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Struggling TX Districts Turning to Charter Schools

December 16, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - As more cash-strapped Texas school districts consider turning over classrooms and campuses to private operators, new research is undercutting popular notions that charter schools are performing miracles in their classrooms.

The Austin School Board this week had to delay a vote on partnering with the IDEA chain of schools after fierce community opposition dominated a hearing.

Louis Malfaro, secretary treasurer of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, says some district officials, in a rush for solutions, are ignoring facts.

"Are we going to look at data and research, or are we just going to shoot from the hip? We know most charter schools are either underperforming or doing no better than regular public schools."

A recent study commissioned by the Texas Business and Education Coalition tracked students in so-called "high-performing" charter schools. It found that well-publicized chains - such as IDEA, KIPP, YES, and Harmony - serve selective student bodies, despite their "open-enrollment" charters. Malfaro says it's highly motivated families who tend to apply, and the schools often weed out youths who underperform - skewing their student populations toward the easiest to educate.

"They enroll a lower percentage of economically disadvantaged students, of special-education students, bilingual students, students with disabilities, and students who were doing poorly to begin with."

While IDEA boasts that 100 percent of its high-school graduates go on to college, the study shows that more than a third of its ninth-graders are returned to public school by the time they're seniors. Malfaro says he's not against all charter schools, and that some have proved innovative with specific types of students.

Proponents say the charter trend is giving parents more education choices, but Malfaro says it comes at the expense of accountability. He also notes the implications for employees such as teachers.

"We hear these institutions telling us, 'We're about innovative ways of attracting teachers.' If that's the case, why are you unwilling to work with your own teachers in any sort of a collective way, or give them basic on-the-job protections?"

Malfaro cites studies showing schools chartered in recent years have a higher teacher turnover rate than do public schools.

Austin trustees are to resume the charter debate Monday.

Research data is online at fullerlook.wordpress.com.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX