Charter Schools Dominate National Honor Roll

Published April 1, 2009

Charter schools make up 14 percent of the top-performing public schools nationwide despite accounting for only 5 percent of the public schools in operation, according to a new survey.

GreatSchools, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that helps parents choose the best schools for their children, released the study in January with Business Week. GreatSchools President Bill Jackson said the study highlights the importance of both academic performance and parents’ opinion in identifying great schools.

“Our goal with this initiative is to spur conversation about what makes a great high school in every corner of the country,” Jackson said. “Great high schools prepare students academically, as demonstrated by high test scores. But great high schools also engage students in learning and building a strong community. Our Parents’ Choice winners are the schools that parents recognize as being particularly good at educating the whole young person.”

GreatSchools identified the Top Academic Performance (overall and low-income) and Most Improved schools by analyzing publicly available school test information. GreatSchools also highlighted the Parents’ Choice for both public and private schools by analyzing the Parent Ratings and Reviews on its Web site.

Freedom, Accountability Cited

Charter school advocates cite several reasons for the schools’ superior performance.

“There are fewer restrictions on the operations; there are more people involved in the school who stay up nights concerned with school quality; board members see themselves as the managers of the schools,” said Michael Block, chairman of BASIS schools in Arizona. BASIS’s Scottsdale school was ranked the best in the state.

Unlike traditional public schools, which are protected by entrenched bureaucracies and requirements that students attend unless their families pay for education elsewhere, charter schools have to be concerned about enrollment, parent satisfaction, and teacher accountability, Block added. “A lot of these charter schools are privately run public schools. The private part of that is very important. The consequences of doing poorly are more quickly felt. Decisions are not politicized inside the school.”

At traditional public schools, decisions are made by a central administration, not at the local level, so they’re not made as swiftly or with much local input. But charter schools can hire, fire, and reward teachers based on performance instead of union contracts.

Jeanne Allen, president of the Maryland-based Center for Education Reform, said a major reason charter schools outperform others is the culture they are able to create.

“In a lot of traditional schools, there are low expectations. That impacts on the children and their performance in the schools,” Allen explained. “It becomes a fait accompli. In charter schools, there are high expectations. Kids will rise and fall based on the expectations put in front of them. Positive and negative reinforcement are infectious.”

Phillip J. Britt ([email protected]) writes from Illinois.

For more information …

The Five Top-Performing Schools lists: