Hopes, Fears, and Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2006

Though many critics continue to decry them, charters are not only here to stay, but expanding rapidly (to over 3600 nationwide in 2005-06). And this year’s National Charter School Research Project (NCSRP) report explores, among other topics, the impact they are having on parents, districts, and other education stakeholders.

The news is mostly good. NCSRP’s survey of low- and moderate-income parents of charter school students in three major cities found that charter parents were more likely to select options outside their neighborhoods than other parents (85 percent versus 60 percent); more likely than their private school cohorts to choose schools based on academic factors (71 percent versus 58 percent); and more likely to be satisfied with their chosen schools than parents who selected other public schools (97 percent satisfied as opposed to 84 percent). Such findings debunk the myth that charter parents are ill-informed and easily duped by “flashy” new school programs.

In choice-abundant cities like Dayton (where 25 percent of students attend charters), school districts are improving their programs to compete with charter schools. Dayton Public Schools, in addition to raising its test scores last year, has created some attractive program options and ramped up efforts to communicate its strengths to choice-savvy parents. And amidst stiff competition for dwindling numbers of area students, Dayton Public will likely be forced to think more creatively and efficiently about its finances, facilities, and transportation services.

Yet successful charter schools require engaged and diligent sponsors--evidenced by the small number of both (at least in Ohio). Thus NCSRP recommends that sponsors set high standards for schools, take pains to study their progress, and work closely to support them. In return, sponsors must operate with transparency and should be held accountable for their performance.

As a retrospective, NCSRP’s report succeeds by ultimately looking forward--to how state charter programs can be strengthened; hopefully, policymakers and stakeholders in Ohio will do the same.

Download a copy of the report here .

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