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UCSD Researcher Says Charter School Studies Fall Short

Aired 1/13/12 on KPBS News.

The researcher is calling for better studies on charter schools.

— There’s at least one thing Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all agree on: Charter schools should play an important role in reforming and improving public education. But a local researcher argues charter schools won’t be able to fulfill that role until they’re studied more effectively.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are privately managed. They can use different hiring practices, curriculum and teaching methods than those required in regular public schools. That freedom is supposed to allow for innovation and experimentation.

However, U.C. San Diego Economist Julian Betts concluded in a paper that the existing research about charter schools doesn’t provide reliable information about which innovations are successful.

“Most school boards around the country, when they’re asked to renew a charter school’s charter for another five years, are doing so without really good information on how good that school really is,” he said.

Betts and Richard Atkinson, the paper's co-author and president emeritus of the University of California, argue states should enable researchers to track individual student data so they can compare outcomes for charter and traditional public school students. They also want research that examines things like professional development, and teaching methods at individual schools.

“So that we can start to get a sense of what it is about the outperforming charter schools that really makes them wonderful and should be replicated elsewhere,” Betts said.

Betts said he sees more willingness across the country to hold charter schools accountable for student achievement and to close schools that don't effectively educate students.

In December, the California Charter Schools Association for the first time published a list of charter schools that should not have their charters renewed because they did not meet new accountability measures developed by the association.

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