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New York Times publishes union critique of charter public schools.

What You Need To Know.

Tuesday afternoon, August 17, 2004

Dear Friends,

Today's New York Times published a story about a teachers' union analysis of 4th grade test score data from the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The story was picked up by some WA newspapers, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Tacoma News Tribune. Other WA newspapers will undoubtedly publish the story tomorrow. Web links to today's articles are below, FYI.

In 2003 NAEP tested less than 1% of students attending charter public schools in just 7 of the 40 states authorizing charter schools.


Today's "finding": the test scores of students attending charter schools in those 7 states, on average, were "performing about half a year behind students in other public schools in both reading and math."


This finding was then characterized in the context of the current Presidential election as a "blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush Administration."

What the story neglects to mention is that former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, U.S. Senator John Kerry and most other national-level Democrats have also supported charter schools for years. Also not mentioned: the official party platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties have both supported charter schools since 1996.

The teachers' union data analysis did NOT try to measure the academic growth of children who attend charter public schools over time. Instead, it only measured the average academic performance of 4th graders attending charter public schools in 7 of 40 states.


The result was no surprise: the children who attend charter public schools are, on average, farther behind academically than their peers.

Charter school supporters have been saying this for years. Charter public schools provide new public school options for children who are falling through the cracks of the regular public school system. Of course charter school students generally tend to perform at lower levels than regular public school students. That's why their families chose to move to a charter public school in the first place!


The three crucial questions that were not addressed by today's article, however, were these:

1. Were these children already behind academically BEFORE their parents decided to move them to a charter public school?

2. What happens to the academic GROWTH of individual children after they move to a charter public school? Do they tend to catch up academically over time, or fall further behind?

3. Does the average effectiveness of charter public schools improve over time?

One might reasonably expect that charter public schools that have been open for a few years will generally be more effective than charter public schools that just opened, and yet apparently no attempt was made to distinguish between the children attending newly opened charter schools and those attending more established charter schools.

Today's article did at least mention (in paragraph 22) that these kinds of perspectives might cast charter schools in a more favorable light: "Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, who conducted a two-year study of 569 charter schools in 10 states found that while charter school students typically score lower on state tests, over time they progress at faster rates than students in traditional public schools."

(accountability with consequences)

Under the legislation that WA voters will approve or reject when they vote on Referendum 55, all charter public schools created in WA will have a built-in “Quality Assurance Plan.” All WA charter schools whose students demonstrate below-average academic growth (compared to similar students in the same school district) will be closed after the initial five year charter license expires. Unlike regular public schools, all of the adults who work at low-performing charter public schools face real accountability, with real consequences: they will lose their jobs and have to look for new employment elsewhere.

Nationwide, fewer than 10% of the nation's 3,000 charter public schools have closed. If voters approve R-55, WA will probably have a similar experience: 90% of charter public schools will create new, high quality public school choices, while 10% will not. However, because all WA charter public schools are subject to independent performance audits and must clear this high hurdle of accountability, families and taxpayers will be assured that the charter public schools that satisfy the stringent accountability provisions in the law will be high-quality public school choices.

By comparison, especially in low-income, urban areas, WA has many regular public schools that have performed poorly for years, even decades, without any financial or employment consequences for the adults who work there. Even though administrators know that most children are not learning in these schools, year after year, children are still assigned there, year after year.


It is unfair and unjust for any child ever to be forced to attend a failing public school simply because their families can't afford to live in communities with higher quality public schools.

Every child deserves an Equal Opportunity to a quality public education. That's why offering families the CHOICE of charter public schools is so important.


For additional perspective on today's New York Times article, please refer to the Press Release sent out by the Center for Education Reform this afternoon, a copy of which is below.

THANK YOU for everything you're doing to educate everyone you know about the importance of offering the CHOICE of charter public schools to the children, families and educators of our state.

