Unsuccessful charter schools

Charter schools are a big failure in America. That big failure has been touted as the suitable solution to the ailing Indian education system. What a paradox? A mega failure is recommended as the success policy! The Union Government must immediately terminate the charter school idea and pump in adequate reformations to clean the school system with more proactive participation of the state and citizens.

The Times of India writes (9 November 2009)

Nuts and bolts of the right to education law is still being put in place but the HRD ministry is getting serious suggestions from a host of private education providers to implement the concept of `charter schools’ in India.

The ministry is unlikely to fall for charter schools and a formal response will be given out soon. However, sources said these schools had shown mixed results in the US and elsewhere but were being pushed in India by a strong private sector school lobby to skirt the mandated 25% reservation that all schools have to give to underprivileged children under the RTE Act. Charter schools were against the concept of equity and access, the source said.

Started in the US in 1991, charter schools simply mean leasing the administration and management of government schools to private education providers and NGOs while the funding is done by the state. The only responsibility of private education providers is the promise of better results which is made part of the charter. In case of India, it would mean handing over 1.3 million government-run primary and secondary schools to NGOs and private sector. The argument for charter schools, sources said, was based on poor performance of government schools and the growing tendency even in small towns and villages to put children in private schools.

But ministry sources pointed out that free-market ideology and freedom of choice could not be used to hand over government schools to private sector. Basing their argument on studies done on charter schools in the US, sources listed reasons why this model would not work in India. These schools become for-profit charter schools undermining the role of state in imparting free and compulsory education to all. In US, many states like Wisconsin, California, Michigan and Arizona allowed for-profit corporations to run charter schools resulting in profits being diverted instead of investing it back on education. A National Education Association study showed that for-profit charter schools rarely outperformed traditional state schools.

Ministry sources also pointed to studies that showed charter schools increased competition among schools in an area. At the same time, a study by American Federation of Teachers found that students attending charter schools did not fare any better or worse statistically in reading and maths scores than students attending public schools.

The Caroline Hoxby study on educational outcome was the only one that said charter school students did better than their counterparts in public schools. However, her study ran into controversy and she had to supplement her first report but the methodology was still considered suspect.

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