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Cherry picking and charter schools

Charter school: An autonomous public school free of many of the regulations that hinder traditional public schools from offering a superior education.

National School Choice Week is Jan. 22-28.

There’s little to celebrate in Kentucky – one of only nine states without a charter-school law.

Since America’s first charter school appeared in Minnesota in 1992, these publicly funded and – for the most part – innovative and high-performing schools have been targeted by education elitists, left-wing editorial pages and politicians nationwide who benefit from campaign contributions served up in super-sized portions by teachers’ unions.

It’s no different in Kentucky.

Misleading statements about charter schools’ success is one of this Federation of Misinformation’s most effective tools.

For instance, talking points provided the (Louisville) Courier-Journal by Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim point to a recent report by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

Perusing these research manifestos are about as exciting as watching paint dry.

But charter-school opponents have a great stake in diluting the potential of any policy that holds public schools – and, by extension, failing teachers in those schools – accountable for their all-too-frequent failure to adequately educate Kentucky’s children.

When the CREDO study was published in 2009, McKim and his fellow labor bosses around the country thought they had an “aha!” moment.

CREDO toward the front of its report claimed that only 17 percent of charter schools achieved “superior” academic gains. About half did no better or worse than traditional public schools while 37 percent were actually worse.

McKim told a legislative committee that such studies indicate that “charter schools are not any more likely to do better than a regular public school, and in fact, a fair bit of evidence that they’re likely to do worse.”

Talk about cherry-picking the research.

It’s true that children in charter schools for just a year don’t, in a majority of cases, outshine their peers in traditional public schools. It’s also ironic that McKim does not dispute CREDO’s claim that more than half of charter-school students perform at least as well academically as traditional public-school children.

Since a large proportion of charter-school students hail from low-income homes and poor-performing schools, the fact that the majority of children who have only been in charter schools for a year are performing at least as well as their counterparts in traditional public schools clearly indicates the potential of charters to serve Kentucky’s most under-served children.

Add to this charter opponents’ stubborn refusal to acknowledge that pages 32 and 33 of the CREDO study clearly conclude that the longer children remain in a charter school, the better their performance.

The report itself states: “By the second year of charter school enrollment, students get a positive and significant impact on learning, but the magnitude is quite small. Greater gains … are realized after three years.”

A Courier-Journal op-ed simply regurgitated McKim’s statement by stating the first part of the findings, but failed to note – in fact, didn’t even mention – the information in the latter part of the study.

It also didn’t mention:
· There are thousands of students trapped in 41 Kentucky schools that now fall into the education department’s “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools” category.
· Nearly half of those persistently failing schools are in McKim’s district.
· A recent audit of the Jefferson County schools – the largest in the state – revealed a district in chaos, where at least four out of every 10 students are poor readers.

One wonders how even the most inferior charter school could fare any worse.

Contributor Bio: Jim Waters is vice president of communications for the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected]. Read previously published columns at

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