Charter and to prevent misplaced hope in charter
Charter schools are a popular choice among those who advocate for school choice. In Charter Schools: Hope or Hype?, Jack Buckley and Mark Schneider provide empirical evidence to try to answer this question. The authors are both professors who teach statistics and analyze public policy, especially as it relates to education. In this book, they focus on charter schools in Washington DC. The reason for the narrow focus is because DC has a strong charter law and one of the most well-funded and robust charter systems in the country. This book looks at the realities, challenges, and opportunities presented by a maturing charter school system. The book contains thirteen chapters, the first of which is an introduction. In that first chapter, Buckley and Schneider explore the theories about charter schools to structure their approach. In the second chapter, they develop and test their hypotheses. Chapter three presents a panel study of parents and students in DC charter and public schools, and chapter four provides an examination of students in charter schools. Chapter five contains observations between 1999 and 2003 of parents and students using a website called DCSchoolSearch.com to research school options. In chapters 6 to 8, Buckley and Schneider use data from the panel study and their observations to study issues related to school choice. In chapters 9 to 12, the authors look at the outcomes and consequences of school choice. The final chapter provides a summary of their overall findings. The main thesis of the two authors is that “the push for charter schools… has been characterized by too many promises that are only… weakly supported by evidence” (p. 267). And the book provides a lot of evidence to back up this statement. The very purpose of this book is to bring down the hype of charter schools, to lower expectations, and to prevent misplaced hope in charter schools. In place of the over-blown promises given by many school choice advocates, the authors suggest that the charter debate needs a smart, informed discussion of what it takes to create healthy institutions. Buckley and Schneider have contributed to this project by providing new insights into the relationship between charter schools and their customers. In doing so, they provide several intriguing findings that may surprise both sides of the debate. One of the main findings is that charter parents are more satisfied with their schools than public school, at least initially; that satisfaction fades over time. Another finding is that charter schools are better at cultivating citizenship skills and make students more connected with their community. The authors find no evidence of “cream skimming” in that most charter parents actually have lower average incomes compared to public school parents. They also find no evidence that charter parents are more involved with their schools than public school parents are. The writing style is technical and dense. Discussion of research methodology and use of terms only scholars will understand makes for a difficult read. However, there are numerous visual displays of information, which readers may find helpful. Due to the writing style, it is clear that the audience is exclusively for academics and policymakers. Buckley and Schneider conclude that their thesis is correct. Yes, the facts do not justify the hype, and the hype is causing to much hope. The authors have produced an empirical and nuanced look at the realities of charter schools. I would recommend this book, but only to other academics.