A new report from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) notes continuing misunderstanding about charter schools – while spurring even more headlines throughout the state that are actually adding to that confusion rather than clearing up gross misperceptions. Indeed, the report has already caused one state legislator, Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary), to call for a moratorium on charter schools.
At the heart of CEEP’s report is the short-sighted suggestion that charter schools in Indiana are performing no better than traditional public schools.
To draw that conclusion, the report ignores the academic starting point of charter school students and notes only that charter school students are passing ISTEP at similar rates as traditional public schools in the same geographic area.
Yet, it has already been well-documented – and inexcusably ignored by CEEP – that most charter schools enroll the poorest performing students from the district in which they are located. It is the student who is struggling whose parents seek an alternative, not the student who is already doing well. Thus, if the ISTEP pass rates for charter schools match the districts in which they are located, then the more important story is that charter schools are showing greater success with students who did not do well in their former schools.
CEEP’s report also includes several charts on funding levels that are guaranteed to add more confusion rather than clearing up misperceptions. For example, one prominent chart compares general fund revenues and suggests that charter schools are better funded than traditional public schools. That conclusion, left for the readers to infer, can only be made by ignoring that: 1) charter schools’ funding is based on the district in which they are located and they are therefore no better funded than surrounding schools; 2) charter schools have been formed mostly in lower-performing urban districts that are funded well above average state funding; and 3) charter schools receive general fund dollars ONLY and do not get any funding for capital projects, debt service or transportation, as do traditional public schools.
As countless other studies have already noted, charter schools are each unique; thus, it doesn’t make much sense to compare charter schools as a whole to all other traditional public schools. Yet, there is already tremendous evidence that charter school students – especially those in urban areas – do show greater academic gains, on average, than do their counterparts in traditional public schools. It is this question of growth that should dominate these discussions; yet, the CEEP report effectively ignores that issue and does little more than provide a couple of new talking points to those who have little understanding for the issue and to those whose avowed opposition to charter schools outweighs all else, including what’s best for individual students.