I don't think anyone could have been against charters as they were originated - one or two classrooms in an existing school that were little hotbeds of innovation. Successes would be sent out to other classrooms and schools and failures duly noted with lessons learned.
But that is not how it has played out. What is the honest truth about charter schools looks like this:
- Most of them perform about the same as any given public school, meaning, no better/no worse.
- The top ones perform very well especially with at-risk kids. However, some of that performance comes at a cost. One issue is schools like KIPP are very segregated and use strict discipline (to the point where kids walk in a line from class to class with no talking...ever). Another issue with high-performing charter schools is the issue of transportation. Some are able - at a very high cost - to provide transportation but those that don't then find their population skewed to those who can get transportation to the school. I recall from my visit to Preuss High in San Diego - a top charter school in the country - that they were open to students across San Diego and the costs of transport were becoming a problem.
- The terrible charters tend to be the ones who close up shop in the middle of the night, leaving parents and districts scrambling. There continues to be a charter school scandal over money nearly every week (I can say that with confidence because the Network for Public Education is documenting this).
Interesting stats from the National Center for Education Statistics:
Between school years 2003–04 and 2013–14, charter schools experienced changes in their demographic composition similar to those seen at traditional public schools. The percentage of charter school students who were Hispanic increased (from 21 to 30 percent), as did the percentage who were Asian/Pacific Islander (from 3 to 4 percent).
In contrast, the percentage of charter school students who were White decreased from 42 to 35 percent. The percentages decreased for Black (from 32 to 27 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native (from 2 to 1 percent) charter school students, as well. Data were collected for charter school students of Two or more races beginning in 2009–10. Students of Two or more races accounted for 3 percent of the charter school population in 2013–14.Let's look at what the Center on Reinventing Public Education said recently about charter school growth.
A recently released annual update from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools included a surprising fact: a mere 329 charter schools opened across the country in the 2016-2017 school year. In no year since the Alliance began tracking new charter openings has the total number of new schools been so low. Looking back at CRPE’s Hopes, Fears, and Reality series, it appears that it was the early 2000s when we last saw fewer than 350 new charter schools open. When you take closures into consideration, the total additional growth of charter schools last year was just over 100 schools, or nearly 2 percent.
Student enrollment numbers tell a different story. Total charter student enrollment surpassed 3 million this year, a 7 percent increase over last year. This likely reflects existing schools’ addition of grade levels and approach to full capacity.
More aggressive closures don’t explain the slow down. The number of charter school closures over the last five years has held pretty steady. Last spring's number of closures (202) is actually lower than the previous year's high-water mark of 257.