipment needed for science or language study, time and facilities for extra curricular programs, etc.
Public schools in wealthy areas, of course, have enough money to provide a good education. But public schools in working class areas are sorely lacking.
The experiment in charter schools has made it worse for students who went into them than if they had stayed in the public schools. And by draining money and giving it to any charlatan who considers the public school treasury a cash cow, they have depleted public school resources.