Two new reports on charter public schools: Manhattan Institute finds Massachusetts students in urban charters making “enormous gains;” AEI reports significant variation among states

Two new reports on charter public schools offer generally favorable reviews of these educational alternatives. The “generally” is included because, as the American Enterprise Institute reports, charter public schools vary across the nation.

…charters are governed by the states, and some states’ charter schools display a much less bal­anced set of differences. In some states, charter schools look much more like their opponents’ characterizations, serving far fewer historically disadvantaged students than their neighbors. Other states have charter sectors that look like charter proponents often suggest, serving more disadvantaged students.

Charter public schools in Washington, as we wrote earlier, demonstrate a strong record of performance and diversity. The Washington State Charter Schools Association has an excellent fact sheet that makes the case. For example,

  •   More than 67 percent of charter public school students in Washington are students of color, as compared to 43 percent statewide.

  •   Approximately two-thirds of students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, as compared to 45 percent statewide. At four of Washington’s charter public schools, the number exceeds 70 percent.

  •   Charter public schools in Washington serve many students with special education needs. 12 percent of Washington’s charter public school students are eligible for special education services, as compared with 13 percent statewide.

Unfortunately, Washington is not among the states included in the AEI report, which we nonetheless recommend to you as a source of useful national information. AEI writes that charter schools have become embroiled in confounding political controversy.

National debate over charter schools has hit a fevered pitch this year. Teachers unions and many classical Democrats have opposed charters—with this wing successfully stiffening anti-charter language in the Demo­cratic National Committee’s official platform. Even more extreme, the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives Matter called for a complete national moratorium on charter schools.1

However, the charter debate does not cleave along a simple left/right divide. While those on the right tend to support charters, groups on the left fall on both sides of the issue. Teachers unions, traditional Democrats, and some civil rights organizations oppose them, but Presi­dent Barack Obama and many civil rights organizations have been strong charter supporters. Other groups, including the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), and hundreds of civil rights leaders2, have specifically dismissed calls for a moratorium, with BAEO Presi­dent Jacqueline Cooper calling the NAACP resolution “ill-conceived and based on lies and distortions about the work of charter schools.3

 We expect continued legislative and judicial battles here in the coming year. In Massachusetts, as we’ve written, a measure to lift the cap on charter public schools will be on the November 8 ballot. The Manhattan Institute article we referred to earlier this year reported, 

Massachusetts’s charter sector is among the strongest in the country. In Boston, students in charter schools learn twice as much in a year as students in the city’s district schools. The success of Massachusetts charter schools has not done demonstrable academic harm to traditional district schools; indeed, student achievement has risen signi cantly across the 10 districts with the highest local share of charter enrollment.

A new Manhattan Institute report reviews academic research to take a closer look at charter public school performance. MI fellow and Boston University Professor Marcus Winters concludes,

…in the urban areas of Massachusetts, the evidence clearly shows that students benefit from attending charters. And there is little reason to suspect that charter school expansion would harm the academic achievement of those students who remain in local traditional public schools. If what voters care about most is improving educational options for students in Massachusetts, the research suggests a clear choice at the ballot box.

It’s also a clear choice here. Preserving charter public schools continues to be a priority for those interested in “improving educational options for students.”