According to two separate research reports from
the Department of Education released jointly in June, charter schools
are feeling pressure to hold their students and staffs accountable
to high standards and districts and are improving educational programs
in regular public schools as a result of competition from charter
The Bush administration's position on school choice
has been given a boost by these reports, part of a four-year evaluation
of the fast growing charter school movement to create publicly financed
but largely independent schools. In 36 states, the District of Columbia,
and Puerto Rico, it is estimated by the Education Department that
there are currently about 2,100 charter schools now in existence.
In a speech to the Manhattan Institute in New
York on June 14, 2001, Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced
the findings. Throughout last year's Presidential campaign and during
the first few months of his term, President Bush had promoted school
choice through both charter schools and vouchers for private schools.
The studies were commissioned by the Clinton administration who showed
great support for charter schools. According to the prepared text
of his speech, Dr. Paige said, "The good news is that charter schools
do not just help the students they serve directly, they also prod
the entire system to improve." He added particularly for students
in low-performing schools, the results demonstrate promising results.
In five states, 49 school sites were visited by
researchers from RPP International, based in Emeryville, California.
Many of those districtsí public schools had added extra programs and
services at existing schools such as gifted education or all-day kindergarten
to compete with the charter school programs. It was found by the researchers
that after these districts added charter schools, the schools were
more responsive and had improved communication with parents.
Since students transferred to charter schools,
more than 50 percent of the districts' leaders surveyed said they
had lost money from their budgets. As a result, most of those reported
becoming more "customer-service oriented" and said they started
watching the charter schools' enrollment figures and assessment scores.
Also, according to another report, conducted by
a University of Washington team, charter schools appear to have significant
accountability measures in place, although by nature they do not follow
most of the same regulations as other public schools. Charter schools
feel pressure from parents and benefactors to provide a high-quality
education report said the authors, but they caution that the charter
school movement and most such schools are still quite new.
The day-to-day workings of charter schools were
studied by the researchers for two years, from 1997 to 1999. According
to their findings, charter schools have "high-stakes relationships"
with many entities, including government agencies, the schools' teachers,
donors and families. One conclusion in the researchersí report was
that charter schools would not be able to survive without these entities
paying close attention to their needs.
One group unhappy with the positive results of
charter schools is the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA
may soon be taking aim at charter schools across the nation just months
after they had successfully lobbied to kill a voucher proposal from
the Bush administration's education package. According to the NEA
(the nationís largest teachersí union), charter schools with their
taxpayer-subsidies were granted special permission to operate independently
from public school systems. Now they are demanding that charter schools
adopt policies and restrictions that currently bind the nation's traditional
However, the union's policy is yet another obstacle
to education reform put forth by a teachers' union that is hostile
to change, innovation and flexibility say charter school supporters.
(Kelly O Beaucar, "Union Targets Charter Schools,"
FoxNews.com, July 11, 2001; Joetta L. Sack, "Ed. Department Finds
Charters Spur Existing Schools To Improve," Education Week, June 20,
to American Voice Institute of Public Policy Home Page