What schools can learn from charters about teaching English language learners

“The essence of the charter movement is extreme variability,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian whose latest book is critical of the push for more charters. “There are some excellent charter schools, some terrible charters, and most are in between. On average, charters do not get better academic outcomes than regular [public schools].”

Ravitch noted that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, has compared the performance of students in charter schools to those in regular public schools since 2003.

“In no assessment—2003, 2005, 2007, 2009—have charters outperformed regular publics, whether one looks at Hispanic students, black students, low-income students, or urban students,” she said.

In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Ravitch describes how a Boston Globe survey last year found that ELLs account for nearly one-fifth of all Boston public school students, but in the city’s charters (with only one exception), the ELL population was fewer than 4 percent.

Similarly, a New York Times story from earlier this year reports that New York charter schools lag in enrolling Latinos. Although Latinos are the largest ethnic group in New York City’s public schools, there are nearly twice as many black students as Latinos among the city’s 30,000 charter school students, the Times reports.

Ravitch and other critics argue that one way charter schools have an advantage over traditional public schools, and could do a disservice to the most at-risk students, is that they take students whose parents are the most engaged in their children’s success.

“Parents who care about their kids’ education enough to make the effort to learn about and request a school are the ones whose kids attend charter schools,” writes Sharon Higgins of Change.org in an article titled “Charters Exclude the Most Challenging Students.”

“Parents who don’t have it together to pay attention, care, or take action to try to improve their kids’ education do not choose charter schools. Thus, their kids—obviously likely to be the most challenged and challenging—are left in the traditional public schools.”

Note to readers

Don’t forget to visit the Re-imagining Education resource center. Inspiring and engaging today’s 21st-century learners, who have grown up surrounded with digital media and are used to having instant access to information, requires flexible resources that change with students’ needs. When teachers can leverage multiple technologies in a resource-rich classroom—supported by top-notch professional development—students forget they’re in school and instead become excited about real-world applications of the lessons they are learning. Go to:

Re-imagining Education

Meris Stansbury

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