As tensions mount over the prospect of hundreds of layoffs in the Cleveland school district, more coverage of Cleveland's small contingent of charter schools, and contention over Eugene Sanders' plan for the redevelopment of education in the city, there's limitless debate on the direction of schools in Northeast Ohio and the nation.
The New York Times published an extensive report on charter schools last weekend, part of which focuses on Cleveland and Perry White, a local leader who founded Citizen's Academy in Cleveland.
It's well worth the full read as the Times does an excellent job of putting the successes, failures, false starts and reputation of charter schools into perspective. The short version: Like everything else in education, it's complex.
Excerpt after the jump, but make sure you click on over to the Times for the full version.
But for all their support and cultural cachet, the majority of the 5,000 or so charter schools nationwide appear to be no better, and in many cases worse, than local public schools when measured by achievement on standardized tests, according to experts citing years of research. Last year one of the most comprehensive studies, by researchers from Stanford University, found that fewer than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools, almost half offered an equivalent education and more than a third, 37 percent, were “significantly worse.”
Although “charter schools have become a rallying cry for education reformers,” the report, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, warned, “this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well” as students in traditional schools.
Researchers for this study and others pointed to a successful minority of charter schools — numbering perhaps in the hundreds — and these are the ones around which celebrities and philanthropists rally, energized by their narrowing of the achievement gap between poor minority students and white students.
But with the Obama administration offering the most favorable climate yet for charter schools, the challenge of reproducing high-flying schools is giving even some advocates pause. Academically ambitious leaders of the school choice movement have come to a hard recognition: raising student achievement for poor urban children — what the most fervent call a new civil rights campaign — is enormously difficult and often expensive.
“I think many people settle and tend to let themselves off the hook,” said Perry White, a former social worker who founded the Citizens’ Academy charter school in Cleveland in 1999 — naïvely, he now recognizes — and has overseen its climb from an F on its state report card in 2003 to an A last year. “It took us a while to understand we needed a no-excuses culture,” he said, one of “really sweating the small stuff.”