Policy Pub: Florida Charter Schools: Not as Good, or as Bad, as Advertised

This post is based on a webinar sponsored by Florida State University’s College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

There is a lot of misinformation regarding charter schools. This webinar dives into some common myths and misconceptions on charter schools and sets the record straight. Specifically, this webinar does so through the findings of a recent LCI report that analyzes the trends in racial and economic diversity, accountability, innovation, and transparency of Florida’s charter schools and the ways that oversight of charter schools can be improved and racial and economic diversity prioritized.

Claim 1: Florida is a big user of charter schools.

Yes. Florida utilizes charter schools more than the nation, as a whole. Based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics, about 10% of students in Florida are enrolled in charter schools vs. only 6% of students across the nation.

Claim 2: Charter schools are less racially and economically diverse than traditional schools.

Yes and no. Overall, data shows that charter schools are somewhat more racially diverse than traditional schools, but have lower rates of economically disadvantaged students than traditional schools.

% of economically disadvantaged students:
Charter schools: 49%
Traditional schools: 62%

Claim 3: Florida is heavily reliant on for-profit charters which further segregate’s Florida’s schools.

Yes. Nationally, 18% of charter school students attend Education Management Organizations (EMOs) charter operate in Florida. About 33 different EMOs operate 244 charter schools. In Miami-Dade county alone, 77% of charter schools are EMOs

Claim 4: Florida’s system of accountability and oversight regarding charter schools is strong.

Yes, but… Charter schools have systems of accountability that keep them in check, but these systems are imperfect.

Charter school students take the same state assessments as traditional school students, schools are graded and state reports schools’ performance on standardized tests and disaggregates data by a number of socio-economic variables. Charter schools must report publicly on management and operations including quarterly auditing reports, percent of certified teachers and other variables. Charters must accept all students and if a school is oversubscribed, students are chosen by lottery. Charters are granted by local school boards for five years. Denial by a local school board can be appealed to the state. Schools with a track-record of strong performance may receive charters for as long as 15 years before they must apply for renewal. A charter school with a grade of “F” for two consecutive years will automatically see its charter revoked. State chipping away at school board’s responsibility under constitution. Charters must meet most of state traditional school requirements Local boards are not necessarily local.

Claim 5: Charter schools are innovative and will lead traditional schools to become more innovative.

No. There is no real mechanism for measuring innovation, and no accountability for innovation.

Claim 6: Charter schools do a better job than traditional schools.

No matter the justification for charter schools, a critical question is whether they accomplish the task of improving student outcomes. In Florida, this is often measured through “School Grade,” such as graduation rate, achievement on standardized tests, and learning gains.

Claim 7: Charter schools make traditional schools better.

Little evidence that the establishment of charter schools in South Florida has meaningfully influenced traditional public school performance.

Claim 8: Charter schools leave traditional schools with more Black and poor students.

There is no evidence that charter schools are influencing rates of segregation in public schools.

Overall,

charter schools are not as good, or as bad, as advertised. But they can be improved by taking a second look at these areas: further accountability and oversight, better measuring innovation, improved transparency, and revisiting racial and economic issues.

Q: Do you have any impressions of best practices or takeaways from the national scene that might be relevant as we go forward?
A: I’m sure there’s been a slew of work on charter schools. One of the real frustrations has been its hard to generalize. There are best particles in terms of curriculum, and there are associations of charter schools that share best practices. But because state laws are so different in terms of accountability in who authorize the charter schools, its’ hard to have a set basic thing on the best practices.

Q: Do you think that charter schools should require a certain level of diversity?
A: That’s a very tough question. We can’t force people to do it. We should, however, make it an issue that’s transparent. School boards have to work with charter schools to better encourage diversity, maybe by providing transportation, affordable housing, etc. It is a major issue that goes beyond charter schools and school distracts.

Q: What’s going to happen with the legislature in charter schools? Do you foresee any changes or refinements this years?
A: I think the state is pretty happy with the current charter school model. The legislature is not doing much with charter school this year, other than implementing “schools of hope,” charter schools which serves students from one or more persistently low-performing schools.

This post is based on a webinar sponsored by Florida State University’s College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. You can watch the full webinar here.

Dr. Weissert is a LeRoy Collins Eminent Scholar and Chair of Civic Education and Political Science at Florida State University. You can learn more about Dr. Weissert here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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