Charter Schools Live Up to Their Mission and Promise: Rich Buery

ByRichard Buery

Regarding Andrea Gabor’s op-ed, “‘School Choice’ Now Leads to Fewer School Choices”:

Gabor asserts that charter schools have not lived up to the lofty vision of early charter school pioneer, Al Shanker. As a charter school founder and someone who helps lead the nation’s largest charter network – KIPP . I could not disagree more.

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are given greater flexibility than most district-run schools in exchange for increased accountability. Today, there are 7,000 charter schools educating more than 3 million children nationwide.

Like all institutions, charter schools have room for improvement. But the best ones are working for children.

In 2015, a Stanford CREDO study on urban charter schools showed that across 41 regions, urban charter school students on average achieve growth that amounts to roughly 40 additional learning days in math and 28 in reading.

Charter schools in New Orleans, which Gabor labels as unsuccessful, have made immense growth. The Education Research Alliance published a report in July that found reforms after Hurricane Katrina increased student achievement by 11 to 16 percentiles and the college entry rate by 8 to 15 percentage points. That is an extraordinary achievement, worthy of celebration.

Gabor brings up the charter movement’s reputation for harsh discipline. One of the strengths of charters is our ability to adapt. Over the past several years, many charters, including several KIPP schools, have adopted restorative-justice approaches. Many schools in New Orleans, which Gabor specifically calls out, have seen a decrease in suspensions through these practices.

Contrary to Gabor’s assertion, there is strong accountability for charters, which absolutely should be shut down if they’re not effective. Between 2014 and 2018, 1,000 charter schools have been closed. And state charter organizations are working to improve state charter law. For example, in September, the California Charter Schools Association worked with the California Federation of Teachers to ban all for-profit charters in the Golden State.

Gabor also contends that charters are not sharing lessons with district schools. In fact, this type of sharing has become widespread. KIPP for instance, recently joined forces with the Miami-Dade, Newark, N.J. and New York City school districts to share our approach to increasing college matriculation rates for students from low-income families. In addition, California-based Summit Public Schools supports more than 380 schools nationwide with free professional development, curriculum, ongoing coaching, and access to their software platform to help schools personalize instruction. New York’s Success Academy is offering free training to districts in its effective literacy program. These are just a few examples.

It’s not charters that are failing to honor Shanker’s vision, it’s those that insist on breeding conflict where we should be seeking collaboration. The charter educators I know are working tirelessly to support children, constantly striving to improve, and sharing and learning with the broader public school system.

Rich Buery
Chief of Policy and Public Affairs

KIPP Foundation