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K-12 Education and Charter Public Schools: Myth vs. Reality


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Although charter public schools have now existed for 25 years, they are still widely misunderstood. This presentation explores 12 myths relating to charter public schools and K-12 education.

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K-12 Education and Charter Public Schools: Myth vs. Reality

  1. 1. K-12 Education and Charter Public Schools: Myth vs. Reality Bush Helzberg
  2. 2. Myth #1: Students from low-income backgrounds cannot perform at high levels Reality 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 highest levels. 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.
  3. 3. Myth #2: Charter Schools are not public schools Reality 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.
  4. 4. Myth #3: Charter schools hurt traditional public schools Reality 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 Cordes. 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.
  5. 5. Myth #4: Charter schools “take” money from traditional public schools Reality 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 public district.
  6. 6. 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 minority students. Reality 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.
  7. 7. Myth #6: High performance at certain Charter Schools is a result of “teaching to the test” or an over-emphasis on standardized tests Reality 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.
  8. 8. Myth #7: Charter schools have less accountability than traditional public schools Reality 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 decades.
  9. 9. Myth #8: Charter Schools are for-profit Reality 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.
  10. 10. Myth #9: All Charter Schools are excellent Reality 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.
  11. 11. Myth #10: Charter public schools don’t serve special education students Reality 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.
  12. 12. Myth #11: It is inefficient and wasteful to have Charter schools operating alongside traditional public schools Reality 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 inefficiency.
  13. 13. Myth #12: Charter public schools and traditional district public schools cannot co-exist Reality 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.