We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Monday, January 11, 2010

SB 63: Charter Schools for SD -- Do They Work?

The South Dakota Department of Education requests Senate Bill 63, a measure to establish charter schools in our fair state. The concept: allow parents, teachers, and other interested community members to form an alternative school, operating under their current school board, receiving public dollars, but exempt from lots of the rules and regulations that normal public schools follow. Charter schools still have to follow state standards, but they are free to create special curricula focusing on particular disciplines. For instance, I could get some of my speech friends together and establish the Lake Herman Mundt Academy, teaching communication, history, government, science, technology, and literature all through the lens of speech and debate activities. (Phys ed: hauling huge tubs of evidence. Semester exam: winning Speech Fiesta. Final exam: breaking out of prelims at Nationals!)

I may nitpick over some of the details of SB 63, like Sections 21 and 22, which do away with tenure and collective bargaining for charter school teachers (knocking away South Dakota teachers' last shreds of legal leverage). I may note with tentative approval the Department of Education's willingness to take the lead by initiating a pilot charter school for American Indian students to take advantage of some stimulus money (see Section 26).

But the primary question is, Do charter schools work?

For that, let's turn to Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which in June, 2009, issued the first national assessment of charter school performance. Looking at 2403 charter schools (there are 4700+ nationwide) in 15 states and D.C., Stanford's researchers found...

The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools ["Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States," Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes, June 2009, p. 1].

Results varied state by state. Charter schools in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, and Missouri produced better results than traditional schools. Charter schools in California, D.C., Georgia, and North Carolina show no clear gains. Kids in Charter schools in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas appeared to learn less than they would have if they'd stuck with their old schools.

Results also varied by grade. Elementary and middle school kids posted gains in charter schools, but high schoolers did worse in charter schools.

The differences in learning are pretty small: average growth among charter school students lagged by just 1% of a standard deviation in reading and 3% of a standard deviation in math. Charter schools on average have produced lower learning outcomes, but the difference is so small you probably won't notice it unless you break out a spreadsheet and run some stats that most school boards and state legislators won't understand.

Now this study doesn't say, "Don't pass SB 63!" The Stanford researchers note that charter schools show particulary good results for children in poverty, which could bode well for an American Indian pilot charter school. Then again, the study also found minority students (black and Hispanic; no separate data on American Indians) performed worse in charter schools.

There may be other benefits that advocates for charter schools may be able to cite (like union-busting?). But if the CREDO study is correct, educational benefits alone won't be enough to sell SB 63.


  1. The beauty of a charter school is if they do not perform to expectation, their charter can be removed. A 'regular' school just goes on and on....

  2. Hrm, this recent article seems particularly relevant:


    I look forward to hearing more about the TFA data. An actual, quantitative approach to teacher quality. This is exactly what I need to wrap my head around the topic.

  3. I'm willing to teach at this new school if I can be the head debate coach

  4. Steve Sibson1/11/2010 7:31 PM

    "The concept: allow parents, teachers, and other interested community members to form an alternative school, operating under their current school board, receiving public dollars, but exempt from lots of the rules and regulations that normal public schools follow. Charter schools still have to follow state standards"

    So we have "an alternative school, operating under their current school board" that "still have to follow state standards" but that means "exempt from lots of the rules and regulations"?

    I don't think this is really legislation that creates true charter schools. This is a scam.

  5. The quality of any school's education has more to do with the leadership, teacher dedication and culture within the school than how much money is spent. One person can make a HUGE difference.

  6. Tony: very interesting article! I clearly need to plan more in the classroom. ;-)

    I also notice the article names the good teacher but not the bad one. That's one thing that holds back improvement in education: our terror at the prospect of naming names. I don't want to reduce teacher performance to data, but we need both clear metrics for performance and the will to act on those metrics. I too will be interested to read more about Teach for America's findings.

  7. The provisions about tenure and collective bargaining are really bothersome. While I support the idea of charter schools, we need to keep the few legal protections that teachers have in South Dakota.


Comments are closed, as this portion of the Madville Times is in archive mode. You can join the discussion of current issues at MadvilleTimes.com.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.