by Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst
The Post-Crescent came out with a short-sighted argument against independent charter schools on Wednesday, criticizing a bill that would allow high-performing charters to expand across Wisconsin. In their argument against these schools, they ignore one key piece of data – independent charter schools in Wisconsin have proven to provide a better education for their students than traditional public schools.
The Post-Crescent editorial is in response to Sen. Alberta Darling’s (R-River Hills) proposed legislation that would expand the scope of 2R charter schools – schools that operate independently outside of the auspice of a local school board – beyond their current territory of Milwaukee (and one school in Racine). It would allow high-performing schools to open new campuses and allow innovative new schools to set up shop in areas that need an infusion of fresh ideas, like Madison and Green Bay. However, the Post-Crescent doesn’t address any of the good these schools have done – instead, they focus only on a loss of funding for local schools who aren’t performing well enough to retain their students and questions around how the charter school teachers would be evaluated.
Darling’s bill affects the schools that are outperforming their local districts. Under her proposed law, the only institutions that would be up for expanding are the ones that are performing at a high level and meeting certain benchmarks. Educational stakeholders could also bring their school plans to any school in the UW system, any technical college, or local CESAs (regional public education authorities) to apply for a charter. It’s not an automatic expansion of the state’s charter school base – instead, it’s an additional method for innovative schools to find their place on the educational landscape.
The heart of education reform is finding ways to replicate effective methods and eliminate bad ones. This means creating more effective schools and fewer chronically underperforming ones. That’s something that expanding successful charter schools would do. Here’s how 2R charter schools have fared in Milwaukee, where all but one of them are located.
Despite educating a similar percentage of students from low-income families, independent charter schools scored nearly 10 points higher on the state’s School Report Cards in 2012. They also had higher proficiency scores in reading in grades four, six, and eight and better scores in math in grades four, six, eight, and 10. That wasn’t limited to just outperforming traditional schools, either – these independent charters had significantly higher scores than their peer charter institutions that operated under MPS’s watchful eye. The conclusion here is clear – independent charters perform better than similar schools with similar groups of students.
Of course, the editorial also overlooks another key argument in the discussion about charter school expansion. The Post Crescent claims many families are worried that their high-performing public schools will lose students – and funding – if a charter school opens in their neighborhood. This ignores the common sense that drives how parents choose a school for their children. If a local public school is satisfying parents and educating its pupils effectively, why would students be pulled away from that environment? Why would a charter school – a school designed to create an alternative when students are struggling in their local classrooms – target a district or neighborhood where the traditional public school is succeeding with flying colors?
That’s a situation that won’t happen. The schools at risk of losing students are the ones who are failing their students and leaving parents unsatisfied. These independent charters – the 2R charter schools that have proven to earn higher average State Report Card scores and higher proficiency rates in reading and mathematics on state tests – will only help the children who aren’t being served by a rigid traditional public school education.
Education isn’t one-size-fits-all. An ever-changing generation of children needs dynamic methods to engage them in the classroom and challenge them in ways that aren’t always available in traditional schools. That’s what these independent 2R charter schools are providing, and the evidence shows that it’s working. The students in these schools come from similar backgrounds as their MPS peers, but are performing better and learning more. And, they’re doing that despite getting about 60 percent of the funding that their traditional school cohorts are.
That’s a great story, and a strong return on an investment in Wisconsin’s future. Why would anyone want to stop the growth of a program that’s educating children effectively and giving them the tools they need to succeed?