There is always one kind of school system or another that keeps turning up to try to do better than public schools. Today, charter schools are the latest rival. Charters are only granted to schools for a couple of years at a time. If they fail to do any better, the charter is withdrawn. The very fact that there are thousands of charter schools in operation around the country today shows that they do manage to do better. They wouldn't exist otherwise. Parents of children who go to charter schools in particular often rave about the teaching that goes on there. So in the charter schools vs public schools debate, do the charter schools win hands down? That's what we're here to find out about.
Charter schools share one thing with public schools their source of funding. These are publicly funded places that are given the freedom to do what they please for a few years. As long as they bring in improved results, they're allowed to use whatever method of teaching they will. They are like private schools, except that they are funded with public money. This is a huge improvement over public schools if there is a specific method of teaching that you favor.
But as critics point out, for all the freedom that they are given, they don't perform as well as you would expect. In a straight-out charter schools vs public schools face-off, there are always some charter schools that do better than the public schools in the district, some that are just the same, and some that do considerably worse. Critics feel that whatever rate of improvement they are able to bring in is hardly worth the extra trouble. Supporters of charter schools complain that the method that the critics use to assess performance is hardly fair.
Stanford's Center for Research and Education Outcomes, an organization whose purpose is to study charter school performance, finds some encouraging trends. Analyzing standardized test scores that charter school students bring in in 15 states and comparing them with public school results in those areas, they've found that in math, charter school scores are better by a third. But this comes with a big caveat. When you compare improvement rates over absolute scores, the public schools do much better. When it comes to comparing reading scores, charter schools are nowhere near what public schools achieve. Basically, in the charter schools vs public schools debate, it's hardly clear who does better. There are areas in which the charter schools do better and areas in which the public schools to better. Does the country need to sanction the presence of the whole alternative schooling system for results like these?
But there's another way to look at this, charter school supporters claim. Charter schools do very well for students who come from economically disadvantaged areas for people who are basically first-generation immigrants. If charter schools don't do as well as public schools in reading and language skills, supporters argue, it's because they cater mostly to non-English speaking children who are learning the language for the first time. When you look at non-English speaking children in public schools and compare their performance levels to what is seen in charter schools, it's easy to see, they say, that the charter schools are vastly superior.
There is a lot to be said for what charter schools are able to do for the poorest and most disadvantaged students. Unfortunately, it's in this part of the community that the most parental neglect is seen. And these are the parents are most likely to never take the trouble to look up a good charter school.