Charter Schools (week 7)

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2011 at 2:43 PM

Following Megan’s talk on the Finnish school system,a discussion arose of what we expect from our teachers and the general consensus was that schools (and individual teachers) should be responsible for learning (as shown in the Finish system).

I decided to research the system further and (cutting a long story short) came to the conclusion of many articles that the system is culturally bound, leading to a high amount of difficulty if we were to chose to implement it here in the UK.

I therefore decided to search for systems that used this ethos and were implemented in cultures more closely resembling our own (in terms of education). Linked to the BBC article mentioned in Megan’s BLOG (and speech) was a report on charter schools in the US.

The Education commission of the states describes Charter schools as:

“semi-autonomous public schools, founded by educators, parents, community groups or private organizations that operate under a written contract with a state, district or other entity. This contract, or charter, details how the school will be organized and managed, what students will be taught and expected to achieve, and how success will be measured. Many charter schools enjoy freedom from rules and regulations affecting other public schools, as long as they continue to meet the terms of their charters. Charter schools can be closed for failing to satisfy these terms”

Similarities between charter schools and public schools:

  • All funds come from tax revenues
  • Not allowed to select students (if more students apply than places a lottery is held)
  • Have to participate in state testing
  • State and federal accountability

The Similarities between Charter schools and Private schools

  • Fees based (payed by government per student they enroll – given slightly less than public schools, leading to increased class sizes)
  • can compete for students
  • autonomous management: teacher contracts, curriculum, disciplinary strategies are all decided by the school itself .
  • can part of a chain of schools (e.g. KIPP)

Research on charter schools.

There have been research that has shown both positive and negative effects of charter schools.


Florida (Sass, 2004): Studied Longitudinal data, found that although charters are below in terms of achievement in their first year, they match public schools by their second. Competition form charter schools was associated to improved scores in neighboring  public school test scores.

New York (Hoxby, 2009): Compared students who applied for charter schools; those who ‘won’ the placement lottery and those who didn’t. It was found that indivduals who entered charter schools 3 points higher than counterpart for each year they spend in it. There was also a 7% higher probability that they would gain a dipolma by age 20 for each year they had spent in the school.

There are other examples of state research including:

Arizona (Solomon, Park & Garcia, 2001), Texas (Hanushek, Kain & Rivkin, 2002),

Whole US (Hoxby, 2004): compared reading and math proficiency of charter school students and their peers in neighboring public schools. It was found that compared to students in the nearest regular public school, charter students are 4% more likely to be proficient in reading and 2% more likely in math, on their state exams. Compared to students in nearest public school with similar racial composition this increases to 5% in reading & 3% in math.

(Greene, Forster & Winters, 2003): ‘Untargeted’ charter schools (serving general population) were compared to their closest neighboring regular public schools in 11 states over one year. It was found that charter schools outperformed public schools by 0.08 standard deviations in maths and 0.04 SD in reading. (To put this in perspective, for the average student (50th percentile) that is an increase of 3 percentile points in math and 2 in reading.)


North Carolina (Bifulco and Ladd, 2004): estimated the impact of charter schools on students in charter schools and in nearby traditional public schools.  They found that students make considerably smaller achievement gains in charter schools than they would have in public schools.

CREDO report: Charter school progress over 16 states was compared to regular public school through the use of a  ‘Virtual twin’ (an average obtained from the collection of students in public schools who match their demographic). 2403 charter schools were measured and it was found that 46% have gains that do not significantly differ from the average growth expected in public schools, 17% showed significant gains above and the remaining 37% showed significant gains below expected growth.

Hoxby questioned the methodology used in the CREDO report stating that a statistical error caused the methodology used by the report to be biased.

Teacher burnout: criticisms have arose from teachers unions that the turnover of teachers is too high and the demand put on the teachers within the charter school system places a short time-frame on their careers within the schools.

