While some charter schools have seen dramatic gains in student achievement, overall, the need for systemic school reform is a far greater concern to schools, teachers and students, witnesses told the Subcommittee On Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. The much-needed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act could help address the real education inequities that still exist today.
"Charter schools were originally intended to be a new form of public school that would develop and share innovative practices, and promote competition, leading to improvements among traditional public schools, as well," said U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), the ranking member of the subcommittee. "While the original goals of charter schools hold promise, they must be held accountable for their performance and work collaboratively with other public schools to improve the high-quality educational options available to all students."
Despite substantial growth, charter schools are not a realistic or high-quality option for most American families. Almost 90 percent of school districts do not have charter schools. Some populations, like students with disabilities and English Language Learners, may not be enrolled at proportional rates or may be stratified. Witnesses and lawmakers agreed that charter schools are not "a silver bullet" and raised concerns about accountability among charter school authorizers.
"High performing charter schools are a great option for some students; they are closing achievement gaps and shattering the low expectations that have stood in the way of student success," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee. "Unfortunately, serving a small population of students won't help bring this country and our students to the future. Charter schools are an important piece of the school reform puzzle though only if the schools are transparent and accountable to all students, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities. The privatization of public schools under the guise of charter operators is very troubling to me and I intend to keep a close eye on this issue."
"A growing body of research as well as state and federal evaluations conducted by independent researchers continue to find that charter schools are not achieving the goals that were once envisioned for them," said Dr. Gary Miron, Professor of Evaluation, Measurement, and Research at Western Michigan University. "Involvement of local persons or groups in starting charter schools is shrinking, replaced instead by outsiders, particularly private education management organizations (EMOs), which steer these schools from distant corporate headquarters. Claims that EMOs can make charter schools more effective have not been substantiated by research." EMOs are private entities that manage public schools under contract.
The charter school movement began in the early 1990s and, as of the 2009-2010 school year, more than 1.6 million students -- approximately four percent of all public school students --attend nearly 5,000 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia. In the past 10 years, the share of charter schools operated by nonprofit or for-profit management organizations (CMOs and EMOs) has grown dramatically. Today, nearly one-third of charter schools are operated by private management organizations.