WASHINGTON - Fourth-graders in traditional public schools are doing better in both reading and math than students in charter schools, the government says in a report fueling fresh debate over school choice.Sounds familiar, doesn't it? That last line echoes the line we heard on the study showing private schools don't outperform public schools as much as they thought. I also like the assumption that "competition" is automatically better.
Tuesday's report said fourth-graders in regular public schools scored an average of 5.2 points better in reading than students in charter schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress test. Students in traditional schools scored an average of 5.8 points better in math.
Charter school opponents said the findings show that the schools are a failing experiment that drains resources from traditional public schools. Charter school supporters called the report flawed and outdated and said charters improve public education by creating competition.
The Bush administration supports charter schools.
The head of the government agency that produced the report cautioned against reading too much into it.
Well, we can just add this one to the pile of studies out in the last year showing that charters aren't a magic bullet either--one I mentioned in passing here and one that got more ink here.
This is all a little ironic, as I have spent a significant protion of this summer writing a charter school proposal that goes before the Milwaukee Public Schools board later this month. The key difference is that the charter I'm working on is what's known as an "instrumentality" charter. All of the things that traditional charters are cited as being weak in--underqualified teachers, underfunded programs, lack of accountability--don't apply in this case, as we will be required to follow every regulation that governs MPS. In fact, I and everyone else at the school will still be public school employees and the students will be public school students. I'm also not pretending that the charter school I'm working on will be a magic bullet, either, and I will not compromise on quality to save a few bucks here and there.
We'll see how it goes. For now, though, we have another reminder turning education over to "the market" is not the answer. What this country needs a total recommittment to the ideals of public education. Without that committment, we'll continue to suffer from piecemeal reforms propagated primarily by privateers and those who will never support a public sector. That is what creates a losing system.