Charter schools emerged in Pennsylvania about 20 years ago. To some, charter schools offered the best of both worlds. Charter schools are public schools, funded by tax dollars. But they are run by private companies. The idea was to allow private companies into the public education space with the belief that a more business-like operation would reduce red tape, provide more resources and improve student outcomes like performance on statewide or national standardized test scores.
Charter schools represented an immediate challenge to city Catholic schools. Families believed that the free alternative would be at least as good as the Catholic school option. Charter schools in Philadelphia deployed sophisticated, slick marketing tactics. They put their students in plaid uniforms. And they branded their companies with words like “academy.”
In the longer term, not only have Catholic and private schools in the city and suburbs alike been impacted, but charter schools are taking a bite out of traditional public schools. Substantial public money has been diverted to privately run charter schools at the expense of financially struggling traditional public schools.
Has the experiment worked? A fair amount of research indicates that charter schools in Pennsylvania do not work Pennsylvania’s charter schools place in the bottom half of all charter schools in the country according to at least three pro-charter ratings organizations. (Source) Students in Pennsylvania’s charter schools do poorly in reading and math compared to their other public school counterparts. (Source)
Philadelphia’s charter schools are missing key benchmarks. A recent report noted that Philadelphia’s 58 “traditional” charter schools tend to serve more affluent and less diverse families, which is seemingly contrary to their purpose. (Source)
In public school districts challenged with poor academic performance, school safety issues and crumbling infrastructure, charter schools may offer an appealing alternative, on the surface. But all to often parents overlook the obvious: Catholic education. While tuition is expensive, most schools have access to substantial financial aid. Catholic schools are all nationally accredited by the Middle States Association. Catholic school students typically outperform public school counterparts on SAT and AP scores and, on average, earn more in college scholarship dollars. Catholic schools, founded in faith and morals, offer the latest teaching technology and welcome families of all faith backgrounds into their communities.
As you consider the costs and benefits of your child’s educational options, look deeply into the performance of your local charter schools. Find out if they are accredited. Ask about their charter renewal. Compare standardized test scores, graduation rates, scholarship dollars and programs available to make the best choice possible.