With boost from California, charter schools enroll 2 million students nationally


Photo courtesy "WoodleyWonderWorks"

Photo courtesy “WoodleyWonderWorks”

Charter schools enrolled 2 million public school students this fall, with California playing a major role in helping them reach that milestone, according to figures released today.

Some 200,000 students enrolled in 500 new charter schools across the nation, the largest increase in a single year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

“It shows that charter schools have become part of the education tapestry of the country, not just a fringe marginal phenomenon affecting a small number of students,” said Ursula Wright, the organization’s interim CEO.

In some circles, California has been viewed as being unfriendly to charter schools, but the numbers tell a different story.

California accounted for 100 of the 500 new schools, and 47,000 new students, twice the number of Florida, with 23,500 new students, Texas with 22,000, and Ohio with 12,000.

California also enrolls a higher proportion of the state’s public school students in charter schools — some 7 percent — compared to 4.5 percent of all public school students nationally.

As EdSource reported last month, California now has 983 charter schools out of the 5,600 such schools nationwide. That compares with 520 charter schools in Arizona, the state with the next largest number of schools.

Despite the significant growth, more than 95 percent of public school students in the U.S still attend regular public schools. Ninety three percent do in California. Wright said from a historical perspective the growth was still significant. “It is a system that has been around for 200 years, and ours has only been around for 20 years,”  she said. And, she noted, growth has accelerated in recent years, with one-third of the expansion coming in the last 5 years.

She rebutted perceptions that charter schools have an advantage over regular public schools because they receive significant support from private foundations. “That is completely blown out of proportion,” she said.  A small number of schools do get a significant amount of philanthropic funding. But that is a “a small proportion” of charter schools. “The vast majority are working completely on funds they get from the state, and often it is not enough to operate on,” she said.

The new enrollment figures come against a backdrop of at times conflicting research over the overall effectiveness of charter schools. One of the largest studies conducted so far, by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), looked at student performance in 15 states and the District of Columbia and found that:

Seventeen percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.

Caroline Hoxby, an economist, also at Stanford, found in a report around the same time that New York City students who were admitted to a charter school in a lottery did better academically than those who applied but were denied admission and returned to the public schools.

The two reports led to a major public spat among the respective Stanford authors. But the dueling research reflected what is happening on the ground. As the Little Hoover Commission noted in a report last year:

Many charter schools in California have flourished; some now rank among the top performing schools in the nation … At the same time, however, California has numerous poor-performing charter schools that continue to stumble.

An earlier EdSource report reviewed a range of charter school studies, and found they came to “very different conclusions depending on the schools, the time frame, and the performance measures they analyze.”

Wright said that when a high performing charter school has “all the right ingredients,” including a strong school leader and effective teachers, “remarkable things can be done.”

“As a sector we have to be honest with ourselves that there are some among us who are not serving students well, and we have to hold ourselves accountable,” she said. Those schools, she said, need either to “give back their charter,” or the districts that granted them the charter should “take actions that are in the best interest of the children,” including shutting the school down.

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6 Responses to “With boost from California, charter schools enroll 2 million students nationally”

  1. john mockler said

    on December 7, 2011 at 8:07 am

    So we are now quoting lobbyists for Charter Schools as to the truth of Charter’s fiscal advantage? How does that type of swill add to an honest and accurate debate?

    • Bea replied

      on December 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      California, perhaps you did not read the comments wherein Caprice Young confirms that converting a school into a charter is a strategy to INCREASE funding for that school.

      Our local charter school does receive a few hundred dollars less per student, largely because they do not serve any ELL or low socioeconomic students nor do they qualify for Title 1. However, they also bear zero expenses for transportation, food service, English language instruction, etc. and serve a SpEd population of 2%, all low-needs students (e.g. speech). The district schools bear a per student cost of nearly $2,000 for these same services.

      So those are just some of the fiscal advantages of charter schools. Other advantages include lower teacher compensation and many support positions filled by parent volunteers, who are required to sign a contract committing 40 hours per year so that the school does not have to pay classified staff for these functions.

  2. Keith Jaeger said

    on December 7, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Charters move forward. So be it. Here’s a weirdness though. My daughter goes to a private school that uses Dianetics and Scientology founder, Ron Hubbard’s study methodology. It works; she’s excelling. That’s what we care about. We’d tried other schools and homeschooling. Nope. The school wants to go charter but too many folks in power freak when those three words are mentioned singly, much less together so we’re not holding our breath on this one.

  3. Bea said

    on December 9, 2011 at 11:07 am

    @California, when a well regarded charter school is running surpluses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for *ten years*, it calls into question the assertion that charter schools do not have a funding advantage. Pacific Collegiate Charter School in Santa Cruz has accumulated cash reserves approaching 80% of their operating budget. This is the same school scolded in the Washington Post for asking parents to contribute $3,000 per child, per year.

    The taxpayer’s money — enough to run an entire comprehensive high school for a full year — is sitting in the bank serving no one’s child.

  4. Roque Burio Jr said

    on December 10, 2011 at 12:06 am

    AFrom Roque Burio Jr. the ugly duckling and the lemon that can dance and sing. Here is my song about bananas. A banana plant will always bear fruits called bananas and will never bring forth apple fruits. The charter schools are creations of LAUSD. Their existence is under the blessing of LAUSD. Their budget will come directly from LAUSD. Their goals, policies, rules and regulations are to be approved by their mother LAUSD. Well, they are obviously the alter egos of LAUSD. LAUSD is violating the Stull teachers’ evaluation law for forty years and dismayingly failing too. Obviously, it is not an apple tree. If you agree it is a banana, then its off springs too must be bananas.

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