Who you gonna believe?


Larry Sand takes on teacher union naysayers and their myths on charter schools, in the California Policy Center.

The National Education Association, falling right into line with state affiliate CTA, relentlessly bangs the “no accountability” drum, and repeats the age-old saw that charters “drain money from traditional public schools (TPS).” NEA has crafted a new policy toward charters that Antonucci notes will be presented to the union’s representative assembly in July for ratification. When NEA president Lily Eskelsen García introduced the document to the union board, she quipped, “We don’t want to completely say that there are no good charter schools.” So, no, the report is not exactly a paean to charters.

Here are a few things that the CTA and NEA conveniently omit from their resolutions, policies and perennial whining:

A recent report by the Center of Education Reform shows that charter schools produce superior academic outcomes, especially in urban areas. Charter schools serve more minority and economically disadvantaged students than TPS. Charters operate on smaller budgets than district schools, and do more with less.

As for the last point, a much smaller budget. Just last month, University of Arkansas researcher Patrick Wolf released the results of a study which shows that students in public charter schools receive $5,721 or 29 percent less in average per-pupil revenue than students in TPS in 14 major metropolitan areas across the U.S. The disparity is especially egregious (CTA take note) in Los Angeles and Oakland, where charters receive 40 percent less in per-pupil revenue than TPS. But even with the funding difference, Los Angeles charters killed TPS on the recent NAEP test. As EdChoice researcher Matthew Ladner reports, “On 4th grade math, LA charters scored 249, LA district 221, 4th grade reading 237 for charter students, 200 for LA district students.  On 8th grade math, LA charter students scored 294, while LA district students 261, while in 8th grade reading LA charter students scored 276 while the district students scored 249.”

Earlier this year, Manhattan Institute’s Marcus Winters blew up the “charters skim the best students” canard, a union staple, when he released a study which compares selective middle schools to charters in New York City. The results show that when an apples-to-apples comparison is made “by comparing students only from similar racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, charters shine more brightly: their students score better in math than, and just as well in English as, those in traditional selective schools.” (New York City is home to 98 traditional selective public middle schools, which in fact do “skim” the top students.)

And just last week, Stanford based CREDO released a study which shows that the longer students attend schools in charter networks, the greater their gains. For example, “in math, students attending schools in charter networks gain, on average, about 34 more days of learning in their first year than similar students in traditional district schools. By their third year in that school, they gain 69 additional days of learning – roughly twice the growth.”


To be sure there are bad charters, but they are closed if they don’t do the job they have been contracted to do. As for malfeasance, there has been some in charters, as with all schools. But the miscreants should be arrested. Let’s not disparage 7,000 charter schools because there are a handful of crooks in positions of power.

And speaking of power in the wrong hands, there are a growing number of union locals that want a say in authorizing charters, a role that traditionally has belonged to the school district, county, state and universities. (Okay, cue the fox/henhouse jokes.)

There is a ton of info on charter schools available on the net – their ups and downs, studies comparing them to TPS, number of students on waitlists, etc. When examining studies, randomized controlled trials – a type of scientific experiment where as many sources of bias as possible are removed from the process – is the gold standard. One must be very skeptical of anything the teachers unions say on the subject, as their studies are anything but randomized or controlled; they have a very obvious and pointed agenda and will stretch, bend and evade the facts to sell it.

The teachers unions remind me of Chico Marx, who said to perennial foil Margaret Dumont in Duck Soup, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Only difference is that Marx was very funny, while the teachers unions are anything but.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.