Is the charter school experiment a failure?

The dome of the Minnesota State Capitol; Saint Paul, Minnesota
The Dome of the Minnesota State Capitol. Minnesota lawmakers may consider changes to failing charter schools in the coming legislative session. Aidan Wakely-Mulroney / Flickr

“Since the first charter school in the nation opened in St. Paul in 1992, charters in Minnesota have grown rapidly, especially in the Twin Cities metro area. Today there are more than 150 charters statewide,” writes MPR News education reporter Tim Post.

Charter schools are public schools, but they are freed from some of the requirements that traditional schools must follow. By design, that autonomy is intended to allow charters to try innovative approaches like longer school days or creative curriculum.

As the charter system has grown, so have concerns over how the schools perform, academically and financially.

Overall, students at charter schools don’t do as well academically as students in traditional district schools, according to research by Myron Orfield, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity.

“The problem is the vast majority of charters are underperforming and maybe 25, 30 percent of them are just really terrible and they go on from year to year,” said Orfield, one of the biggest critics of charter schools in Minnesota. “They’re considerably worse than the public schools.”

Increased accountability could be on the way for Minnesota’s charter schools during the upcoming legislative system.

Critics of underperforming charter schools say state law isn’t tough enough. They’re pushing a measure that would flag poor performing charters for closure.

If approved by the Legislature, it would pressure charter school authorizers, essentially the sponsors that offer funding and guidance to the schools, to close chronically underperforming charters.

Today’s Question: Is the charter school experiment a failure?