The number of children in the US attending charter schools has passed the two million mark according to an AP article in the Seattle Times. But read the article closely and you'll see all is not well.
From the article:
The growth represents the largest increase in enrollment over a single year since charter schools were founded nearly two decades ago. In all, more than 500 new charter schools were opened in the 2011-12 school year. And about 200,000 more students are enrolled now than a year before, an increase of 13 percent nationwide.
Of course, the fact that in the article charter supporters and others attribute most of that growth to the RTTT money is telling. We are Americans, after all. Give us more choices and we will take them.
They are helped by continued support from private foundations and the U.S. Department of Education, which announced $25 million in grants for high achieving charter schools in September.
Sixteen states have lifted caps on the number of them and student enrollment over the last three years, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
There are several telling quotes:
James Willcox, CEO of Aspire Public Schools, California's largest charter school operator, said $20 million in state funding has been lost annually since 2007. After school and academic intervention programs have been cut, class sizes expanded and teachers haven't received a cost of living increase in four years.
"We have banded together and done everything we possibly can to keep them on track," Willcox said in an interview Tuesday. "Our results have gotten better even as the situation has gotten worse. But it's not sustainable."
Not sustainable? As in it costs a lot of money to educate all kids? And charter are finally getting around to having to have more special ed and ELL services and it costs them money?
Robin Lake, associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, said the big expansion has come at the right time: Charter schools have matured and are paying more attention to effectively surveying and addressing the needs of special education, English language learners and other students.
Oh, okay, they've "matured." It only took them 20 years.
Part of the problem, as Ms. Lake points out, was the "let's go" attitude that was initially the hallmark of charters - not innovation, not oversight. But now:
In Florida, for example, a charter school law was passed this spring making it easier for charters deemed as "high performing" to expand. About 57 percent of Florida's charter schools were given an "A" by the state last school year. Six percent were given an "F," including a new KIPP charter school in Jacksonville. KIPP, or the Knowledge is Power Program, has schools nationwide and is frequently cited as an example of a successful charter schools network, highlighting the difficulty of replicating good results.
Paul Weitzel, who has written "The Charter School Experiment" has the last word:
"Charter schools are frequently innovative outside the classroom," he said. "But once you get into the classroom, we're not really seeing the extent of innovation that people had hoped to see."
Innovation, oversight, results - they matter in the vernacular of charter schools and it seems some people are just figuring that out.