Georgia Making Mistake to Ignore Charter School Research

The Georgia Senate is very close passing a bill HR 1162, which will enable the state to authorize charter schools.  In 2011 the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that it was unconstitutional for the Georgia Charter School Commission to authorize charter schools.  The state constitution does not authorize any governmental entity to create or operate schools that are not under the control of a local board of education.  This the law right now.

The Georgia Senate (Republicans)  have submitted legislation this year to circumvent the court’s decision by changing the State’s constitution. HR 1162, if approved by the Senate will ammend the constitution, but before this will happen, it will have to voted on by the citizens of Georgia.

In Saturday’s Atlanta Journal, it was reported that several Democratic Senators are thinking about supporting the bill.  It will only take 3 Democrats for the HR 1162 to pass.

Letter to Georgia Senators

After I read that several Georgia Democrats were considering supporting the charter school legislation, I wrote this letter, and sent it to all Senate Democrats.

Letter sent to each Georgia Democratic Senator on 3/17/12

The only response that I have received so far are three auto-reply letters, and that’s it.  If you would like to send a letter to the Georgia Senate, you might send it to Senator Steve Henson, Minority Leader.

Charter Schools: Not So Hot

As I reported in my previous post, charter schools are not performing at the levels that they promised. In Dr. Michael Marder ‘s research, charter schools in Texas, New Jersey, Florida, New York, and California (states that included in Dr. Marder’s data base), when analyzed in terms of meeting college readiness and poverty concentration, do much worse than public schools.  In every state that Dr. Marder investigated, the association between college readiness and poverty concentration was very strong, and followed this inverse relationship as shown in Figure 1.  As you can see the majority of charters (red discs) fall flat on the scale, and by and large show poorer  performance than public schools.

Figure 1. Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Follow this link for more visualizations.

I also reported the results of second, and very large study of charter schools in 15 states and the District.  This study was completed by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University.  According to these researchers, the majority of students attending charter schools would have fared much better if they are gone to a public school.  And in the case of Georgia (one of the 15 states in the study), the results were mixed, or no differences were found between the charter schools in Georgia and the public schools.  The researchers put it this way comparing charters to public schools:

Charter schools have become a rallying cry for education reformers across the country, with every expectation that they will continue to figure prominently in national educational strategy in the months and years to come.   And yet, this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their TPS counterparts.   Further, tremendous variation in academic quality among charters is the norm, not the exception.  The problem of quality is the most pressing issue that charter schools and their supporters face.

In the CREDO study, Georgia charter schools gains in math scores were significantly lower than public school.  Even when compared to NAEP scores nationally  in reading and mathematics, Georgia charter schools are poor performers, scoring lower in each area than the NAEP national average.

The CREDO study concludes that 37% of Charters had math scores that were significantly worse than public schools, 46% of charters were not significantly different, and only 17% were significantly better.

Charters: Follow the Money

According to an article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, “charter schools are touted as the reform model that will boost student achievement by allowing schools to be innovative and by having parents, teachers, and the community more a part of the decision-making.”   But as I have shown above, charter schools simply do not do as better as their public school counterparts, and indeed, students would be better off going to public schools.

But what is odd, is that politicians, from governor’s houses to state legislatures, are willing to “sell off” public entities, and turn them over to other interests.  In fact, Michael Klonsky claims that powerful conservative forces are pushing for less regulation over charter schools, and more teacher evaluation largely on student test scores. These moves by Georgia legislature will result in the overall weakening of Georgia Public Schools.  Pushing teachers to the sidelines, and moving corporate interests into public education is a huge mistake.

Corporate interests?  Yes, behind this move to make it easier to establish charter schools is the existence of for-profit charter school organizations who ready to move in and use state and local funds to manage charter schools.  In some states, new charter schools receive start up funds at a time when public schools are having furlough teachers and administrators to try and meet the budget.

According to a report by Dick Yarbrough, charter schools appear to be about money and politics and influence peddling.  He wonders why, with the Georgia Department of Education reporting that charter schools don’t perform as well as traditional public schools and their graduation rates are no better, the Georgia legislature is so bent on changing the State Constitution to allow charters to be created by an appointed state commission.  The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that doing so is unconstitutional.

As I have reported here, and in my previous post, charter schools in other states do not compete favorably with traditional public schools. Why this big push for more charter schools?

Answer: For-profit charter networks

As Yarbrough reported, the Miami-Herald did a study of charter school operators in Florida, and found that is nearly a half-billion dollar business, and one of the fastest growing in Florida.  According to the newspaper report, charter school industry, is “backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians” and “rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.”

In Florida almost two-thirds of charters are run by management companies.  The management companies charge fees that sometime exceed $1 million per year per school.  And another interesting aspect, is that these management companies own the land and/or the buildings, and then turn around and charge either the state or the local school system.

Partisan Beliefs

In a study I reported on here, researchers at the University of Michigan suggest that beliefs about controversial factual questions are closely linked to one’s ideological preferences or partisan beliefs. The first mechanism that they shine a light on is that individuals may “engage in a biased search process, seeking out information that supports their preconceptions and avoiding evidence that undercuts their beliefs.  A second mechanism is called the “backfire effect.”  In this case, individuals who receive unwelcome information may not simply resist challenges to their views, they may come to support their original opinion even more strongly—i.e.–the backfire effect.

Charter schools is a controversial idea, especially in Georgia.  Its become a battleground between public education and privately run charter schools, and the power struggle within the state to determine who is in charge.  As the researchers point out, their study did support the hypothesis that conservatives are especially dogmatic, but they also pointed out that liberals and Democrats also interpret factual information in ways that are consistent with their political world views.

What do you think about charter schools?  Are the legislators in Georgia using partisan beliefs to fracture the nature of public education?


About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University