I-1240 opponents cherry-pick data in effort to maintain charter school ban
The official Voters’ Guide Pro and Con statements on Initiative 1240 just came out. I-1240 seeks to lift the state ban on charter schools. I was surprised to read in the Con statement the claim that, “Research conducted by Stanford University and others shows that, overall, charter schools do not perform better than public schools...”
What is this research by “and others”? If there are any “other” such studies, I haven’t seen them. I am aware of only one study, the discredited CREDO study at Stanford, cited routinely by opponents, that questions the overall effectiveness of the nation’s 6,000 charter schools.
The Stanford CREDO study has been severely criticized by national experts for the weakness of its data and methodology. The CREDO authors looked only at charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia, considerably less than half of the 41 states that have charter schools. Further, the laws authorizing charter schools vary widely across these 15 states and the District of Columbia, yet the CREDO study made no effort to account for these important differences.
The CREDO study looked mostly at students who had attended a charter school for one year or less, far too short a time to measure academic effects. In addition, many of the charter schools included in the study had been open a one year or less, not enough time to tell whether a new academic program is working.
What Initiative 1240 opponents didn’t mention are the dozens of studies that show charter schools are effective at educating students, especially in urban and minority communities. Today over two million children attend charter schools, hardly a sign of a failed idea.
A meta-analysis of rigorous charter school studies conducted by the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington shows charter schools perform better than traditional schools in teaching elementary school reading and math, and middle-school math. For more examples see my “Guide to Charter School Studies” and the study “An Option for Learning: An Assessment of Student Achievement in Charter Public Schools.”
Charter school opponents act as if this large body of positive research doesn’t exist. Instead they are forced to turn again and again to a single flawed study, CREDO, to cherry pick their data.
Even if the research results were mixed (they're not), opponents overlook one essential point: attendance at a charter school is entirely voluntary. Parents do not need a Stanford study to tell them whether their neighborhood school is working for them. Children from families that don’t like charter schools don’t have to attend them. This is in sharp contrast to the way many school districts operate, like Seattle, where children are simply assigned to failing schools – parents have little or no say in the matter.
If a charter school is not serving children, the solution is simple – parents won’t enroll there. Today thousands of Washington families are trapped in failing public schools. That can’t happen at a community-based charter school.
Initiative 1240 opponents can’t seem to stand the idea that some children somewhere might want to go to a charter school. O.K., supporters of the ban just don’t like charters, period. I get it. But they shouldn’t try to deny access to children who may benefit from this innovative, well-tested form of public education.