After much debate, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Charter Schools recently recommended to amend the cap to allow up to six new charter schools to open each year. This was a step in the right direction.
Charter schools are publicly funded institutions run by nonprofit organizations. By design, they have more operational flexibility than traditional schools. Another important difference is that, unlike traditional schools, parents choose to enroll their children in charter schools. An application to one of these schools is a sure sign that a parent believes in the school. Seats at some charter schools are so coveted that enrollment decisions are determined by lottery. Currently, there are approximately 5,100 students on charter school waiting lists in North Carolina.
Still, everyone is not sold on charter schools. A widely circulated June 2007 study by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research (NCCPPR), claimed that some charter schools do not perform as well as traditional public schools. A careful review reveals that the methodology of this study is flawed. NCCPPR compares all charter schools to all traditional schools in North Carolina. This approach fails to take into account the striking demographic differences between students at the two types of schools, as well as the relatively short period of time many charter schools have been in operation. As statistical comparisons have been refined to include such factors, more studies, like those of Harvard’s Caroline Hoxby, are showing charter schools to be equal to, or to outperform, comparable public schools.
No doubt, further studies could contribute to the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of charter schools. But while the academicians refine their analytical methods, thousands of children are left waiting for better educational opportunities. We have enough evidence to take action. Whom should we trust? The analysts or the parents?