US Charter schools show “modest” progress after 20 years of investment, controversy and schools opening and closing.

Janet Downs's picture
After two decades, US Charter schools are at beginning to show “marginal improvements” generally since 2009, TES reports.

But the latest National Charter School Study, published every four years by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), also shows that almost a third of charter schools still have a “significantly weaker” performance in maths than US public (state-maintained and run) counterparts. A fifth are behind in reading. Three-fifths perform at the same level as public schools in reading and two-fifths in maths.

The boost in performance is not down to general improvement among all existing charters but to the closure of weak-performing ones and an increase in the number of high-performing ones. At the same time, performance in public schools tends to have dropped so charters seem to have improved in comparison.

Fullbright scholar and former London teacher, Laura McInerney, who also researches US charter schools, found that charter school performance depends on where the charters are situated. She told TES:

“A lot of states have now been able to learn from the earliest adopters and do a very good job, such as those in Maine. But somewhere like Arizona is notorious for its problems, as it is said that the market is the way forward without any accountability. And there years later [the system] was found to be riddled with fraud and now many [charter schools] have to be closed downs.”

And when poor charters are closed down, neighbouring schools face a sudden influx of new students, a New Orleans teacher told TES.

US Charter Schools are the model for England’s free schools. But the “freedoms” which US Charters enjoy are the same as have been available to English schools for a quarter-of-a-century. And three of the first wave schools inspected so far have been given “requires improvement” notices by Ofsted* and one, Discovery New School, was judged “inadequate”.

CREDO FINDINGS re US charter schools 2013:

Reading: 25% of charters studied were significantly stronger than traditional schools;

56% were no different;

19% were significantly weaker.


Maths: 29% of charters studied were significantly stronger than traditional schools.

40% were no different.

31% were significantly weaker.


*Citing Ofsted judgements does not imply endorsement.

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