Are Charter Schools Worth It?

James Dail CM ’20 – Ever since she was rumored to be a possible pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has been mired in controversy. The most common criticism that has been raised against her is that she favors charter schools and vouchers for private schools over the traditional public schools that she would be presiding over. But is she wrong to favor these options? It’s no secret that the United States performs poorly in global education surveys. According to the results of the 2015 PISA tests, an international survey of 71 developed or partially developed countries, the United States placed 24th in science, 25th in reading, and 40th in math.1 Drastic action needs to be taken if the United States is to be competitive globally.

There are several charter school systems that have attained proven results in student achievement. Among New York Public Schools, 29% of students passed the state reading test, and 35% passed the state math test. Among the Success Academy charter schools, the pass rates were 64% and 94% respectively.2 The catch is that Success Academy caters exclusively to low-income students. Across the country in Arizona, three of the schools in the BASIS charter system rank in the country’s top ten high schools according to US News and World Report.3 One might object that these schools represent only the pinnacle of charter school achievement. They are exceptions to the rule and not the norm. However, there is evidence that even on average, charter schools outperform traditional public schools. New Orleans provides an interesting case study. After Hurricane Katrina, the city’s public school system was devastated – and it never recovered. Charters have filled the void in place of traditional public schools, and they have produced positive results. Since the massive expansion of charters occurred, the number of students passing the Louisiana standardized tests have doubled.4

Despite many demonstrated successes, there are some charter schools that fail horribly, and fall short of providing even an adequate education to students. Many that fail students and get worse results than public schools on standardized tests are allowed to remain open.5 That these failings are allowed to occur is a result of lax state oversight and federal regulation. These failings extend to other avenues besides test scores. For example, a state audit out of Ohio found that charter schools misspent state tax dollars four times more often than the next highest ranking agency.6 Furthermore, even when successful for students, charters can fail teachers. A study from Vanderbilt University found that the teacher turnover found that teacher turnover is 76% higher in charter schools than in traditional public schools.7 Additionally, salaries at charter schools are over $2,000 lower than at traditional public schools.8 Even if these reforms were implemented, it would be ludicrous if the US were to rely solely on charters for education. While some thrive in this atmosphere, there are others who are suffocated by it. Children with special needs require the vast support network a traditional public can provide. They cannot survive in a high-pressure charter setting. There are also children in rural areas who have no access to any other choice other than a traditional public school, which can sometimes be miles from their house.

In most instances, charter schools provide better results than traditional public schools, but they cannot be the only remedy to an ailing US education system. While charter school successes need to be examined and expanded in the future, more regulation is needed in order to eliminate wasteful spending at charters and ensure that poor performers be rapidly shut down. The United States should also come up with solutions to improve the curriculum and environment in the classroom in order to improve its public education system. Rural students and those not well suited to charters should not be left behind. DeVos should place her focus on traditional public schools.










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