I must confess that I am a news junkie. I am constantly listening to, reading or following various news feeds. One news story that recently grabbed my attention was that charter schools are outperforming public schools on the new state assessments. Something about this did not sound right, so I decided to dig deeper and look at how our schools here in New Hanover County stack up against our local charter schools.
Let me first say that I am a fan of charter schools as lab schools and schools that address a specific community need. In our region, we have several charter schools that serve students from New Hanover County and surrounding counties. These schools include Cape Fear Center for Inquiry (CFCI), Wilmington Prep, Charter Day School and Columbus Day. Two others opened this year, but with only a limited number of grades and students.
When compared to the district’s schools, charter schools’ performances are mixed at best. None of the charter schools have a performance composite above 70%. NHCS has eight schools that exceeded 70% and another four are over 60%. Only one of the local charters, CFCI, would make our top 10 list. If you look at their performance composite related to subgroups, the data is even more revealing. None of the area charter schools would be in the top 10 with the scores from the Caucasian subgroup (CFCI would be 13th). When looking at the African-American subgroup performance, no charter school would rank in the top 20 compared to NHCS. In terms of working with our economically disadvantaged students, CFCI does not have a subgroup, and only Charter Day would be in the top 10; the other two charters’ performance would rank in the bottom half of NHCS data.
I would like to reiterate what I said at the beginning of this article. Charter schools have value as lab schools and implementing new concepts. They also serve as other school options for parents to consider. I also believe charters schools help keep public schools on their toes by providing alternatives. However, I am not ready to concede that they are better schools. It is important to remember that these schools bear little resemblance to the district as a whole. CFCI, Columbus Day and Charter Day have significantly fewer minority students and students who are economically disadvantaged. Wilmington Prep has more minority students than NHCS. None of the charter schools have more than 1% of their students identified as Limited English Proficient compared to 3.5% for NHCS in that category.
The performance of charter schools is mixed, and when compared to actual schools in our district, their performance, at best, can be described as average. For the vast majority of students, the best place for high quality education is in a traditional public school. If you want to delve further into the data, I would suggest you log onto the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s website: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/accountability/reporting/.