Pew Reports: Charters Booming, But Parents Want More School Choice

In a study released today, Pew Charitable Trusts found that more and more parents are sending their children to charter schools, but even with the huge increase in charter school enrollment (170%), many families (72%) say city parents actually need more good choices than currently exist.  The losers?  Public schools, because the increased free choices have drawn more students away, and Catholic Schools, who have seen a steady decrease in enrollment.

This blog is all about school choice in Philadelphia, so it should come as no surprise that I identify with the findings that parents are looking for more school choices.  In some cases, the schools might simply be inadequate.  However, it is important to note that charters have been booming despite the scandals and lack of evidence that most charters perform any better than the regular public schools.  Martha Woodall of The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted the report,

“This trend has developed in the face of evidence that many charters perform no better than district schools, and a constant drumbeat of news reports and investigations regarding alleged and proven improprieties in the way charters operate.”

I definitely think that parents unconsciously attribute more cachet to charter schools simply by virtue of them being charter schools, which is not healthy.  On the other hand, despite the scandals and uneven performance, charters have fulfilled one of their promises–to put pressure on the public schools to do better.  Of course, I wish the pressure was solely because of better performance and not based on an illusory exclusivity.  It will be interesting to see in the coming years how public schools and catholic schools respond to the challenge.  Will Catholic schools become a rare niche entity, like Jewish Day Schools?  Will other public schools step up their game?  Will more charters emerge?  Will lackluster performance and scandals stifle the growth of charters?  We certainly live in interesting times.

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[the following links were added to this post on 6/30/2010]

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