Because they can dispense with many of the rules and regulations regular public schools must cope with, charter schools offer the promise of a better education to our children, especially the ones who would otherwise be stuck in poorly performing schools. But they are an experiment, and, as we’ve said numerous times here, that means their actual performance must be monitored, and those in charge of the monitoring must be willing to make changes if some schools aren’t living up to expectations.
A report on that actual performance in Indiana has been delivered now, and it actually looks pretty good. A six-year study by Stanford University tracked 15,297 charter school students at 64 schools from grades 3 through 8. It found that students in Indiana charter schools outperformed peers in traditional public schools in both math and reading, and by a significant amount. On average, students in charter schools made the equivalent of 1.5 more months of learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school counterparts did.
This is even better news than charter proponents may have expected, and it will certainly frustrate the efforts of charter critics, especially the teachers union and others in the education establishment, who see charters as a threat to public schools. They might not be as dangerous as the voucher program, which allows parents to use public education money to send their children to private schools, but they do shake up the status quo, and that’s enough to make them suspect in many educators’ views.
It would be better to see charters not as a threat but as an opportunity for less-well-off parents and students, who are now better able to have the education choices the well-off have always had. If public schools respond the way they should to such competition – by improving their product in an effort to keep students – we will all be better off.
Incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz will be a tough sell. She was elected with strong support from the Indiana State Teachers Association, and she takes the ISTA line that charters are a threat and should be distrusted. She is especially disdainful when charters result in “taxpayer dollars going to for-profit companies.”
Speaking of being willing to make changes, Indiana charters would have fared even better if the overall scores hadn’t been brought down by the poor performances of schools operated by Ball State University. Ball State is a good university, and there’s no valid reason it should run a poor charter operation. Somebody needs to be asking why that happened and how it can be prevented in the future.