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Researcher Provides Lessons on Charter Schools

Patience is a virtue that’s learned through many lessons and occasional mistakes. And one researcher says patience is virtue that needs to be applied to the charter school movement.

Gary Miron testified at the House Education Committee meeting on Tuesday to present what two decades of data have revealed to him about charter schools, and, more importantly for Kentucky, how the model can be effectively implemented. Miron is a professor of educational leadership, research, and technology at Western Michigan University, and he specializes in evaluation, measurement, and research.

In 2000 the U.S. Department of Education contracted with Miron to do a four-year study on the correlations of success in American charter schools. Miron and his colleagues wanted to explore something called “legislative intent.” Their plan was to analyze the legislatures in states with charters to understand what lawmakers wanted to achieve by implementing that educational model.

Miron says he was initially excited by how charters could be held accountable, provide opportunities for parents, and increase performance among students.

Data Reveals Several Concerns

But over time, a different picture began to emerge. Miron’s research showed that despite the good intent behind legislation written by lawmakers in those states, charter schools were not realizing their potential. The numbers Miron studied pointed to several troubling issues.

Miron discovered a prevalence of racial and socio-economic segregation, a key problem charter schools were created to help address. His research showed that only a quarter of the charter schools he surveyed had demographics similar to the districts in which they were located.

Miron attributes this to a phenomenon called “self-selecting.” He says parents of every race, class, and walk of life had pursued a school environment for their children that would surround them with less diversity. According to Miron, charter schools are not creating segregation but are accelerating it.

In his research, Miron also wanted to study teacher involvement. He says he found that teachers were not that involved in their schools, and that the attrition rate for charter school teachers was extremely high.

Miron is clear that there are some charter school success stories, particularly in urban areas. But in general, he says the statistics available to him did not paint a promising picture of the current approach to the charter model. And gaining access to the data he needed wasn’t always easy.

Successful Implementation Requires Patience

Miron says he fears the innovation that charter advocates promised when the schools were first introduced in the 1990s has all but disappeared. That issue coupled with the privatization of charters, accelerated segregation, and rapidly expanding online opportunities for students have left Miron deeply concerned about the educational model.

During his testimony on Tuesday, Miron reflected back to the ‘90s when the charter school movement first showed great promise to improve academic outcomes for children left behind in traditional public schools.

Miron says he hasn’t lost hope in the model, but cautions that successful charter school implementation takes patience. The few statistically successful states have made changes slowly and methodically, he says.

After his testimony Miron took questions from committee members.

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