Ed Reform 101: Charter Schools & Vouchers

Blue Jersey’s Ed Reform 101

Part 5 – Charter School and Voucher Myths

Ed Reform 101Charter schools have taken on an almost mythic quality. Touted by politicians, the subject of Hollywood films, the darlings of Wall Street: listening to the marketing, you would think charter schools were the saviors of American children.

Don’t believe the hype. While there may well be a place for charter schools, they are not the miracles their sellers would have us believe. They vary greatly in quality, don’t serve the same populations of students, and are not subject to the same oversight taxpayers demand from public schools.

Neither charter schools – nor vouchers to private schools – will solve the problems of poverty that plague 20% of our children and lead to gaps in school achievement. Neither is a substitute for a real education policy.

And yet they remain at the center of Chris Christie’s “reform” agenda. That’s a shame when you know the facts.

What you should know about charter schools & vouchers:

  • On average, charter schools do not do a better job educating children than public schools.

  • Charter schools that are touted as “successful” usually don’t serve the same populations as public schools.

  • Charter schools are big business.

  • Hollywood’s love for charter schools is misplaced.

  • Private schools receiving vouchers don’t do a better job educating kids, and could cost NJ taxpayers nearly $1 billion.

    Myth: Charter schools do a better job of teaching kids than public schools.

    The Truth: Studies show charter schools do not, on average, perform any better than public schools.

    – The largest national study of charter schools found only 17% of charters perform better than public schools; 37% perform worse.

    – When correcting for student characteristics, New Jersey charter schools do no better than public schools on statewide tests.

    – Analysis of data in New York and New Jersey suggests that charter schools’ “successes” are not replicable because they often serve different students.

    Myth: Charter schools teach the same kids that public schools do.

    The Truth: The populations for many “successful” charter schools are not the same as neighboring public schools.

    – New Jersey charter schools do not enroll as many special needs students as regular schools.

    – Many high-profile New Jersey charter schools touted as successes enroll far fewer children in poverty than public schools in their neighborhoods.

    Myth: Charter schools have an unfair disadvantage because they don’t get as much money as public schools.

    The Truth: High-profile charter schools enjoy large private donations, and charters usually don’t have to educate the most difficult and expensive students.

    – The most well-endowed charters receive more than $10,000 per pupil in additional private funding.

    – Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone schools have assets of more than $200 million.

    – Public schools are obligated to provide many more services (special education, student support) than charter schools, which accounts for their larger per pupil expenses.

    Myth: Charter schools are “public” schools..

    The Truth: Many charter schools are run by private, for-profit companies; many investors in charter schools enjoy special tax breaks.

    – Private investors in charter facilities are doubling their money by enjoying a federal tax credit.

    – Private education management organizations (EMOs) operate more than 30 percent of charter schools.

    – Both Gov. Christie and Acting Education Commissioner Cerf have worked for for-profit school management companies.

    Myth: Films like “The Cartel” and “Waiting For Superman” give an accurate portrayal of charter school issues.

    The Truth: Hollywood has overhyped charter schools.

    Waiting For Superman has many errors and omissions, including ignoring the majority of charter schools which are failing and ignoring the effect of poverty on student learning. The documentary also has staged scenes.

    The Cartel is riddled with errors, and way overstates charter schools’ successes.

    Myth: Charter school operators are subject to the same restrictions as public school administrators.

    The Truth: Charter school leaders are not subject to the Christie “superintendent’s cap.”

    – Directors of small charter schools can make more money than local superintendents.

    Myth: Private schools do a better job of educating children than public schools, and they spend less per student.

    The Truth: Private school spending and quality varies greatly.

    – Private school spending varies greatly, and tuition does not cover all private school costs.

    – When controlling for student differences, private schools do no better than public schools in student achievement (p.3).

    – Large-scale studies of voucher programs show no increase in student achievement.

    Myth: The NJ voucher bill is “revenue-neutral”: it won’t take money away from public schools.

    The Truth: The voucher bill will cost local districts hundreds of millions of dollars.

    – NJ’s Office of Legislative Service’s report clearly spells out that the voucher bill will cost local districts $839.9 million. (p.1)

    For more information about charter schools, we recommend:

  • Rutgers professor Dr. Bruce Baker’s School Finance 101 Blog, particularly his writings about charter schools and vouchers.

  • Save Our Schools NJ

    Next in our series: A Recap

    Tuesday, 8/30/11: Standardized Testing

    Wednesday, 8/31/11: Teacher Quality

    Thursday, 9/1/11: Merit Pay, Seniority & Tenure

    Friday, 9/2/11: Teachers Unions

    Sunday, 9/4/11: Charter Schools & Vouchers

    Tuesday, 9/6/11: Recap

  • Comments (15)

    1. deciminyan
    2. HurtPillow

      Children who go to private and charter schools have a built in home advantage; their parents HAVE an active interest in their education.  The parents in these schools tend to advocate for their children and education is a priority.  On the other hand, there are public school parents in urban districts who must be compelled to show up for a school meeting by having their child suspended until they show up.  That is not a condition that private and charter schools enjoy. Just by virtue of being IN those alternative schools, those kids have a leg up because their parents have an active role which is the most important factor in student outcomes.  

      To drill this down even further, because those parents have an active interest and role in their child’s education, I would speculate that those children should be outstanding achievers in charter / private schools.  I would like to see research that studies this variable in charter / private / public schools and student outcomes after income and parent education is taken into account.  The idea being that if charter and private schools are so effective, coupled with increased parent involvement, then those students should be head and shoulders above public school student achievement.  If on the other hand those students are doing no better than their public school counterparts, then million$ are being wasted for no good educational reason.

    3. Couch Potato Politics

      The whole problem with ALL education in this country is the mentality that “profit promotes success”.

      In education this is far from true.

      Profit promotes self-interests and greed. We see it in colleges across the country. Education has become a “The more you can afford, the better educated you’ll be” cesspool of elitism that discards what are likely some of the most promising students because they’re poor, poorly parented or don’t fit the standardized testing corporations idea of a success-bound student.

      Education in this country, across the board, should be free from pre-school to grad school and the ONLY litmus should be the “Whole-Student” measure.

      Teachers need to be allowed to teach, not cram for standardized drills that categorize children by precentage of ratings. All children have potential but not all potential is standardized or obvious.

      A kid good in math may have no real aptitude for creative writing but the standardized style of the SAT create a compiled grade where that students lack of literary creativity cripples his overall score though the kid may be a rocket scientist as yet undiscovered.

      Or the same can be said of the next poet luareate. Great writer but couldn’t do a quadratic equation to save his life. But, if that weak math sensibility weighs against the excellent writing skills, the overall score is dminished and the college they aply to will likely take teh kid with two moderate scores equaling the unbalanced scores of the math weak or creative writing weak student.

      Beyond that, odds are these same kids will miss out on many scholarships and if they somehow get into a “Good” school, tyhey are looking at 20K to 40K annual tuitions that they can’t afford, or their parents have weak or one existent funds or credit ratings to help them with.

      Education has become a rich kids playground and a poor kids pain and until we take the profit motive out of education, how many Einsteins (Was a MISERABLE math testing student but got into college FREE), T.S. Elliots, Steve Wozniaks, George Washington Carvers or Frank Lloyd Wrights will slip through the cracks while rich but average students get all the benefits?


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