Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cream Rises to the Top in the Charters?

The cream doesn't rise to the top in the charter schools. It starts at the top.

Charter schools have long been known for their filtering out at the admissions stage of students who might require special services or who might lower their test score average. BASIS charter schools are notorious for requiring long essays from applicants and for flunking out students who do badly on tests. BASIS middle school classes of a few hundred are winnowed to a few dozen by graduation time. BASIS – which operates 10 charter schools in Arizona, one in D.C. and one in San Antonio – opened BASIS Phoenix Central in downtown Phoenix in 2014. A BASIS spokesperson points out that the public elementary schools in the area are "underperforming." BASIS has a plan for that, or rather BASIS has no plan to improve the schools of central Phoenix. It simply has a plan that will attract the better students from the surrounding public schools and leave them further impoverished.

Pennsylvania is challenging Arizona as the school choice capital of the world. The Keystone state already offers an array of alternatives to the traditional public schools: charters, virtual charters, and who knows what other inventions. Some charter schools in Philadelphia have recently been discovered charging a "application fee"; and some administer a questionnaire to determine if a prospective student meet need special education services or English-language learning instruction. Almost needless to say, such needs do not increase the odds of acceptance.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools announced in 2014 that the number of public charter schools operating in the United States has surpassed 6,400 for the first time with 2.5 million students. The public charter school movement in the 2013-14 school year saw a net gain of 436 schools enrolling 288,000 more students than in 2012-13. The charter movement has become the fastest growing segment of our public education system.

Colorado added 9,000 students and 14 new public charter schools. The Walton Family Foundation announced that it has now surpassed $10 million in startup investments in Denver with the support of four charter schools in Denver in 2013. In addition, with 2013 investments, the foundation has now supported the startup of 1,500 schools, one in four charter schools in the nation, through its Public Charter Startup Grant program. The foundation has now supported the startup of more than 40 Denver charter schools since 1998.

To some, growth is a good thing. Others see the growth of the charter school sector as the spreading of fraud and under-performance, and the continued resegregation of the nation's public school system.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.