My Thoughts

  • Positive effects are attributed to the stable characteristics across charter schools: longer school year, longer school day. Are the effects due to an improved system? Or is it just that more time=more learning opportunities?
  • There is so much variance in the quality of charter schools that it seems hard to summarize the overall effect. Though the schools have some similarities, they are free to teach in which ever way they please, allocating resources that they deem appropriate.
  • Also charter schools only account for 3% of the population going to school in the US – what about the other 97%? A lot of scrutiny has been placed on charter schools without an in-depth look into the public schools they are being compared with.
  • Do test scores provide the whole picture? – students are still going to/being entered into charter schools even though on standardised tests they perform below the average. Maybe charter schools provide more valuable commodities for parents. For example, the feeling of community and the safety it brings.
  • Teacher burnout: From the literature I have read, the level of commitment required of teachers in a charter school seems like a good thing. The argument that the lifespan of teacher is too small I believe shows the attitude towards education. If we want education to improve, the best teachers need to be employed. If they are not achieving the standards set then they are removed. It no longer becomes about how long you have taught for, but how successful you are on a year-to-year basis.

Overall I think charter schools are a mixed bag. I believe that some states (e.g. New York) have a high quality system of charter schools which allow pupils to succeed. States that have been shown to have poor charter schools (e.g. North Carolina) should analyse the systems used as a way of improving the education offered (that being said, procedures that work in one state may not work in another). I believe that pushing for the inclusion of charter schools as the main form of education establishment in the US too quickly may lead to lots of poor and mediocre charters. In terms of the UK, there is a lot to be learnt from this research and I do not see why charter school models could not be implemented or trialled in the UK once the foundations are strengthened in the US.

Any thoughts?

  1. Hey Dan, good work on the research. First question that came to my mind was what do you mean by the cultural differences that would make it hard to implement the Finish school system in the UK?

    Charter schools generally seem to be of high quality, mainly due to the responsibility that is put on the teachers to do well. I think this is a very important point, as it promotes better teaching as well as probably higher teacher satidfaction due to the autonomy that they are given. It seems to rule out the idea of becoming a teacher cause it’s an easy option. Jesse made an interesting point after Megan’s talk, when he differentiated a ‘job’ from a ‘profession’. Teachers at charter schools definately have to be professionals, which implies a high degree of motivation, dedication and knowledge.
    I might be slightly idealistic, but why does quality have to be expensive? I know from my relatives in the US that their neighboring charter school charges an absolute fortune. Even though you found that these schools are not as expensive as private schools, I can see them becoming a school for the rich people, who want to give their children the best education.
    Finland has proven that good education does not have to be expensive…
    I quite like the idea of the freedom charter schools have, and that they are still monitored for their sucess and quality. It means that innovative people who want to make a change in education could set up a school and possibly provide pupils with the sort of teaching that would improve learning significantly, without giving them the leeway to do absolutely EVERYTHING they want to.
    I think what appealed to me most about the Finish sytem is the seemingly perfect combination of team play and high quality teachers/teaching. If charter schools were to be implemented in the UK, it would be great to see more emphasis on trust and team spirit between pupils and the teachers, cause that seems to make the Finish schools so special.

  2. From my understanding, charter schools do not charge pupils as they are publicly funded, the fee they receive comes from the government alone. Also, charter schools actually receive less than the ‘normal’ public schools (about 2/3 – 4/5 of the money a public school will get)

    In terms of charter schools becoming schools for the rich, I don’t think that will be the case. Most charter schools are formed in poorer areas and around failing schools.
    More affluent areas (usually) have schools surrounding the area of a high standard. Charter schools rely on being able to recruit parents (& their kids)as they are paid per student. They therefore set up in areas where they can offer education of a higher standard than is already given (less competition = more students).

  3. That’s interesting, as my relatives in America talk about charter schools in a different way. If they really are that cheap, and placed in poor areas, I think the’d be an amazing thing to implement here.

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