- A Wednesday Congressional hearing titled "The Power of Charter Schools" raised questions about charter transparency, effectiveness and how virtual schools fit into the picture, Chalkbeat reports.
- The hearing acknowledged performance and oversight issues with virtual charters in states like Indiana and Ohio, with National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) President Nina Rees conceding that despite a NAPCS report noting "chronic underachievement" in these programs, they are also often the only choices available for some students.
- Additionally, the hearing explored the question of whether charters should be subject to open records laws like traditional public schools, and contrasted differences between models that have not lived up to promises versus those that were succeeding, citing Detroit and Denver respectively.
Charters are a contentious topic on a number of levels, and this week's hearing isn't likely to resolve that anytime soon. Chalkbeat notes that of the witnesses in the Congressional hearing — which included Rees, Greg Richmond of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Jonathon Clark of 482Forward, and Marty West of Harvard University — three were very much pro-charter.
An article from the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, weighs many of the concerns regarding charters, as well as their counterpoints. Among them: that they take funding from traditional public schools, putting those schools at a greater disadvantage; that they gamble with students and taxpayer funds using unproven models; and that oversight by charter organization boards rather than local school boards removes accountability.
Chalkbeat also notes a 2009 CREDO study cited by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) that found 37% of charters performed worse than traditional public schools, compared to 17% that outperformed those schools, adding that a more recent CREDO study from 2013 showed performance as being about the same.
As the latter study suggests, and as is the case in many other things, the truth is likely somewhere between the criticism and praise. With the right approach, charters may be the best fit for some students. In fact, recent data from Pearson, which runs Connections Academy — one of the largest networks of virtual schools — show that the schools serve a highly mobile student population, compared to traditional schools, and that families choose the schools for reasons such as wanting more flexibility, having health concerns or because of bullying issues.
Plenty of evidence exists, however, that there remains room for improvement in areas like accountability and oversight, given how these schools can vary nationwide.