Charter Longevity Shows Regular System Shortcomings


As charter schools tack on years of service, the fruits of their activities will come more clearly into view.  Thus far, the public has relied mainly on metrics like standardized test scores, but the schools have been graduating students for long enough, now, and in great enough numbers for more life-outcome guides to emerge.  Richard Whitmire, of The 74, wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal on the sorts of results of which we can expect to see more:

The timing of the intertwined anticharter campaigns, however, may prove awkward because of new data just released by The 74. The data comes from the first cohort of charter students, who are beginning to graduate from college. Here’s what we know now that the NEA and NAACP didn’t know when they adopted their anticharter positions: Graduates from the top charter networks—those with enough high school alumni to measure college success accurately—earn four-year degrees at rates that range up to five times as high as their counterparts in traditional public schools. These are low-income, minority students from cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Newark, N.J. Their college success is going to make bashing charter schools far more challenging for the NEA and the NAACP.

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One of the keys to the charter schools’ success in this regard has been helping students even after graduation, advising them as they situate themselves in college.  As Whitmire suggests, the students who benefit most from the opportunity of charter schools are often “the first in their families to attend college” and “need special help” picking courses, balancing credits, and handling their demographic differences from their new peers.

A single op-ed doesn’t provide the breadth of data to make general proclamations, but it would make sense that charters would tend to undertake this sort of additional work.  Not only do they have to be able to prove their value in order to attract students, but they’re also having to prove the case for their very existence.

In a broader view of school choice, it would be wonderful if our education system — meaning all of the ways we educate our youth — could help students find the education environments that they need.  Even in a case that school-choice opponents might propose as an argument against the policy, it might benefit all students if, for example, a particular district public school in a specific location had a disproportionate number of students who needed this sort of post-graduation help, because students and parents would know to expect it, and the school could develop the practices and professional relationships to do it more efficiently.

Again, the system should be designed to bring students to the educational paradigm that they need, not enforce rigid labor rules or political preferences for homogeneity.

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