A Charter Sector and Chartered Schools

July 8, 2011 •

This post was originally posted by Ted Kolderie on the weekly National Journal Education Experts Blog. The topic for the week was chosen in response to the second major ESEA reform bill, related to chartered schools, being approved by the US House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The National Journal question was: To what extent can charter schools change the education landscape? Absent other changes, will a renewed emphasis on charter schools actually improve opportunities and achievement for kids?

The House bill, if enacted, would continue the national government’s effort to help expand and improve the chartered sector of K-12. Within this expanded charter sector more new and new kinds of schools can be created.

That would be good. It makes sense to build up chartering. The country needs two sectors of public education, one traditional and one more innovative; operating with somewhat different forms of organization and with somewhat different approaches to learning. With choice providing dynamics useful to both.

Parents don’t enroll their children in a sector, however; in a category. They enroll in some particular school. They look for a school that will work for their children. But research to date has been comparing charter and district using test-scores and the change in test-scores by category as the measure of ‘performance’.

Mean proficiency scores, as the statisticians remind us, cannot be taken as a measure of school performance. Parents (and policymakers) need to know what schools are as schools; so they can tell which, chartered or district, are best for particular students. So research needs to start disaggregating the categories, describing schools in terms of what they have their students reading, seeing, hearing and doing.