INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Union leaders and other critics predictably blasted Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for statements he made this week about the pending addition of new charter schools in the state.
While Pence expressed excitement about offering parents more school options, critics insisted that the charter school movement as a whole is a failure because some of the schools have yet to achieve their academic goals, and some have been closed.
But Caitlin Gamble, the director of policy and research at the Indianapolis-based Institute for Quality Education, said the ability to close bad charter schools is a unique blessing of the charter school movement.
Many public schools have been failing their students for decades while wasting billions of dollars in tax money, yet the state leaves them open to perpetuate their failure and victimize children, year after year.
Gamble also cited statistics that suggest that charters have been effective in inner city areas of Indiana, where the need for alternative schools is most critical.
“Unlike traditional public schools where students are assigned to a school based on their home address, no student is forced to attend a charter school,” Gamble told EAGnews.
“Parents make the decision to send their child to a charter because they believe it is a better educational environment for their child. They can also remove their child at any time if the school does not meet the academic needs of that student.
“By virtue of being a choice school, charters are held to higher accountability standards.”
The number of charter schools in Indiana will increase from 64 to 86 over the next three years, according to a news report from the Associated Press. Pence trumpeted that news in a speech this week to a conference of charter school teachers, the news report said.
“We want to lower income and location as barrier to receiving a quality education, and public charter schools are an essential element of achieving that objective,” Pence said. “Our goal is simply to expand the number of education options throughout the state.”
Charter critics were quick to fall back on their familiar argument that some charter schools have underperformed or failed, and that somehow discredits all charter schools.
The list of critics includes Glenda Ritz, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016. If she wins her party’s nomination she would likely face off against Pence in the general election.
Ritz claims that 58 percent of Indiana’s charter schools are underperforming, according to the news report.
“If you’re going to have companies come in, in a for-profit manner, you certainly want to make sure that you’re going to have achievement,” Ritz was quoted as saying.
Pence acknowledged that some charter schools fail, including five that were closed in Marion County.
The fact that charters can be closed if they are not properly serving students is a huge plus for the charter school movement, according to Gamble. Citizens might be better served if the same thing happened more frequently to failing traditional public schools, she said.
Indiana law was recently changed to allow the state to address failing traditional schools sooner, but failure is still much more acceptable in traditional schools, Gamble said.
“Just like all other types of schools, there are great charter schools and there are those that are struggling to meet the needs of their students,” Gamble said. “We believe all schools should be held accountable and applaud the state’s charter school authorizers for making the difficult decisions to close consistently poor performing charters.
“While the passage of HEA 1638 this legislative session will shorten the timeline in which the State Board of Education can intervene in a chronically failing traditional public school – from 6 years of consecutive F’s to 4 years – it is still much easier to close a poor performing charter school than it is a poor performing traditional public school.”
Gamble offered several statistics, produced by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, that suggest charter schools provide quality alternatives for many Indiana students:
Indiana is one of 11 states where charter school performance outpaced traditional public school growth in both math and English/Language Arts.
Charter school students in Indiana received the equivalent of 36 additional learning days of reading, and 14 additional learning days of math when compared to their traditional public school.
Black students in Indiana enrolled in charter schools show significantly better performance in reading and math compared to black students in traditional public schools.
Indiana students in poverty who are enrolled in charter schools perform significantly better in math compared to students in poverty in traditional public schools.
“Most charter schools are located in the inner city and are performing better than the traditional public school options,” Gamble said. “While many opponents claim there is no evidence to suggest charter schools have resulted in improved student outcomes, that is false.
“By only comparing letter grades, one leaves out valuable research completed by CREDO at Stanford which suggests that Indiana charters do result in improved student outcomes.”