Inside Charter Schools – Part 1: Differing Views on Their Impact
The nation’s first charter school law originated in Minnesota in 1991. Today there are more than 150 charter schools across the state that educate about 60,000 students. Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change, and Peter Eckhoff, president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers, weighed in on both sides of the charter school debate.
About Charter Schools
Nathan helped write the nation’s first charter public school law. He also worked with governors in more than 25 states to help with similar legislation.
“When you see one charter school you have seen one charter school,” says Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change.
Nathan says charter schools have to teach the same standards as public schools.
“They have to take the same statewide tests. On the religious issue they may not be religious schools period. One school was accused and an investigation found that it was promoting religion and it was closed down,” he said.
Charter School Closures Create Issues
The closure of charter schools is an issue that educators like Peter Eckhoff see as an issue.
“If you have a charter that fails, financially those students still have the right to a full robust education,” said Peter Eckhoff, president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers. “These students matriculate back into the public school systems where they are coming in with a less robust background. They are then adding to the burdens of the system without all the financial resources being attached at the same time.”
What Eckhoff means by this is that the funding for the student was originally given to the charter school. When the student returns to the public school after a charter school closes that funding doesn’t immediately follow them.
“I personally think that the charter school process in Minnesota is out of control,” said Eckhoff. “I think that what it does is it continues to siphon limited resources as a state into very pointed and for-profit systems. The ultimate effect of those changes is that we are seeing more of our public school systems struggling to meet the needs of all the students.”
District Schools See Enrollment Drops
Since the establishment of charter schools, enrollment in public schools across the state has dropped. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, in 1992 public school districts across the state had more than 831,00 students. Now they have around 805,000.
Public schools find this to be a negative. But Nathan feels the addition of charter schools helped make the state’s education system better.
“In terms of internationally, Minnesota ranks among the very best education systems in the world,” stated Nathan.
Since charter schools were created, the state has gone toe to toe with countries like Finland on international exams.
“Minnesota students who are more racially diverse than the Finnish students actually do better on several international exams than Finland,” said Nathan.
However educators like Eckhoff say charter schools often lack a diversity of people since many are culturally focused. He also feels they lack a diverse curriculum.
“When I look at the options that my kids had growing up in the public school system, the diversity of courses that they had available to them was unprecedented. We compared it to private schools that had massive tuition rates in order to attend,” said Eckhoff. “My son had the option of going AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate). I can’t find a charter school in the entire state that I’m aware of that offers that level of diverse options for a student within their walls.”
While charter schools have their pros and cons, both sides agree that you should do your research before sending your child to either.
“Think about what kind of learner your youngster is,” said Nathan. “Identify the districts and charter public schools in your area and go visit them.”
Since charter schools were established, graduation rates have continued to rise across various ethnic groups. Graduation rates for students of color have increased the most. While experts say charter schools aren’t the only reason for that happening, they say it definitely is a factor. For more on those stats click here.