Revisited: Charter schools vs. Traditional Public Schools

Charter schools vs. Traditional Public Schools

Excerpt: Charter schools play an important role in Florida’s education system but should not be prioritized over traditional public K-12 schools, according to a panel of the state’s leading voices. 

In a new survey of the Florida Influencers, a group of prominent political and policy figures from across the state, a majority (77 percent) said they support a recent Florida Supreme Court decision removing a ballot measure that would have eased the path for creating new charter schools. And a plurality (46 percent) said it was “not important at all” for the next governor and legislature to expand the number charter schools in Florida. 

Still, many of the Influencers said lawmakers should work to improve the 646 charter schools currently operating in the state, as long as those efforts do not jeopardize other public schools, to deliver the best outcomes for Florida students. 

“Charter schools empower parents with school choice and can also be hubs of experiential learning and innovation,” said Fabiola Fleuranvil, the CEO of Blueprint Creative Group. “However, public school funding and transforming the current delivery of education should remain top priority, and the expansion of charter schools should be balanced against prioritizing public school funding.’’ 

“I do believe children should have choices through magnets, academy programs and qualified non-profit charter schools, but not at the expense of a public, non-profit education,” added Susan Towler, the vice president of the Florida Blue Foundation. “I’m concerned we are disassembling public education with ‘death by 1,000 cuts.’” 

Bottom Line: Charter schools have been controversial from the beginning because they compete for funding with traditional public education. Nothing I share is going to change the ongoing dynamic. Research has been conducted on the value proposition of Charter Schools for well over a decade as well and the debate is anything but settled. I decided to go through the most extensive research comparing charter schools with regular public schools to ensure I’m as clear on the issue as possible. As usual, I found some surprises.  

Comparing research from the National Alliance for Public ChartersNational Center for Education Statistics and CREDO it’s a mixed bag. 

Here were highlighted takeaways... 

  • Charter schools fare no better than public schools in the first year a child attends one on average however there are generally positive differences in outcomes after 2+ years 
  • Charter Schools that’ve been open for less than five years under-perform outcomes for more established Charter Schools and traditional public schooling generally 
  • Minorities generally perform better in Charter schools than traditional public schools 
  • 57% of Charter school students are minorities 
  • Charter school students generally perform better in math and reading but not in other subjects  
  • 9% of Florida’s students are in charter schools compared to 5.4% nationally 

As I said it’s a mixed bag so based on your desired preference you can cherry pick what you want to fight for your side - which probably explains why that’s all that seems to occur without any clear-cut answers. Here are the bottom line generalizations based on my findings: 

Charter Schools generally aren’t better if: 

  • The school itself isn’t yet established 
  • A child isn’t likely to attend for multiple years 
  • A need to improve Math and reading outcomes isn’t a priority/need 
  • A child is Caucasian  

Charter Schools generally are better if: 

  • The school is established 
  • A child will likely attend for 2+ years 
  • Math and reading improvement is needed and/or prioritized 
  • A child is African-American or Hispanic

I’m not sure what one wants to do with that information but when I look at those in greatest need in Florida, along with the demographics of our state, especially in South Florida, ironically it seems that the geography of the state is fighting itself on this one. South Florida offers up some of the strongest resistance to Charter School funding in the state when it appears we could be of biggest benefit. This while majority white areas of the state are supportive but may not benefit from them. 

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