EdMedia Commons Archive

Charter Schools Hit Milestone 20 Years in the Making

The National Alliance For Public Charter Schools announced today that the total number of independently operated public campuses topped 6,000 for the first time since the first charter school opened its doors two decades ago. (Today’s Educated Reporter has more on the milestone.) Charter school enrollment nationally has now reached 2.3 million.

This is poised to be a critical year for the charter movement, which has struggled to counter critics who point to a lack of research proving the model is better than traditional public schools. But as the alliance points out, there’s no shortage of interest from families at the local level: there are more than 600,000 students on waiting lists for seats at existing campuses.

Additionally, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made clear his enthusiasm for the charter concept. In Washington state, voters narrowly approved allowing charter schools for the first time. Mississippi, one of a handful of states that currently does not allow charters, is contemplating a new law that would allow public funds to be allocated to independently operated campuses. 

As the Hechinger Report noted, the charter debate in Mississippi is complicated by significant racial tensions over how the state should be prioritizing its efforts — and its dollars — to improve its public education system.

From Hechinger education writer Sarah Carr: 

Advocates of charters believe the autonomous schools will help boost the state’s abysmal academic performance. They say they can learn from mistakes made in other states to ensure Mississippi’s charter law is exemplary.

Critics counter that the state needs to focus on fully funding the schools it already operates and create a desperately needed pre-kindergarten program before it looks to alternatives like charters. They also worry that the charter movement will be hijacked by virtual schools and for-profit companies hoping to profit off of Mississippi’s children.

An interesting side note: Of the 16 individual campuses and consortia chosen for the first Race To The Top grants awarded at the district (rather than the state) level, three were charter schools. But as Duncan told the Washington Post, the winners were chosen for the strength of their applications, and not because of their charter status.

For more on these important issues, visit the Charters & Choice page at Story Starters, EWA’s new online resource for reporters. You’ll find the latest research, expert sources, and even Five Questions  to Ask.

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.