RAND Study: Charter School Parents are Happier

A national think tank's latest study says parents of students at independently run charter public schools are more satisfied with the quality of education, safety and discipline at those schools than parents of students at more traditional schools, even though both operate similarly in many ways, writes Kevin McGill for the Associated Press.

The RAND Corp. study said its findings were based on surveys of parents, teachers and principals taken in 2008 and 2009.

Interestingly, while the surveys show relatively few differences in the way charters and traditional schools operate, parents of charter students were not only more satisfied overall, they reported having a greater sense of choice.

The RAND Corp. study comes six years after the state took control of most public schools in the hurricane-ravaged city of away from the long-troubled Orleans Parish School System.

Jennifer Steele, a RAND researcher who worked on the study, said the findings may indicate a need for better education of parents about charter school availability, a need to simplify the application process or the fact that there are more applicants for some schools than there are available slots.

Those are problems state officials have acknowledged and have been working to rectify. Steele noted the need for a common application process for public schools in the city.

RAND's study said neither the length of the school year or of the school day was notably different between the two types of schools and teachers at charter and traditional schools reported "almost no meaningful differences" in instructional practices.

Still, some key differences were evident:

"Principal and teacher respondents rated all 12 potential challenges presented to them (most notably, parent involvement, student discipline, and student transfers) as more serious in traditional schools than in charter schools, with the exception of facilities, which was rated as the most prominent challenge among charter school principals," the report said.

The success of charter schools is being felt across the country. Collin Hitt at Illinois Rising discusses his recent report for the Illinois Policy Institute, which he co-wrote with Michael Wille:

"Today, just 29 out of Chicago's 131 high schools that reported ACT results are charter schools – yet these independent schools are topping the education charts. In fact, when it comes to ACT scores, nine out of ten of the top-scoring, open enrollment high schools in Chicago are charter schools."

He also notes that many of the schools are posting ACT scores previously unheard of for high poverty high schools in Chicago.

Steele emphasized that the study is simply a snapshot of data from the 2008-09 year. Still, she said, it holds fodder for future consideration.

The study says in its conclusion:

"Given that charter school parents who responded to the survey reported having a greater sense of choice than their traditional school counterparts, a lingering policy question is whether the system of citywide choice is equally accessible and navigable by all citizens of New Orleans… The parent responses we received would suggest that it may not be."

While the report lists numerous similarities in the operations of charter and traditional schools, it also notes that the independently run charters tend to contract out more services, writes McGill.

That will lead to discussions, said Steele, about how best to allocate money for a variety of services, including transportation, meals, nursing, social work and counseling.

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