In reporting on charter schools, and in readers’ responses to our previous charter school stories, we’ve come across some popular ideas about charter schools. While there’s truth in some of them, other ideas about charter schools are closer to false.
Taking a page from our colleagues at StateImpact Florida, we’ve compiled a list of most-common misconceptions about Ohio charter schools. And taking a page from PoltiFact, we looked for the truth in each.
1. Charter schools take money away from traditional public schools.
Charter schools receive about $5,800 in state funding per student. (Some students, such as those with disabilities, come with additional state funding.) Traditional public schools receive varying amounts of state funding per student (in the largest urban districts, usually more than $5,800) plus local tax dollars. When a student enrolls in a charter school, the school district in which the student lives sends about $5,800 of the school district’s state funding to the charter school.
So charter schools do take money away from traditional public schools. But they also reduce the school district’s educational burden.
2. Charter schools aren’t accountable for their performance.
Accountability means different things to different people.
Charter schools and traditional public schools face similar requirements about the academic and financial information they must report to state agencies and the public. Most charter schools—except those that focus on students with disabilities or high school dropouts—are expected to meet the same academic standards as traditional public schools. For the 2010-11 school year, the state drew no conclusion about the academic performance of 38 of the 326 charter schools.
Additionally, the bottom fifth of charter school sponsors are barred from sponsoring additional charter schools. But again, schools that focus on students with disabilities or high school dropouts are excluded from the calculations that determine that ranking.
But unlike traditional public schools, state law requires charter schools that are low-performing academically or fiscally for several years in a row to shut down. The sanctions for poor academic or fiscal performance for traditional public school districts are not as strict.
3. Charter schools can pick and choose their students.
In general, charter schools are open to any student. However, charter school boards can restrict enrollment to students of a specific age group or grade level, students who are considered “at-risk” or gifted or students within a specific geographic area.
Charter schools cannot discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, disability, or sex. However, charter schools using a single-gender education model can assign boys to one location and girls to another. There are also separate rules for charter schools that are set up specifically to provide special education services to a specified number of students identified as autistic and regular educational programs to a specified number of students who are not disabled.
In general, if more students apply than the school has room for, the school must hold an admissions lottery. In the lottery, it must give preference to current students and students who reside in the district in which the charter school is located. It can also give preference to siblings of current students.
4. Students in charter schools don’t do any better than students in traditional public schools.
Performance varies widely among charter schools and traditional public schools. But looking at the big picture, Ohio charter schools in the state’s “Big 8″ urban districts perform about the same as other public schools in those districts.
Performance varies by district: In Cleveland, significantly more charter school students are on grade level than their traditional public-school counterparts. In Akron, the reverse is true. (See our table of Ohio charter and traditional public school performance.)
But that kind of big-picture analysis doesn’t take into account differences in demographics, family motivation or populations of students with disabilities.
5. Charter school teachers cannot join unions.
Currently, charter school teachers can organize. If they form a union, the charter school’s board is required to bargain with them. Senate Bill 5, which is on hold while an intense repeal campaign is being waged, prohibits collective bargaining for charter school employees except for conversion charter schools. (Essentially, schools that were traditional public schools and converted to charters.) The bill also allows a conversion charter school’s board to opt out of collectively bargaining with the school’s employees.