Charter Schools and Minorities Term Paper

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18). In fact, it would seem that policymakers faced with low-performing schools do not have that much to lose by trying the charter school approach; after all, the charter school will not cost any more than its traditional alternative, and such initiatives can be pointed to as proof positive that substantive efforts at reform are being made. "If it delivers those results -- for the same money as 'regular' public schools, or less -- and succeeds in attracting students, it gets to keep its charter and remain open. If it fails, it risks institutional death from the loss of either its charter or its students" (emphasis added) (Finn & Manno, 1998, p. 18). Unfortunately, not all such initiatives have proven effective and have only been closed after consistently failing to meet the needs of their minority students (Brewer, Buddin, Chau, Daley, Gill, Guarino, Hamilton, Krop, Mccaffrey, Sandler, & Zimmer, 2003). Many poorly administered charter schools are allowed to operate for lengthy periods without any additional review, further exacerbating their impact on students who may already be struggling to meet the rigors of mainstream standardized testing; while the charter periods can vary between three and fifteen years, charters typically last for five years, after which the school must be reviewed before the charter is renewed (Heise & Ryan, 2002).

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The critics of charter schools are largely comprised of teachers' unions and civil liberties groups while proponents have been characterized as "free-market libertarians, religious conservatives, and an already significant and growing number of African-American parents" (Heise & Ryan, 2002, p. 2043). Charter schools typically enroll similar proportions of low-income students and have a racial composition roughly similar to statewide averages; however, charter schools in some states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Texas serve significantly higher percentages of minority or economically disadvantaged students (Brouillette, 2002).

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The proponents of charter schools maintain that allowing parents and students to determine which school best fits their needs will particularly help low-income Americans. For instance, in their book, Politics, Markets, and America's Schools, Chubb and Moe point out that over time, the public school bureaucracy in the United States has developed to such an extent that low-income and minority students are poorly served in part because they have little political clout to use against school bureaucracy. As a result, Braden and Good (2000) suggest that charter schools offer parents more leverage and voice in dealing with curriculum and other issues that the large school bureaucracy in public schools presently denies them. In California, these forces played out real terms in six charter schools examined by Brewer and her colleagues (2003). Following their exhaustive analysis of charter school performance, these researchers found that charter schools generally experienced comparable or slightly lower test scores than conventional public schools after adjusting for the ethnic and demographic characteristics of the students; however, the authors also noted that these effects varied across the different types of charter schools (Brewer et al., 2003). The results of their study showed that, controlling for student characteristics, classroom-based conversion schools enjoyed mixed results, reporting comparable scores in certain subjects or grade levels, in other cases higher scores, and in still other cases, the results showed lower scores (Brewer et al., 2003).

Charter schools that were classroom-based reported higher test scores than conventional public schools across all grades and subjects (except in elementary math, where the scores were slightly lower); however, the nonclassroom-based charter initiatives reported lower test scores across the board relative to conventional schools (Brewer et al., 2003). When charter schools are successful, increased parental involvement is frequently cited as one of the basic reasons; because some types of parent involvement have been associated with positive academic outcomes for students, increased levels of such involvement in charter schools may be one source of any positive charter school effect on student learning (Corwin & Flaherty, 1995). Finally, Mulholland's (1999) analysis of student achievement in Arizona charter schools showed that charter school students were achieving academic gains comparable to students attending regular public schools.

Current and Future Trends. Despite these obstacles and the ongoing debates, though, charter schools are clearly here to stay -- at least for the foreseeable future. For example, in his essay, "Examining the Impact of Charter Schools on Performance in Traditional Public Schools," Bohte (2004), reports that "One of the most important developments in public education over the last decade has been the emergence and growth of charter schools" (p. 501). The central premise underlying this movement is that charter schools foster market-like environments that provide parents and students with the ability to leave underperforming public schools and enter into more innovative and less bureaucratic educational settings (Bohte, 2004). Besides representing distinct alternatives to regular schools, charter schools may promote systemic improvements in public education. When faced with the prospect of losing students to charter schools, public schools must undertake reforms and search for ways to improve their performance. The concept of having public schools operate in market-like settings is certainly now new, but rather has been around for several decades (Friedman, 1962); however, serious attempts at creating competitive market-like environments in public education have only come about in recent years (Finn & Ravitch, 1995).

School choice programs in cities such as Cleveland and Milwaukee have provided competitive educational environments by affording both parents and students with the ability to use public money to attend private schools. Currently, though, large-scale voucher programs like these remain highly controversial and exist in only a few American cities (Anderson, Adelman, Finnigan, Cotton, Donnelly, & Price, 2002). Charter schools have been presented to the American taxpayer as a less controversial approach to school choice programs that use vouchers and allow public funds to flow to private schools (Anderson et al., 2002). The passage of charter school laws in nearly 40 states over the past few years has provided parents, teachers, and other interested observers with the empirical evidence required to develop and effectively administer schools that are more autonomous and have greater regulatory flexibility than traditional public schools (Bohte, 2004).

The most glaring reason why traditional public schools have an incentive to respond to charter schools is money (Hess, Maranto & Milliman, 2001). Critical questions in the charter school debate have been on how best to promote school accountability and ensure that market incentives function as desired, and to ensure that the resources being reallocated to newly established charter schools does not inordinately impact their traditional counterparts (Bierlein, 1997). When students leave the traditional public schools and enroll in charter schools, these declines in enrollment are typically accompanied by losses in funding; however, this amount usually depends on the size of the district involved (Dee, 1998). For example, in his study of charter schools in eight states, Rofes (1998) found that larger school districts were better equipped to handle the impact of financial losses due to increasing charter enrollments than smaller districts, especially those facing declining tends in overall district-wide enrollments. The amounts involved can be staggering though; for instance, in the Houston, Texas, Independent School District, state officials estimated that the loss of close to 12,000 students to charter schools has already cost the district $50 million in state aid (Markley, 2002, p. 15). Likewise, in Kansas City, Missouri, school officials estimate that close to $41 million in state aid has been reallocated to the district's seventeen charter schools (Bohte, 2004). The school system of Dayton, Ohio, has lost approximately $19 million from its annual education budget of $250 million to charter schools. Approximately 60,000 students are enrolled in Arizona's charter schools; these charter schools receive $4,500 in state aid per pupil that would normally be provided to traditional public schools (Bohte, 2004). The financial losses that are associated with the movement of students to charter schools have frequently resulted in reductions in teaching staff and administrative personnel at traditional public schools; furthermore, in surveys conducted by the Texas Center for Educational Research in 2001 and 2002, officials from some school districts reported that the presence of charter schools made it more difficult to make budget estimates for personnel. In still other districts, cuts in teaching staff were required because of enrollment and funding losses associated with charter schools (Bohte, 2004).

On the up side, though, as traditional public schools have found themselves faced with increased competition for scarce taxpayer resources, they have responded by improving their own performance and developing internal accountability measures that have proven effective (Hess, Maranto & Milliman, 2001; Garn & Stout, 1998). In their essay, "Magna charter? A report card on school reform in 1995," Finn and Ravitch (1995) suggest that poorly designed charter school legislation can be blamed for much of the problems experienced by charter schools to date; three flaws in particular are cited by these authors:

1. These laws require the prior consent of too many "stakeholders" such as a majority of teachers who are currently teaching in the schools to be affected, and they contain no provision for creating new… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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