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A 2010 protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue/flickr/cc)

New Analysis Shatters Narrative of Charter School Success

In Minnesota, 'new information is fueling critics who say the charter school experiment has failed to deliver.'

Deirdre Fulton

Public schools are outperforming charter schools in Minnesota, in some cases "dramatically," according to a new analysis by the state's Star-Tribune newspaper.

In addition, many charter schools fail to adequately support minority students, close examination of the data revealed.

Journalist Kim McGuire looked at 128 of the state's 157 charter schools and found "that the gulf between the academic success of its white and minority students widened at nearly two-thirds of those schools last year. Slightly more than half of charter schools students were proficient in reading, dramatically worse than traditional public schools, where 72 percent were proficient."

"Today, charter advocates claim that their privately managed charters will 'save low-income students from failing public schools,' but the Minnesota experience suggests that charters face the same challenges as public schools."
—Diane Ravitch, New York University

Between 2011 and 2014, McGuire reported, 20 charter schools failed to meet the state’s expectations for academic growth each year, "signaling that some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable students had stagnated academically."

Charlene Briner, the Minnesota Department of Education’s chief of staff, told the newspaper that she was troubled by the information, "which runs counter to 'the public narrative' that charter schools are generally superior to public schools."

"Minnesota is the birthplace of the charter school movement and a handful of schools have received national acclaim for their accomplishments, particularly when it comes to making strong academic gains with low-income students of color," the Star-Tribune claims. "But the new information is fueling critics who say the charter school experiment has failed to deliver on teaching innovation."

Education analyst Diane Ravitch notes: "Minnesota was the home of the charter movement, which began with high expectations as a progressive experiment but has turned into a favorite mechanism in many states to promote privatization of public education and to generate profits for charter corporations like Imagine, Charter Schools USA, and K12. Today, charter advocates claim that their privately managed charters will 'save low-income students from failing public schools,' but the Minnesota experience suggests that charters face the same challenges as public schools, which is magnified by high teacher turnover in charter schools."

The findings back up a report (pdf) put out last fall by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School, which examined the success and failures of the charter school system in Chicago, Illinois.

That study concluded:

Sadly the charters schools, which on average score lower that the Chicago public schools, have not improved the Chicago school system, but perhaps made it even weaker. Further charters, which are even more likely to be single race schools than the already hyper segregated Chicago school system, have not increased interracial contact, an often-stated goal of charter systems. Finally, the fact that Chicago charters use expulsion far more often that public schools deserves further study. In the end it is unlikely that the Chicago charter school experience provides a model for improving urban education in other big city school districts.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission plans to vote on no fewer than 39 charter school applications at a special meeting starting Wednesday afternoon. There will be opportunity for final statement by applicants and public commenting by just 39 speakers who registered in advance. 

Earlier this month, a pro-charter, non-profit organization offered the cash-strapped city school district up to $35 million to help defray the costs of enrolling an additional 15,000 students in new charter schools.


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