Just mention charter schools in many school communities and most likely you’ll receive vociferous and quick responses — both good and bad. People’s opinions are often formed by what they have heard about charter schools in general or by what they know about the charter schools in their own communities. Recent reports of fraud with some charters also create more doubt on the accountability measures used by those who authorize charter schools.
Often we see opposing views about charter schools as researchers tell us there is no such thing as common ground. But the one thing that many leaders now admit is that charter schools are here to stay. And, like more traditional public schools, some perform better than others. We also know that a great deal of misinformation about charter schools abounds and assumptions sometimes are at the base of emotional decisions about charter schools in local communities.
Thanks to our colleagues at Public Agenda — through funding provided by the Spencer Foundation — we all have a wonderful new resource entitled Charter Schools in Perspective. In a snapshot of a research and data-based approach to charters, it helps local leaders grasp the facts about charter schools, discussing how the public is generally misinformed about charters, even touching on the highly political nature of charter schools in some communities and how some charters are perceived as instruments for segregation in some regions of our country.
As the study notes, “Public opinion on charter schools seems both unstable and inconsistent. This instability creates something of a vacuum where adversarial rhetoric thrives and polarization worsens.” Once again, a vacuum is quickly filled by others, leaving the rest to play catch-up to tell their story.
Samples of Misinformation About Charter Schools
The report notes that polling shows that many Americans are misinformed about charter schools and form opinions based on that misinformation. Polling conducted by two different organizations indicates considerable misinformation around:
- Whether charter schools are public (they are)
- How they are funded (by taxpayers)
- Whether they can charge tuition (they can’t)
- Whether they can hold religious services or teach religion (they can’t)
- Whether they can select students based on academic ability (they can’t)
To help structure an enlightened discussion about the charter movement to address this misinformation, Public Agenda has just released its 140-page report, along with a few other practical discussion guides for school districts and communities who are “beyond ideology and polarization so they can make the practical decisions they need to make to improve educational opportunities for all kids.”
How this Resource Helps
Charter Schools in Perspective is a nonpartisan effort designed to support a more informed, civil, and productive dialogue about charter schools.
Public Agenda doesn’t take positions on contemporary controversies about education, and neither does the Spencer Foundation. They both believe that more informed, thoughtful deliberation about issues related to what kinds of schools communities should create is in the best interest of communities, parents and children.
The materials are all free and available online at www.in-perspective.org. Here’s what you’ll find:
- Have a question about charter schools and want to see if trustworthy research answers it? You can turn to Charter Schools in Perspective: A Guide to Research. In this thorough and accessibly written analysis, the authors synthesize and summarize current research on charter schools, including academic research often out of reach behind paywalls. Topics include student achievement, finance, governance, innovation, and public opinion.
- Local officials should also check out Ten Questions for Policymakers, a set of questions that will help them think through decisions about charter schools in their jurisdictions.
- You may want to share with your local journalists some guiding information from Ten Questions for Journalists.
- And if you want to hold a dialogue in your community to explore options for school improvement, Are Charter Schools a Good Way to Improve Education in Our Community? helps communities hold civil, productive dialogue on doing so.
- The guide is also a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about the benefits and trade-offs of different perspectives on charter schools and improving schools.
Communication and engagement — early and often — must be the heart of all major issues for your system. If you or your community now has charter schools on your radar, make the investment of time to review this practical new resource.
Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director