The first charter opened in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1992, and now there are about 7,000 schools, serving about three million students around the U.S.
David Osborne, director of the Reinventing America’s Schools Project at the Progressive Policy Institute, writes in the Wall Street Journal that though charter schools are controversial, they are “undeniably effective, especially in urban areas.”
Cities that fully embrace the charter schools have improved their school systems, Osborne writes. New Orleans will be “100 percent charters next year” and it is the fastest-growing city in America when it comes to education. Everything is improving: test scores, graduation and college-going rates.
Osborne looks at statistics from Washington, Denver, Memphis, Indianapolis, and Camden, as well as a few other locations. In each city, school districts were suffering until charter schools came in. In Washington, charter schools created competition that forced the mayor to initiate reforms, and now the district is “improving rapidly,” though Osborne says his data proves charters are still performing better.
In Denver last year, 42 percent of students attended charters or innovation schools, and now has the fastest academic growth of Colorado’s 20 largest districts, the Wall Street Journal piece says.
Other districts are creating systems similar to charters, which are also successful, Osborne writes. For example, Memphis, which does have some charters, also created “innovation zones” where schools have significant autonomy. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, the state Department of Education and Springfield Public Schools created an “empowerment zone partnership.” This partnership has 10 schools, which are treated a lot like charters, and its own nonprofit board. Three other states copied Louisiana’s plan and created recovery districts.