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Ask Dr. Lynch: Do Charter Schools Have a Future?

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Marsha K. asks:

Dr. Lynch, over the last decade or so there has been a lot of debate over the efficacy of charter schools. A lot of education experts believe that the charter school movement has been a failed experiment. In your opinion, do these schools have a future?

ANSWER:

Marsha, thanks for writing in with such a poignant question. I want to start my response by telling you a true story about a failed charter school in Florida. In February, the Einstein Montessori School in Orlando became a casualty of the charter-school experiment. State officials closed the school, which had 40 students ranging from third through eighth grade. The school promoted itself as a specialty institution for dyslexic students, but teachers told media outlets that there was no curriculum in place, no computers and no school library. Despite these and other red flags, the school remained in operation longer than it should have, because Florida law currently only allows for immediate school closures for safety, welfare and health issues.

Of course, parents and taxpayers were outraged. Einstein Montessori received close to $165,000 in state money for operations – money that cannot be recovered or redirected. That number is just a drop in the bucket when compared to the total $287 million in state money that four failed Orlando-area charter schools received in recent years. Consider what that number looks like on a state scale. Now consider it on a national level. With stories like Einstein Montessori’s in the headlines, it is no wonder parents and other community members angrily protest against the opening of such schools.

Despite this negativity, I’m a supporter of charter schools. Katie Ash recently posted the results from a charter school research study out of Stanford that found 63 percent of charter schools outperformed public school counterparts in mathematics. The report looked at schools in New York City, but similar results exist across the country. I think that in addition to providing quality education overall, the competitive vibe that charters bring with them elevates the performance of all public schools. Traditional district schools are faced with more pressure to perform in order to keep the brightest students, and this translates to higher levels of innovation by administration and teachers. I think that the future of K-12 learners is brighter as a result of the inception of charter schools, but only if these schools are continually monitored for quality, strength in management and prioritization of student needs. 

For charter schools to succeed in the future, there needs to be more transparency. States have long held a somewhat laissez-faire approach to charters, allowing them freedom to operate how they see fit and not stepping in until mistakes are beyond repair. For charter schools to fulfill their mission – which I believe is to add value to the traditional public school system and raise the educational bar for all K-12 students – they need to consider their presence a partnership with the state. Since the first charter schools began sprouting up in Minnesota in 1991, the battle has raged to find balance between accountability and innovation through autonomy. Stories like the ones out of Orlando show that not enough progress has been made in this regard.

For charters to achieve optimal success for students, the public also needs more information on what these schools actually are and how to heighten the public school education experience. While most educators recognize charter schools as public entities, community members often confuse charter schools with for-profit educational management organizations, or EMOs. This leads to an automatic feeling of resentment, as students are viewed as a business opportunity. These misconceptions mean that charter schools are often viewed in a negative light for the wrong reasons. As more parents, students and community members understand the benefits of well-run charter schools, better outcomes are possible for all.

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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