Charter Schools: In Whose Interest?

An Art of Science Teaching Inquiry

Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It kind of like a philosopher’s stone, or a 19th century elixir, to serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools.

Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come. Charter schools have not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.

Some of the charter bills that have been passed will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state. Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold in these states. Firms will come in a buy land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA. Boston worked out a deal in the interests of corporate investors.

And in this election year, politicians use their place on charter schools to influence voters, and to partner with corporations who hope tp peddle their wares in the politician’s state or county.  Just go an ask Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia.


In this inquiry, we’ll explore the underlying rationale for charter schools (the rationale has moved from one of true curriculum development by teachers, to a cash cow for charter management companies).  When you look carefully at charter schools, they do not offer the kind of choice they claim in press releases and other public statements.  For example, EmpowerED Georgia, an education advocate group, has identified  8 myths about charter schools. If you follow this link, you will find more details about the myths identified by Empowered Georgia. Here we’ve only identified the myth, and one fact that repudiates or questions charters.

Myths about Georgia’s Charter Amendment

Research on Charter Schools

One of the images that has always impressed is the graph showing the relationship between poverty concentration and SAT/ACT scores for charter schools in Texas (the red dots) and “regular” Texas public schools.  It is clear that nearly all the charter schools (except for just a few) fall at the bottom of the graph, irrespective of poverty concentration.

Charter schools, in general, have consistently underperformed when compared to similar public schools.  And when you see data as shown in Figure 1, you begin to realize that supporters of charter schools simply ignore such research, or have other purposes in mind for the establishment of charter schools.

Figure 1. This graph might be disappointing to advocates of charter schools. The graph shows the percentage of high school graduates meeting SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted against the concentration of poverty. Each disc is a high school; the red dots are charter schools, the grey are public schools. In general, charter schools simply to do not compare favorably to public schools, regardless of poverty concentration.  Graph by Dr. Michael Marder, University of Texas, used with permission.  For more data like this.


The Inquiry

What Should Parents Know About Charter Schools?

Following are some questions that might be considered in this inquiry.  Is there evidence that charter schools don’t do as well as most public schools, and if so, why are so many politicians working so hard to turn so-called “failing public schools” over to charter school management companies?

Here are some questions to consider in this inquiry:

  1. What should every Georgia parent know about charter schools?
  2. Charter Schools are unleashed with false claims and lots of money.  True? or False?
  3. Did some in the Georgia legislature shout, “Give us charter schools, or we’ll amend the Georgia Constitution?”
  4. Is there any credibility to the claim that charter schools are education’s 21st century philosopher’s stone?
  5. Are Charter Schools in Georgia the Corporate Reformer’s Magic Bullet?
  6. If Charter Schools are not the answer, then what’s the question? (by P.L Thomas)
  7. Do some charter and Title I schools use a pedagogy of indoctrination?
  8. What is the charter school formula for financial success by educational failure?
  9. Is the term charter school an euphemism for school choice?
  10. Why do states ignore the research on charter school performance?


Charter Schools: Education’s New Elixir?

In her new book, Dr. Lisa Delpit suggests that the original idea of charter school has been corrupted.  She explains that originally, charter schools were designed to be “beacons” for educational excellence.  Charter schools were to be designed to develop new approaches to teaching, especially for the most challenging populations of children.  Their results were to be shared with other public schools.

As Dr. Delpit explains, the initial concept has been corrupted.  She explains:

Now, because of the insertion of the “market model,” charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. Special education students, students with behavioral issues, and students who need any kind of special assistance are excluded in a multiplicity of ways because they reduce the bottom line—they lower test scores and take more time to educate properly. Charter schools have any number of ways of “counseling” such students out of their programs. I have been told by parents that many charter schools accuse students of a series of often trivial rule infractions, then tell parents that the students will not be suspended if the parents voluntarily transfer them to another school. Parents of a student with special needs are told that the charter is not prepared to meet their child’s needs adequately and that he or she would be much better served at the regular public school around the corner.

Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People“: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

We have reported on this blog that two major research studies indicate that charter schools do not perform nearly as well as traditional public schools.  In a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford, hundreds of charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia were studied to find out what was the impact of these charter schools on student learning.

Here are some of their findings from the CREDO study:

  • Of the 2403 charter schools reflected on the curve, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools instead.

