Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Where Comparing Charters To Traditional Public Schools Gets Complicated

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

A young boy signs his name to a poster advocating for Gary's Charter School of the Dunes to remain open. Ball State University officials have revoked the school's charter.

Indianapolis Star education reporter Scott Elliott tackles an interesting question on his blog: Charter schools are bad, right? Indiana may be a special case, he writes. From Get On The Bus:

Now, qualifiers are in order. Compared to all public schools in the state, Indiana charters generally rank in the bottom half when it comes to test performance and school report card grades. So you can look at the scores and fairly say public school students do much better than charters. But that’s not really the relevant comparison. After all, public school students also far outscore students in IPS and other high poverty districts where charters generally are located. The better question is the one CREDO attempted to answer — how do kids in charters do compared to the kids in the schools they otherwise would have attended?

Last December, CREDO was back with a follow up study of Indiana that largely confirmed what they found in 2011, but this time the went further. CREDO argued that overall charter performance here is better than average but that it would be considerably better if not for a handful of very poor performing charters that drag the best performers down. It laid the blame at the feet of Ball State University, which sponsored most of the worst charters.

Elliott points out that just weeks after CREDO released the second study, Ball State announced it wouldn’t renew the charters of seven schools.

As we’ve written, that’s put the future of a building project at one school in limbo. And some other shuttered charters argue they’re serving kids who haven’t succeeded in traditional public schools.

Now Ball State is working with the National Association of Charter School Authorizors to tighten its sponsorship requirements. Last summer, NACSA Vice President Alex Medler told StateImpact closing schools is just part of the cycle.

“One of the best strategies instead to serve communities well is to go ahead and close bad charter schools, continue to open new ones,” says Medler. “It’s through managing a group of schools that the community gets access to the best education for its kids.”


  • Charter Advocate

    Ball State University wasn’t interested in closing charter schools for the past three years. It even suspended its accountability plan for charter schools three years ago including stopping the University’s School Operations Accountability Reviews. The National Association of Charter Schools wrote a letter the the University stating,”In previous years the authorizer has met with representatives of the school on an annual basis to review performance measures. The results of these meetings were used to determine interventions, as needed. This practice has been discontinued, yet nothing in the way of performance reviews has replaced it.” The University was happy to take 3% of the State Tuition Support that each school received from the State of Indiana for (over $2,000,000/year for the University). Not until the University was criticized by CREDO in December 2012 with negative publicity was Ball State University interested in closing schools. The University then did a quick turnaround, implemented a plan that was not finalized, and stated they would not renew charters of seven schools. Not knowing how they were to be objectively evaluated by the University, the charter schools never had a chance.

  • Karynb9

    No, the research still isn’t even close to accurate because kids aren’t being “randomly” assigned to charter schools. Kids are only in charter schools due to SOME amount of parental involvement and concern for their children’s educations. That’s a huge variable that isn’t accounted for with this research study. That’s not at all to say that there aren’t many students with an equally high level of parental involvement in traditional schools, but those traditional schools are where you would find ALL of the students with parents who uninvolved.

    The question that needs to be answered — but can’t be — is how would those exact same charter school students do if they had remained in their traditional schools, NOT how are they performing compared to the students that remain in the public schools. At the very least, students would need to be randomly assigned to charter vs. traditional schools in order for a study to be valid.

  • inteach

    Many charters use a lottery system to decide which students can attend.

    It’s fair to say that a student who submits an application is intrinsically more motivated to learn.

    So these students are more likely to outperform their demographically identical peers who attend traditional public schools.

    But it’s more than individual motivation; it’s the school environment that a majority of motivated students can create.

    The real key to charter success is that the school environment is more conducive to achievement since every student self-selected to be there. Student attitudes set the academic tone and school climate.

    You can’t fairly compare charter students with students who lose the lottery and go back to a traditional school. The public school students are in a much different environment since they are now in a school where a substantial portion of the students are not as inherently motivated and generally display a higher degree of dysfunctional behaviors that inhibit the creation of a suitable learning environment.

    The key to any student’s academic achievement is not necessarily the school; it’s whether a clear majority of students in the school are more motivated and subsequently help create an atmosphere of mutual academic reinforcement.

  • Gloria Murphy Flaugh

    Charter schools wouldn’t exist if the current public schools weren’t horrible….parents like choices. Make your public school the best and no one will want to leave it…

    • Karynb9

      It’s harder to do when you’re responsible for educating every student that lives within your boundary whether or not they or their parents want them to get an education. Randomly assign kids to “charter schools” and do the research study again, or at least force them to accept every kid on their waiting list (since when does a traditional public school district get to say, “I’m sorry, but your kid can’t come here next year because WE’RE FULL”?) and then we’ll look at whether or not it’s all-about one school’s model being inherently “better” than the others’.

  • Maisy

    I’ve worked in a charter school in NW Indiana for 3 years and as a teacher it was a bad experience. There is no voice for the teachers, they don’t have any part of decision making, sit on any boards, help hire new teachers, nothing. It’s like a dictatorship, they tell you how, when, and where concerning your lesson plans, classroom schedule, techniques, and more. They are very critical and short on encouragement. You could be a stellar teacher, loved by parents and kids alike, but it you miss a score somewhere, watch out, you could lose your job, get a bad evaluation, or just get raked over the goals making you feel that all the hours of hard work at night and on weekends just didn’t cut it. I can’t tell you about the many days of crying, getting shingles twice, and nervous breakdowns at home. My husband finally said, you have got to quit, we cannot live like this. I love teaching, I love the kids, but now I working 2 part time jobs to make ends meet because I could not take the stress of the working environment. Many other teachers quit last year as well.

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