Academic results at high-performing charter schools in Texas have continued to meaningfully outperform those seen within their neighboring traditional school districts. In the 2009-10 school year, of the 75 charter schools in Texas operated by Uplift Education, IDEA, KIPP, YES Prep and Harmony, 64% achieved the state’s highest ranking of Exemplary. This percentage was more than double the percentage of traditional public schools receiving Exemplary ratings within the ISDs where these charters operate. Graduation rates and college acceptance rates (at or near 100% in each of these Texas charter schools) have also significantly exceeded their ISD counterparts.
It’s important to note that under Texas’ inequitable funding formula, charter school districts receive on-average around 80% of the funding a traditional urban district receives per student, making their academic performance all the more notable in terms of strong taxpayer dollar stewardship. With personnel costs representing the largest expense category of public schools, this makes it challenging for charter schools to compete on many salary levels. They also face increased barriers in securing real estate facilities for replication. While generous funders have been willing to bridge this gap during start up, replication and sustainability demand long-term solutions.
Unfortunately, the attempt by many to understand this substantial disparity in academic performance has led to both honest misunderstandings as well as the purposeful spread of misinformation by charter school opponents. These “myths” distract from the numerous substantive reasons for this difference in academic performance: longer school hours and more school days (made possible by flowing a higher proportion of funding from central administration into school operations); a strong and intense focus on leadership development; multiple pipelines of human capital (including alternative certification and Teach for America); and a strong culture created through smaller schools, strong relationships between educators and families, and high-expectations for student achievement. The myths also distract from the underlying policy issues.
MYTH: Charter schools selectively choose, or “cream,” students to enhance the school’s academic performance. FACT: Uplift is an open enrollment, tuition-free, public school system with a highly-regulated public lottery.
MYTH: Charters represent the privatization of public schools. They take funding from traditional public schools yet are not subject to the same level of regulation and oversight. FACT: Charter schools are subject to almost all of the same state regulations and oversight that applies to every other public school. Their students are subject to all of the same state-testing, and their schools are rated under the same accountability system as traditional public schools.
MYTH: Because they are generally appointed and not elected, charter boards are not accountable to taxpayers for the public dollars they are responsible for stewarding. FACT: Our board is appointed, but is subject to regulation under the Texas Education and Government Codes similar to an elected ISD board.
MYTH: Comparable academic performance is achieved by charters by selectively forcing out weak academic students. FACT: Uplift’s average continuer rate, after a school’s initial start-up, is not materially different from neighboring ISDs.
MYTH: Charter schools don’t have to educate the same students as local public schools, particularly with regard to special populations such as special education or handicapped children. FACT: Charters cannot screen for students with special needs in the application process.
MYTH: Academic performance in charter schools overall is no different than that seen in traditional school districts. FACT: High-performing charters, like Uplift, KIPP, Yes Prep, IDEA and Harmony, have meaningfully outperformed traditional districts in their academic results and continue to replicate these results as they expand throughout Texas.
MYTH: Uplift has difficulty hiring and retaining experienced teachers. FACT: Charter schools have increased freedom in the area of human resources and are more likely to use this freedom to utilize highly selective hiring, evaluation and retention processes.
MYTH: Charter schools exist in part to provide high compensation to their executive staff, who are not educators and receive high salaries at the expense of children in the classroom.
FACT: Under its 2010-11 board-approved budget, only 9% of Uplift’s projected annual revenues of $44 million are directed toward its central overhead, leaving 91% of every taxpayer dollar directed toward the classroom.