The Charter School movement is one which leaves me ambivalent. Since I would assert, and I think the data demonstrates (Here and here and here and here), that it is the perception of “poor quality schools” which keeps some parents who otherwise would choose an urban lifestyle from committing to city living, then charter schools which give those parents the illusion of choice and the illusion of “higher quality schools” can be an effective means by which to lure people back to the city. On the other hand, by taking disproportionately fewer special needs students and, in many cases, poor students, they leave the traditional public schools with an even greater relative burden to carry in those areas and perpetuate the myth that city schools lack quality.
A recent fairly thorough article in the Springfield Republican included socioeconomic data as well as data from standardized tests scores and the numbers demonstrated, in ranking the six charter schools and 3 public school districts by socioeconomic status (% of students living in poverty), special needs students, and the percentage of students not proficient in English, and then ranking them by test results, no school ever over or under performed by more than one place. The one charter school which seemed to legitimately “over perform” (by one place in the ranking) AND took in students of a socioeconomic status equivalent to its home district was so small in terms of student population (20 students per graduating class) that the minimal level of over performance was easily explained by the usual dearth of special needs students, the huge % of students dismissed from the program, and the fact that the sample size was so small and included only one year of data. It should be added that even if pedagogically it proved to be a truly superior academic setting it would be unlikely to be able to be “scaled up” to meet the needs of 100x as many students.
The largest charter school in the report somehow managed to have 30% fewer students living in poverty than its home district and, yes, predictably outperformed that district. The highest performing school of all, a charter school with less than 15% of its students living in poverty, managed to have better standardized testing results than the closest(geographically) public school district in the report which had over 80% of its enormous student body coming from poverty and one quarter of its students lacking proficiency in English.
Charter schools, public schools, private schools, it doesn’t matter. The single most significant input to a school is the quality of the students who attend it. What people mis-perceive as “the quality of the school” is actually “the quality of the students” which is another way of saying their relative wealth. Some schools do over perform their demographic, and some schools underperform, but either way it is no more likely to occur in a poor district than a rich district and YOUR child’s performance is much more heavily impacted by who YOU are than by what school he/she attends.