Friday, February 17, 2012

House Pub Ed Discusses Charter Schools

 Texas Association of School Boards Legislative Report

The House Public Education Committee met on Friday to consider its interim charge to evaluate the charter school system in Texas.  

The charge calls for the committee to:
  • examine success and failure stories in Texas and other states;
  • review the educational outcomes of students in charter school compared to those in traditional schools; and
  • identify any best practices and how those practices may be applied statewide. 
Texas Education Agency staff led off by providing an overview of charter schools in Texas, stating that 297 charters have been awarded since 1996 while 91 of them have been revoked, returned, merged or expired.

Currently, the state has awarded 206 open-enrollment charters.

Catherine Maloney, the director of the Texas Center for Education Research (TCER), provided invited testimony that, overall, parents are happy with their choice to enroll their students in an open-enrollment charter school.

Parents cite "smaller classes" and a "safer environments" as the reasons why they are satisfied. However, research shows traditional public school student performance is higher than that of charter school students.

Maloney's findings are a result of several years of TCER research which concluded in a number of evaluations funded by TEA.

TASB provided the committee members with a document that highlights several eye-opening statistics collected from TEA data.

The hearing featured several supporters and skeptics of charter schools. A common theme recurring throughout the hearing was that there exist a handful of very successful charters that overshadow the majority of below-average charter schools.

Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) repeatedly reminded those testifying that the original role of charter schools to serve as laboratories of innovation for all public schools is hard to fulfill because students in charter schools tend to have more involved parents than students in lower performing traditional public schools, making the portability of business and teaching models difficult. 

Others noted the ability of charter schools to retain the students they choose and send others back to traditional public schools at any time during the school year if students fail to adhere to a charter school's code of conduct or other requirement.

Committee members will make policy recommendations based on testimony and research that may result in proposed legislation in 2013.