PCPCS Responds To Inaccurate Reporting On Charter Schools
December 08, 2011
The December 2 issue of the Morning Call contained an article on a “report” announced to have been released on November 25 in which 26 school superintendents from Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton and Pike counties blasted charter schools.
We have read the original document, the press release, and the story and have found there are numerous misunderstandings, inaccuracies, selective use of data, and unsubstantiated conclusions in the original document, some of which are mimicked in the Morning Call article. Here are the most egregious.
First, the document was completed on May 12 of this year, not in November, and the authors never refer to it as a report. It is, in fact, a position paper created not to provide a balanced analysis of the situation, but with the purpose of discrediting the performance of selected charter schools as compared with selected schools and grade levels within the participating districts.
Second, the position paper reflects serious misunderstandings of the definition, purpose and funding processes of charter schools. Charter schools are public schools paid for by tax dollars, but not as stated in the paper. Charter schools do not receive direct payment of the average cost per student from a district, as stated both in the paper and in the press release. Rather, after the average cost per student is calculated, the district makes further deductions in 21 categories allowed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Districts pay between 52 and 80 percent of their average cost per student to the charter, leaving charters to educate children for a fraction of what taxpayers pay the school district.
Although it is true that charters are not bound by many of the state operational mandates as are traditional public schools, they are held to exactly the same stringent academic performance standards.
Third, a Susquehanna Polling and Research report is referenced to partially substantiate their position that voters agree with their conclusions, but the paper totally ignores a directly on point October 25, 2011 report from the same research firm that found that 69 percent of registered voters surveyed throughout the state support the charter school option for families seeking public school choice.
The paper also quotes the Stanford CREDO study as stating that “students in Pennsylvania charter schools, on average, make smaller learning gains when compared with their traditional counterparts,” but neglects to reference data from the same study showing that 25-30 percent of the charter schools in Pennsylvania are significantly outperforming their traditional school counterparts.
Fourth, a quote from one of the superintendents is particularly disturbing. “We can’t expect local school districts to be the oversight mechanism … of charter schools, because that’s not our charge.” Since 1997 when the original charter law was passed, that has been exactly the charge of local school districts. In fact, school districts are the only organizations in the state that can authorize, monitor, and close brick and mortar charter schools. His statement is more accurate if referring to cyber charter schools, which are authorized by the Department of Education, but that distinction is not made anywhere in the paper or in the article.
Fifth, the data used relative to charter schools is grossly inaccurate, even in May when the original paper was written. The authors stated that there are 142 charters schools in the state serving 50,000 students. In fact, in the last academic year, there were 90,616 Pennsylvania students in charter schools with almost 30,000 on waiting lists. This academic year, there are 162 charters serving even more students. If charters were a single school district, they would be the second largest in the state. Charter schools are here to stay and are a growing public school choice option for parents.
There is no question that there are unresolved issues between charter schools and school districts. However, there are also districts that have had great and productive relationships with charters from the beginning; those, such as Philadelphia, that are aggressively seeking improved working relationships with charters which now represent a significant portion of their student population; and those that are strategically looking at how to use charter law not as a problem, but rather as an opportunity to more effectively teach the students in their care.
An increasing number of parents are choosing to send their children to charters for a reason. It is in the best interests of our children to stop the bickering and use our energy instead to nurture high-performing schools, help those that are struggling, and close those that are unwilling or unable to improve – whether they be traditional or charter public schools.
Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools