K-12 Education and Charter Public Schools: Myth vs. Reality
K-12 Education and Charter Public Schools:
Myth vs. Reality
Myth #1: Students from low-income backgrounds cannot perform at high levels
Hundreds of high performing charter public schools around the country, including several in
Kansas City, have demonstrated that low-income students can consistently achieve at the
While poverty and low academic achievement are highly correlated, poverty does not cause
low academic achievement. Poorly run school districts, schools, and classrooms are the
cause of low academic achievement.
Myth #2: Charter Schools are not public schools
Charter schools are public schools and like traditional public schools, are funded by local,
state and federal tax dollars based on student enrollment. They are free and do not have
special entrance requirements. Charter schools may not be religious and cannot discriminate
against students on any basis. Charter public schools are accountable for state and federal
academic standards. Charters schools are subject to Sunshine Law requirements. Charter
school laws were written and passed by publicly elected legislators.
Myth #3: Charter schools hurt traditional public schools
The reality is that the opposite is true. According to a number of academic
studies, test scores at traditional public schools actually improve when a
charter school opens nearby. For example, see “Charters and the Common
Good: The spillover effects of charter schools in New York City” by Sarah
Competition from charter schools provides an impetus for traditional districts
to improve. In Kansas City, the district has been going downhill for many
decades. Only recently, with charter schools having 40% market share, have
their results stabilized. There are few examples of monopolies providing
excellent service and the same is true in K-12 public education.
Myth #4: Charter schools “take” money from traditional public schools
Because charter schools are public schools, they do not "take" money from public schools
any more than a student moving from one traditional public district to another traditional
Myth #5: High performance at charter schools can be attributed to enrolling “better
than average” students. Charter schools do not really serve “low-income” and/or
Students at charter public schools are chosen by random lottery. Admission is not selective
and the demographics of most charter schools reflect the districts they serve. State laws that
authorize charter schools were specifically designed to ensure that access is equal for all
students living in a geographic area.
Many charter public schools were created with the specific mission of offering an excellent
education to students who historically have not had access to a high-quality school (a
disproportionate number of whom are low income and/or minority students). Charter public
schools serve many low-income and minority students.
Myth #6: High performance at certain Charter Schools is a result of “teaching to the
test” or an over-emphasis on standardized tests
Standardized tests measure things like math skills, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.
These are things students need to be good at if they are going to have the opportunity to go
to college and succeed in the workplace. Being advanced / proficient on standardized tests
is a by-product of learning.
It is a hurdle, not the ultimate objective which is beyond that and includes critical thinking,
problem solving, written and verbal communication skills, research and organizational
skills, and resilience.
Myth #7: Charter schools have less accountability than traditional public schools
Charter schools actually have more accountability than traditional public schools.
Just like traditional public schools, Charter public schools are subject to state testing
requirements and receive an Annual Performance Report score from the Department for
Elementary and Secondary Education each year. However, unlike traditional public
schools, charter public schools are accountable for the goals and criteria outlined in a legal
contract with their sponsor. Additionally, they must go through a rigorous renewal process
with their sponsor and the Missouri State Board of Education every 5 or 10 years. These
additional layers of accountability ensure that poor performing charter schools have real
time consequences (probation, State improvement planning, non-renewal, closure) as
opposed to low performing traditional public schools in the State which can languish on for
Myth #8: Charter Schools are for-profit
All 22 charter public schools operating in Kansas City are non-profits. This is 100% a myth
in Kansas City.
Notwithstanding this, around 15% of the roughly 7000 charter public schools operating
around the country are managed by for-profit charter management organizations.
Myth #9: All Charter Schools are excellent
Although a number of the charter schools in Kansas City are excellent, some charter schools
perform the same or worse than the traditional district. Just because a school is organized
as a charter school, success is far from guaranteed.
The good news is that Charter Schools must periodically (typically every 5 years) go
through a renewal process with the Missouri Board of Education. Unlike traditional public
schools, if a charter public school is not performing well there is a timeline and mechanism
to close it down.
Myth #10: Charter public schools don’t serve special education students
Charter schools are required by law to provide services for students with special
education needs. Charter public schools must submit a Special Education plan
annually to the Missouri Department for Elementary and Secondary Education.
Notwithstanding this, on average, charter public schools do have a smaller
percentage of special education students. Traditional districts are typically much
larger than individual charter public schools and thus have the scale to have more
specialized staff and programs. Thus today special education students are often
better served in traditional public school systems.
Myth #11: It is inefficient and wasteful to have Charter schools operating alongside
traditional public schools
On a theoretical level, there are benefits of scale. And in some cases like special education
there are real benefits. However, on a system wide basis, the education landscape is much
more efficient today than it was prior to charter schools (more students are getting a high
quality education with equivalent per pupil spending). A competitive landscape forces all of
the public schools (traditional and charter) to be more efficient in the way they operate.
Inefficiency and waste was a more serious issue before charter public schools existed. The
traditional KCMSD spent $2 billion dollars of extra taxpayer money (desegregation
litigation settlement) between 1987 and 1999 and results continued to deteriorate. That is
Myth #12: Charter public schools and traditional district public schools cannot
There is no reason why traditional and charter public schools cannot co-exist. Charter
public schools, operating alongside traditional public schools, create a healthy public
education system. Charter public schools create an array of choices and schools are forced
to compete based on quality to attract students. Parents and students no longer have only
one option. Competition creates an incentive for all public schools, charter and traditional,
to get better. Students and the community are the beneficiaries.