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August 19, 2004 Extra Credit
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August 19, 2004

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Setting The Record Straight On Charter Schools

The following are excerpts from an editorial today in The Seattle Times:

"Not since the golden age of 'Looney Tunes' has bad news been met with such hand-rubbing glee. This week, the American Federation of Teachers informed the media that students in some charter schools across the country were actually underperforming their peers in regular public schools."

"The discovery prompted speculation that the Bush administration had squirreled away the unflattering numbers to dispel what a New York Times editorial yesterday triumphantly characterized as their 'devastating' reflection on the No Child Left Behind Act. But while the results suggest that charter-school supporters might put the champagne back on ice for a while, they hardly write the obituary for the nation's boldest and youngest effort to give poor children a chance.

"You'll recall that charter schools were not an invention of the Bush administration. Over the past decade, the movement has gathered momentum from the grassroots efforts of frustrated parents who wanted their kids to have a fighting chance to get ahead. The No Child Left Behind Act capitalized on an infrastructure already in place in many states by mandating that children in chronically failing public schools have the right to take their learning elsewhere."

"Meanwhile, mavens are already poring over the latest study and finding curious omissions — noting, for instance, that the charter schools surveyed had twice the minority enrollment of the public schools. Minority students, for a host of reasons, tend to perform worse than average on standardized tests. When the data are adjusted accordingly, the apparent poor performance of charter schools vanishes.

"In fact, passage of No Child Left Behind and the ascendance of charter schools in general owe much to the strong support of the African-American community. Even the NAACP, a traditional ally of the teachers unions, has been caught up in the fray as many of its younger members see school choice as a new civil-rights issue.

"The newly revealed study results are unlikely to deter the movement, either. In many cities, Chicago among them, waiting lists for charter schools still exceed the number of spaces by thousands of students. Besides, even in NAEP data, states like California, Arizona and Colorado saw fourth-grade students in charter schools edge ahead of their public-school counterparts in reading. And Arizona and California together are home to one-third of all the charter schools in the country."

"But having all the information out here is the best possible thing for the education system's clients, namely children and their families. Charter schools, after all, were expressly designed not to be a compulsory exercise. If indeed they do not perform up to the expectations of parents and communities, they will, quite simply, fail and fade away."

The complete text of this editorial is available online.

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 08/19/2004