Are charter schools succeeding nationally?

From The Daily Circuit’s Tom Weber:

Reporter Tim Post brought us the story during Morning Edition about a new study that finds charter schools in the Twin Cities metro area underperform academically in comparison to their traditional public counterparts and are more racially segregated.

The report is from the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School.

“If you look at the total group, they’re underperforming the public schools significantly and a lot of the ones who are serving the poorest kids are not only doing very badly, but not lasting very long,” said Myron Orfield, the institute’s director.

In all, the Twin Cities’ 30,000 charter school students score 7.5 percentage points lower on math testing and 4.4 percent lower on reading tests than students at traditional public schools. But as Tim Post reported, charter school advocates weren’t fazed all that much by the data because they believe their schools provide an important education alternative, especially to students who have long struggled academically.

So what’s this looking like nationally?


Mark Berends, a professor of sociology at Notre Dame University and director of the Center for Research on Educational Opportunities said that when charter schools first opened there was fear from traditional school districts that the charters would ‘skim’ the best students away.

Berends said what has ended up happening isn’t skimming. but what’s being called ‘cropping’ – for a number of reasons, charters actually end up getting the lower-performing student.

He noted a study he tried to do to compare traditional schools with charters and he had a hard time finding a sample because the demographics between the two were so different. The charters in the area he was studying were so much more segregated, so he had trouble just starting the study.

Sondra Samuels, CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis, issued this statement in response to Tim’s story:

“I think we have to stop this false argument about Charter vs. District schools and forced segregation vs. the choice of a parent to send their child to more culturally affirming school. Our focus has to be on All of our children receiving a quality education wherever they go and irrespective of the race of the student in the seat next to them- this is especially important for low-income African American children who are being left most behind.”

The audio from our interview:

Related PDF: “Is Chartering, as a Strategy, Succeeding?”

Tom Weber

  • Ted

    Why are parents choosing charters?

    MN charters are public schools and have to take all students that want to attend. Many students have been failed by the traditional system and are doing better in the charter. I have worked very hard to repair the gaps left by the trad system.

    Traditional systems take $ from charters and plow it into sports and buildings here in Duluth.

  • Julie

    Despite studies from across the country (like a recent on from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University) that show charter schools underperform public schools on average, education reformers want to convert regular public schools to charters. It’s that kind of illogical position that throws suspicion on their other ideas.

    For instance, most charter school proponents want to judge teachers to a large extent on test scores. They are willing to lay off a teacher on their scores, but they won’t take the same level of action with a charter school with low test scores.

    The hypocrisy of education reformers comes into sharp focus with these kinds of studies. They need to call as loudly for shutting down charters with low test scores as they do for ending teacher seniority and tenure.

  • Betsy Jorgenson

    I am a teacher in Grand Marais, MN – a very small town. We have three elementary charter schools and one traditional K-12 school. Two of the charter schools make sense geographically and cultrally in our large county that includes Grand Portage Indian Reservation. Over the course of the past 8 or so years that the first charter school opened in Grand Marais we have hear about how this school draws students and funding, etc. I’ve learned to accept this as a reality and move on. I try not to harbor resentment…I understand that many parents appreciate having a choice in teachers and school environments for their child. However, I have noticed a growing and troubling issue that stems from segregation – not racial segregation, but a political segregation in our small community. When most of our population came to the same central school, we were all brought together for a common cause – the education of our youth – regardless of whether you were an avid snowmobiler or cross country skier, for example. Now there are two camps of students, teachers and families and there is a real tension between the two. There have been reports of bullying between the two student bodies with limited options for intervention because were not all part of the same school community. There is a growing sense of “them” and “us”. Cook County is already a politically polarized community and I worry that it will only get worse in the future. Kids that grow up together, are more capable of respecting one another’s values and lifestyles as adults.