Debunking Myths about Charter Schools

Charter School Myths

Myth:  Charter schools “cherry pick” their students.

Fact:  A 2009 Rand Corporation study, Achievement and Attainment in Chicago Charter Schools, found that “[T]here is no indication that charters are “skimming the cream” of students from CPS: Prior achievement levels of students who leave CPS schools for charter schools are not substantially higher than the achievement levels of the peers they leave behind.” Illinois charter schools are required by law to admit district students who apply on a first-come, first-served basis. The only priority is given to siblings of students already in the school. If there are too many applicants for available spots, the law requires the school to admit students by lottery.

Myth:  Charter schools don’t produce better academic results than traditional district schools.

Fact: While the national charter performance data varies by state, Illinois charter schools overwhelmingly perform better than traditional neighborhood public schools. In fact, 7 of the top 10 highest 2010 average ACT scores from non-selective enrollment schools in Chicago came from charter schools.

Myth:  Charter school children come from more committed families, and that accounts for their improved academic results.

Fact:  Studies that compare charter school students to those who applied to charter schools but were not admitted show that charter schools alone make a big difference in student outcomes. Studies of New York and Chicago charter schools found a direct positive relationship between charter attendance and academic performance—the longer a child is in a charter school, the better he or she does.

Myth:  Charter schools are private schools.

Fact:  By law, charter schools are publicly funded, open enrollment, free public schools operated by non-profit organizations.

Myth:  Charter schools don’t have to take special education students.

Fact:  Like other district schools, charters must take any special education student who applies, on the same basis as other students. If a special education student applies to a charter, he or she will have the same chance to be selected in the lottery as any other student.

Myth:  High teacher turnover at charter schools hurts students.

Fact:  Some charters experience high teacher turnover, especially in their early years.  But there is no indication that high turnover, even where it occurs, hurts students. Charters are designed to put students first, and that means attracting and retaining the very best teachers — and it means not retaining teachers who are not performing well, are not mission driven, or are not a good fit with the culture of the school.

Myth:  Charter schools get rid of students they don’t want.

Fact:  Some charter schools experience high attrition rate. But keep in mind that student attrition is always high in urban areas. The vast majority of students who leave do so because their families move. Some students choose to leave because they can’t or won’t adapt to charter schools’ strict rules. Very few students are expelled, and then only after notice and hearing which must meet all the district’s due process requirements.

Myth:  Charter schools take in so much private funding, it doesn’t matter that they are underfunded by the state.

Fact:  Charter schools in Illinois are grossly underfunded compared to other schools in the districts where they are located. Chicago charter schools, which serve about 10% of the students in the district, receive only 4% of the district’s budget.  No charter school raises enough money to bridge that gap.

Myth:  Charter schools have luxurious, state-of-the-art facilities.

Fact:   Finding an appropriate building is the biggest hurdle for a charter school. Schools occupy old school district buildings, unused private school buildings, converted industrial or commercial space, or new buildings they construct. Unlike traditional public schools, Illinois’ charter public schools do not receive public funding for their school buildings or other capital improvements, creating an enormous fundraising burden.

Myth:  Charters are used as a tool to gentrify neighborhoods.

Fact:  Most Illinois charters are located in poor neighborhoods, and they serve mostly low-income, minority students. More than half of Chicago’s charter schools are located in the areas identified in a 2008 Illinois Facilities Fund report as being most in need of “performing” schools.

Myth:  Charter schools are part of a scheme to privatize public education.

Fact:  Charter law is designed to give communities the power to create public schools that serve their needs. Charter schools are privately operated, but they are not privately owned. The charter holder is always a non-profit organization, and the charter school is always a public school.