Jim Spady, President & Executive Director
Washington Charter School Resource Center (WCSRC)
4426 - 2nd Avenue NE
Seattle, WA 98105-6191
Jim's office phone: 206/634-0589
Jim's cell phone: 206/949-8484
Jim's e-mail address:
Jim & Fawn's home phone: 206/275-2089
Web page:

Here are the web links for today's newspaper articles:

The New York Times, August 17, 2004 (p. A-1)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 17, 2004 (p. A-3):

The Tacoma News Tribune, August 17, 2004 (p. A-3):

Center of Education Reform Press Release:

For Immediate Release
Contact: Mary Kayne Heinze
(202) 822-9000


Comprehensive data discounts New York Times account; reveals charter schools performing at or above traditional schools

(Washington, DC 8/17/04) Charter schools are helping thousands of low-income and challenged students across the country succeed, despite headlines that appeared in newspapers across the country this morning. The New York Times caused a flurry of media activity when it used a single sample from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to inaccurately portray charter performance (NAEP tested less than 1 percent of charter students in 7 states).

Although NAEP provides valuable information, it is necessary to combine that information with more comprehensive data to accurately assess school performance. Such data does exist and clearly demonstrates that charter schools are succeeding at promoting high student achievement among their students.

NAEP data shows that charter achievement is significant:

… Fourth grade students in Arizona, California and Colorado charters outperform their traditional public school counterparts in their states in reading. Note that one third of all charter schools operate in California and Arizona.

… Eighth grade charter students in Washington, D.C. and California outscored all other public schools in their states in reading.

… Eighth graders in Colorado and Delaware charters schools outperformed 8th graders at all other public schools nationally in reading and math.

State data substantiates charter success:

… Arizona charter school students perform better than their traditional counterparts. The longer a child is in a charter school, the better he or she achieves, according to a study of 60,000 students in Arizona.

… In California, charter schools produce stronger student achievement among low-income students than traditional public schools by a margin of nearly 5 percent.

… Wisconsin’s charter schools are doing better than traditional schools based on the results of state tests in 4th and 8th grade for two academic years (this information was announced this week by Dr. John Witte, University of Wisconsin at Madison).

… In Michigan, charters showed greater gains than the statewide average in all but one of 10 grades and subjects on the 2003 Michigan Assessment of Educational Progress (MEAP) test.

… Sixty percent of urban charter schools in Massachusetts outperformed comparable traditional schools on the 2003 MCAS exams.

National data supports charter achievement:

… A 2003 national report by the Brookings Institution shows that test scores at charter schools are “rising sharply” and out-gaining traditional schools. Additionally, more traditional schools throughout the nation are being added to lists of failing schools while, over time, more charters are being added to the lists of successes.

… National survey data finds that charter schools serve a disproportionate share of children least prepared and most behind. Over half of charters serve populations where over 40 percent of their students are considered at-risk or previously dropped out. For example, the majority of Texas charter schools serve a significantly greater percentage of minority and low-income students – and many of these students have dropped out of traditional public schools.

… A majority of all charter schools serve a minority population of over 41 percent or above.

… According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 1999-2000), 27.3 percent of the students in charter schools were African Americans – compared to 16.9 percent in traditional public schools; 20.8 percent were of Hispanic origin – 14.9 percent in traditional ones; and 2.3 percent were Native Americans – against 1.2 percent found in traditional ones.


… Over 3,000 charter schools serve nearly 800,000 students in 38 states.

… Unlike traditional schools, charter schools not meeting the needs of their students may be shut down. As of January 2004, 311 charter schools have closed, representing 9 percent of all charters ever opened.

… The primary source of data for The New York Times was the American Federation of Teachers, whose criteria for support of charter schools matches less than 1 percent of those currently in operation.

More data and information on charter schools is available at The Center for Education Reform (CER) is a national advocacy and research organization working with states and communities to provide more choices in education and better schools for all children. For more information, contact CER at (202) 822-9000.

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