Saturday, February 1, 2014

Charters are not superior to public schools and the public schools are not failing

Sent to the Wall Street Journal, Feb. 1, 2014

The WSJ's enthusiasm for the Sgt. Marcus Lutheran school, and for charters in general, is not supported by the data ("The 'Progressive' War on Kids," February 1-2).

An article in the Milwaukee Courier (October 12, 2013) revealed that St. Marcus Lutheran students perform well below the Wisconsin state average on state tests, with between 18 and 32% performing at the proficient or advanced levels in reading. The current state average is about 38%.  In fact, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Sept. 23, 2013), charter schools in Milwaukee have done well. Research has shown that in general charter schools do not do as well as public schools, even though they can often be very selective in who they admit, and can expel "problem" students.

The WSJ's editorial sends the message that our public schools are failing. They aren't. When researchers control for the effects of poverty, American schools rank near the top of the world. Our overall scores are unspectacular because the child poverty rate in the US is very high, 23%, second-highest among all economically advanced countries.  Children of poverty suffer from hunger, malnutrition, inferior health care, and lack of access to books. All of these have a powerful impact on school performance: The best teaching in the world will not help when children are hungry, ill, and have little or nothing to read.

Our focus should be on protecting children from the impact of poverty.

Stephen Krashen


Performance of St. Marcus Lutheran students: The myth of academic achievement at St. Marcus Lutheran School:
Milwaukee charters: Many independent charter schools miss mark on state report cards.
Wisconsin State Norms:
Performance of charter schools: National Charter School Study. Can be downloaded at
Control for the effect of poverty: Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012. Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.;
Levels of child poverty: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2012), ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.

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