Who knows best on charter schools?
By Dennis and Eileen Bakke
Regarding Jay Mathews’s Dec. 14 column, “When is it time to close a charter?”:
Mr. Mathews is usually right on the money, but this time he was off base in several ways. First, the very nature of charter schools forces poorly performing ones to shut on their own. Charter school funding comes from the government based on how many students choose to attend the school. If the school performs poorly, parents won’t send their children there, and the school won’t have the funds to operate. Parents, not the government or regulators, are the best evaluator of a quality school, partly because they take into consideration qualities in addition to academic achievement (e.g., safety, character education, after-school programs, location).
Additionally, Mr. Mathews’s case for closing schools based on proficiency-test results would be more compelling if those tests were the right tests. But his colleague Valerie Strauss got it right in her Dec. 11 Answer Sheet column: “Average test scores don’t tell us how good a school is, but rather reveal information about the family income and education of the students’ parents.”
Consider the case of a student who enters a school three years behind and the school helps that student advance two grades in one year — remarkable academic growth. But the student is not deemed proficient, the teacher and school will be labeled failing, and many will urge that the school be closed because of low test scores. The appropriate measure of the performance of all public schools, including charters, is same-student learning gains (i.e., how much did the students grow academically from September to June each year?).
The writers are co-founders of Imagine Schools.
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