Dr. Michael Marder, at the University of Texas has studied not only Texas charter schools, but charter schools in other states including Flordia, New Jersey, New York, and California.  He has found that most charter schools do not do as well as the traditional public schools. Here is a video clip of Dr. Marder explaining his research and findings.  Again, the results do not bode well for supporters of charter schools.

Continue reading “Charter Schools: Education’s New Elixir?”

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.
Continue reading “Georgia Making Mistake to Ignore Charter School Research”

Science, Technology, Society & Environmental Education Research

Science, Technology, Society & Environmental (STSE) education has been an important part of science education curriculum development and research. STSE educators opened channels and alternative paths for teaching science in which context was seen as a more powerful starting point for learning. Although these researchers don’t use phrase “humanistic science,” others have synthesized the field of STSE using the phrase.

A recent article on this topic was published in the journal Science Education by Pedretti & Nazir entitled Currents in STSE education: Mapping a complex field, 40 years on.

The researchers have examined the literature of STSE education over the past 40 years, and have identified, explored, and critiqued six currents or trends in STSE education. These currents include: application/design, historical, logical reasoning, value-centered, sociocultural, and socio-ecojustice currents.

Over the past 40 years of innovation, a complex of programs and curricula were developed on a world-wide scale, and have made serious contributions to science teaching. Although not representative of mainstream science education as defined in most countries’ science standards, the STSE education movement has influenced, to some degree, the importance of societal implications of science and technology.

I used the authors currents, and developed this map of the six strands for your visualization.

Pedretti, E., & Nazir, J. (2011). Currents in STSE education: Mapping a complex field, 40 years on Science Education, 95 (4), 601-626 DOI: 10.1002/sce.20435

Linking Research and Practice in Science Teaching

For many years I was fortunate to conduct seminars for the Bureau of Research in Education (BER), an organization that provides staff development and training resources for educators in North America.  One of the principles that provided the framework for the seminars that I did, and others that the BER offers is the link between research and practice.  That is to say, the seminars needed to show how current research in science education could be used to improve science teaching and student learning.  The seminars needed to be practical, but they also needed to be based on research.

I learned that science teachers were eager to not only be introduced to active learning science activities, but also were open to exploring the research forming the foundation for these activities.  The seminars were based on an adult active learning model, and an inquiry and humanistic approach to science teaching and learning.

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST), the official journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Dr. Julie A. Luft, of Arizona State University, Tempe, introduced the first virtual issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching which included nine articles focused on the thematic focus of scientific inquiry.  As Dr. Luft indicated, this an effort by two communities (science education researchers and science teachers) to bridge the research and practice gap.  The two communities she is writing about include the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST).  One important point that is made in her introductory article is that a recent research study conducted by NSTA indicated clearly that science teachers wanted to explore with their colleagues emerging issues in science education, and to participate in science education research.

That said, the issue is important, especially since we are beginning a new school year, and this is the time that courses begin, and attitudes about science learning begin to develop.  The issue explores a variety of topics related to inquiry in the science teaching.  Here is a list of the articles in the virtual journal:

  1. Embracing the essence of inquiry: New roles for science teachers Barbara A. Crawford
  2. Progressive inquiry in a computer-supported biology class Kai Hakkarainen
  3. Folk theories of inquiry: How preservice teachers reproduce the discourse and practices of an atheoretical scientific method Mark Windschitl
  4. Developing students’ ability to ask more and better questions resulting from inquiry-type chemistry laboratories Avi Hofstein, Oshrit Navon, Mira Kipnis, Rachel Mamlok-Naaman
  5. Characteristics of professional development that effect change in secondary science teachers’ classroom practices Bobby Jeanpierre, Karen Oberhauser, Carol Freeman
  6. Science inquiry and student diversity: Enhanced abilities and continuing difficulties after an instructional intervention Okhee Lee, Cory Buxton, Scott Lewis, Kathryn LeRoy
  7. Inscriptional practices in two inquiry-based classrooms: A case study of seventh graders’ use of data tables and graphs Hsin-Kai Wu, Joseph S. Krajcik
  8. Exploring teachers’ informal formative assessment practices and students’ understanding in the context of scientific inquiry Maria Araceli Ruiz-Primo, Erin Marie Furtak
  9. The development of dynamic inquiry performances within an open inquiry setting: A comparison to guided inquiry setting Irit Sadeh, Michal Zion
Luft, J. (2010). Building a bridge between research and practice Journal of Research in Science Teaching DOI: 10.1002/tea.20392