by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
In a recent article titled "10 Things Charter Schools Won’t Tell You," Sarah Morgan of SmartMoney, a publication not known for its insights into education policy, wildly mischaracterized the public charter school movement. I respond to each of the author’s "10 things" in the CommenTerry section below.
The following is a response to Sarah Morgan’s recent article, "10 Things Charter Schools Won’t Tell You."
1. We’re no better than public schools.
It depends on how you define "better." For example, charter schools typically have fewer acts of crime and violence than district schools. If student performance is the issue, North Carolina’s charter schools had a higher percentage of students earn a score that was at or above proficient on 2008-09 state tests. Some families may define school quality using criteria like class size, school size, and curriculum. Many charters are "better" in one or more of these areas than the local district school.
2. Our teachers aren’t certified.
State law requires charter schools to employ certified teachers. According to G.S. 115C‑238.29 F (e) (1) of the North Carolina General Statutes, "at least seventy‑five percent (75%) of these teachers in grades kindergarten through five, at least fifty percent (50%) of these teachers in grades six through eight, and at least fifty percent (50%) of these teachers in grades nine through 12 shall hold teacher certificates." Of course, state certification does not guarantee teaching excellence and may even thwart it.
3. Plus, they keep quitting.
The state does not collect teacher turnover data for charter schools. Thus, it is impossible to speculate about the magnitude and nature of turnover in North Carolina’s charter schools. Approximately 85 percent of respondents to the NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey said that they plan to continue teaching at their current school, which is a slightly higher percentage than that of their district school counterparts. The survey suggests that most charter teachers are very satisfied with the working conditions at their school.
4. Students with disabilities need not apply.
Charter schools are not permitted to deny a seat to any student based on educational needs. As of the 2008-09 school year, North Carolina charter schools served 3,828 special needs students or 9.4 percent of total enrollment in exceptional children programs. Approximately 7.8 percent of district school students participated in exceptional children programs last year. Of course, some charter schools are not equipped to serve children with severe disabilities.
5. Separation of church and state? We found a loophole.
G.S. 115C‑238.29F (b) of the North Carolina General Statutes states, "A charter school shall be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations and shall not charge tuition or fees. A charter school shall not be affiliated with a nonpublic sectarian school or a religious institution." There is no loophole here.
6. We don’t need to tell you where your tax dollars are going.
Under G.S. 115C‑238.29F (f), all charter schools in North Carolina are "subject to the financial audits, the audit procedures, and the audit requirements adopted by the State Board of Education for charter schools" and "shall comply with the reporting requirements established by the State Board of Education in the Uniform Education Reporting System." Financial accountability is embedded in the charter school law. In fact, the state has closed a number of charter schools because of financial irregularities.
7. We’ll do anything to recruit more kids …
In North Carolina, charter schools do not have to recruit kids — many have to turn them away. Thousands of children remain on charter school wait lists because state law caps the enrollment growth of individual charter schools.
8. … but we’ll push them out if they don’t perform.
The author equates voluntary attrition, also called exercising parental choice, with "pushing" kids out of the charter school. That is quite a stretch.
9. Success can be bought.
North Carolina’s charter schools are not rolling in the dough. Operating and capital expenditures combined, charter schools spent an average of $1,100 per pupil less than district schools last year.
10. Even great teachers can only do so much.
According to the author, "Much of the public debate over charter schools focuses on teacher performance and the ability to fire ineffective teachers." Not only does this contradict #3 above, which suggests that many teachers leave charters voluntarily, it is incorrect to say that "much of the debate" is about teacher performance and personnel policies. The debate is much more complex than that. Otherwise, I agree that great teachers can only do so much. Parents and communities have to do their part.
Facts and Stats
100% — The percentage of African American parents who accepted the lack of diversity in their charter schools.
81% — The percentage of African American parents who said that the lack of diversity in their charter schools was insignificant as long as their children were successful academically.
Source: Foy Matthews Crary, Why Are African American Parents Choosing Charter Schools? New Evidence From North Carolina (Ph.D. dissertation, Penn State, 2007)
I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].
Education Acronym of the Week
OCS — Office of Charter Schools
Quote of the Week
"African American parents know what’s important, and we don’t have to wait for someone in the public school to (parent gestured quotation marks in the air) ‘get it’ or to tell you what a good education is all about." — African American mother, quoted in Lisa A. Napp, When African-American Families Choose an African-Centered Charter School in Place of a Traditional Public School for Their Children, What Motivating Factors Inform That Decision? (Ed.D. dissertation, UNC-Chapel Hill, 2008)