CREDO study shows quality counts

Charter opponents have, with some exception, been quiet over today’s release of the newest CREDO study on charter-school performance. The study determined that, in the aggregate, charter school students gained more than a week’s worth of learning each year in reading on their peers in traditional public schools and performed about the same as their traditional public school peers in math (the now-famous 2009 study showed a loss of learning among charter students in both subjects).

The real test, however, will apply to charter school proponents, at least those who call themselves such. For while the overall news is good for charters, it’s clear that some states are not moving fast enough to adopt the lessons this sector of public education has learned about quality control during the past several years.

States such as Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C., all showed outsize academic gains in charter schools while states including Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Texas performed weakly. It’s not for nothing that most of the states with bigger gains have been less tolerant of bad schools and have passed laws giving charter authorizers more tools to shut down the worst performers; gains from the 2009 study came in part because 8 percent of the worst schools have closed in that time. The states with little to show have, generally speaking, remained content to let the marketplace work itself out, and this has kept many bad schools in business.  

To be sure, Texas and Nevada have in recent weeks passed laws that make it easier to shut down bad-performing charter schools, but they’re the exception among states with learning gains at or below zero in the CREDO report. Too many remain content to let a thousand flowers bloom, even if those flowers were weeds all along.

So while this CREDO report ought to bury the talking points that charter opponents crafted to convince lawmakers that charters weren’t living up their promise, it won’t lift the charter movement as a whole. Rather, groups like New Schools for New Orleans, the Tennessee Charter School Incubator, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and the D.C. Public Charter School Board, among others, will look far better for the higher standards they have promoted and practiced.

In short, results have been trending upward largely because of the political and venture capital directed at quality in the charter sector. Let’s keep it up.

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