Charter school numbers don't inspire confidence



The latest numbers on the success -- or lack thereof -- of charter schools nationally should indicate that a time out is in order. The U.S. Department of Education and the individual states should find the results of
But it is unlikely that the most ardent backers of charter schools -- known in Ohio as community schools -- will let statistics get in the way of their assault on the nation's public schools -- or, as they are known to their detractors, government schools.
That's because much of the support for charter schools is based not on numbers, but on ideology. Few opponents of public schools take their ideology to the length of the Texas legislator who ridiculed the idea that all children have a right to education as a Communist plot, but they can be just as blind to the value that a society receives from a strong system of public schools.
No announcement
For those who think that is being too harsh, consider the fact that the U.S. Department of Education, which conducted the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the nation's report card, didn't publicly acknowledge that its data showed charter schools were being outperformed by public schools until researches for the American Federation of Teachers put two and two together.
What the researchers found, after plowing through virtual mountains of data on a Department of Education Web site was that only about 25 percent of the fourth graders attending charter schools were proficient in reading and math, while 30 percent of the public school students were proficient in reading and 32 percent in math.
Frankly, those are dismal numbers, any way they are parsed. Traditional public schools can hardly puff out their chests and boast that nearly a third of their students are proficient, compared to a fourth of the charter school kids.
But the point is that charter schools were supposed to improve student performance. If they aren't, it is time to ask why.
The prudent course would be to demand that charter schools prove themselves before additional money is siphoned from public schools. But that is unlikely to happen.
Full steam ahead
The Bush administration, which budgeted $220 million for charter schools this year is seeking $318 million next year. The irony is that some of the biggest charter supporters are the same people who like to say that the problems of public education can't be solved by throwing money at them.
In some ways, they are right about that. The failings of education in the United States are profound and confounding. There are no simple answers. There are social and economic and cultural dynamics at work whenever and wherever children are being educated.
Those who believed that charter schools would be a quick and definitive answer are now finding out they are wrong.
The first community schools in Ohio were touted as experiments in public education. But long before the results of the first experiments were in, charter school true believers in Columbus were pushing to expand the program.
Now that there are numbers showing that charter school fourth graders -- regardless of income, race or ethnicity -- are being outperformed by their public school counterparts, let's see if the charter advocates have the integrity admit that there answer may not be an answer at all.

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