Subpar Schools Show Little Progress

Charters didn't do much better than district schools in study.

Low-performing schools, whether charter or district schools, showed little improvement during a five-year period and "are stubbornly resistant to significant change," a new study has found.  The nonprofit Thomas B. Fordham Institute studied 2,025 schools in 10 states including Pennsylvania from 2003-04 to 2008-09.

Some 72% of the charters and 80% of district schools remained in operation and with poor test scores after five years. During that time only 1% of the schools (26 of 2,025) improved beyond their state’s average standardized test performance, and fewer than 10% rose beyond their state’s lowest 25% in test performance.

Some schools were closed — 11% of the district schools and 19% of the charter schools studied. “Real turnarounds are extremely scarce, and shutdowns were a little more common but still pretty scarce,” said Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute.

For nearly a decade, the U.S. Department of Education  has pushed for the closure of poorly performing schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said poorly performing district schools should be replaced by charter schools.

Yet according to the study, "Real transformation is truly rare in both sectors, which compels one to ask whether Secretary Duncan’s emphasis on this reform strategy is warranted, whether the billions of federal dollars being channeled into weak schools may be largely wasted, and whether the many would-be turnaround experts and consulting firms springing up around the land to help states and districts spend those dollars are little more than dream merchants.

"Would not all that energy and money be better spent to strengthen the accountability (and sponsorship) systems that lead to shutting down and replacing bad schools?"

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