The Charter School Controversy

Numerous studies have been conducted on charter schools over the years. You'd think that would shed some light on the issue of whether or not charter schools are beneficial. Unfortunately, every study that supports one point of view is contradicted by two more that support the opposite view. The problem is that measuring education is tricky -- actually, it's almost impossible. There are too many variables to take into account, such as funding, student diversity, location, economic issues, cultural issues and a whole slew of other factors. Generating a meaningful comparison between groups or types of schools is extremely difficult.

So the controversy rages on. We've already discussed many of the advantages that charter schools claim. The National Education Association points out several problems:

  • Charter schools drain money from public school systems.
  • Charter schools are able to cherry-pick the best students and turn away weaker students or those with discipline problems.
  • Charter reviews every few years do not provide enough accountability to ensure that the schools are properly and effectively teaching the necessary material.

There are elements of truth to all these complaints, but there are qualifying factors as well. For instance, charter schools are able to set high academic standards for admission. This often results in a waiting list or lottery system to determine who can attend the school, and students with poor grades may not make the cut. However, there are charter schools whose missions revolve around working with troubled students or raising the grades of students with academic problems.

The controversy is certainly not eased by the fact that political and racial issues are part of the discussion. While the charter school concept was first created by a teacher's union, few charter schools are unionized, while most public school districts are. This gives the discussion a "labor versus anti-labor" twist that does little to clarify the issue. Also, the majority of charter schools are in urban areas. The demographics of American cities mean that the majority of charter school students are therefore minorities, so attacks on the charter school system are sometimes perceived as having a racist undertone.

While the question of charter schools seems complex, there's actually a fairly simple answer. Charter schools are like anything else: when they're well-managed and well-funded, they produce good results. The same can be said for public schools. In the end, it's really just a matter of choice.