Do Charter Schools Work? Yes, but not always and not for everyone.”

Slate; May 22, 2013

On June 4, 1991, Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson signed into law a bill that set in motion one of the most significant—and controversial—education reform move­ments in mod­ern his­to­ry. Minnesota’s char­ter school law allowed edu­ca­tors and oth­er con­cerned indi­vid­u­als to apply to the state for per­mis­sion to oper­ate a gov­ern­ment-fund­ed school out­side of the pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tem. In order to obtain and keep their licens­es, these new schools need­ed to show they were serv­ing their stu­dents effec­tive­ly, based on goals laid out in the school’s “char­ter.” City Academy, America’s first char­ter school, opened in St. Paul the fol­low­ing year. Its mis­sion was to get high-school dropouts on track to voca­tion­al careers, and it is still oper­at­ing today. One ear­ly enrollee, Demetrice Norris, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 1992 that he had spent years, “being lazy – not doing noth­ing” before he “got a life back here in school” and “got a chance to be something.”


Whether char­ter schools have actu­al­ly lived up to their ini­tial promise is a hot­ly con­test­ed top­ic in the edu­ca­tion reform debate. An entire field of edu­ca­tion research aims to assess whether stu­dents are bet­ter off at char­ter schools than in the pub­lic sys­tem. The lat­est find­ings, based on six well-regard­ed char­ter schools in Boston, released Wednesday by the Boston Foundation and MIT’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative, adds to the accu­mu­lat­ing evi­dence that at least a sub­set of high-per­form­ing char­ters are mea­sur­ing up to the movement’s ear­ly aspi­ra­tions of giv­ing dis­ad­van­taged kids a shot at a bet­ter life. The study shows that the Boston schools’ stu­dents did bet­ter on SAT and Advanced Placement tests and are vast­ly more like­ly to enroll at four year colleges—and to do so on scholarship—than oth­er­wise iden­ti­cal stu­dents in the Boston pub­lic school system.