ON THE AGENDA | MAY 3RD, 2016 | ALLISON RIZZOLO

For Charter Schools Week, Resources that Keep the Issue in Perspective

On the divided issue of charter schools, it's hard to get a handle on what resources and information to trust. We can help.

This week recognizes one of the most controversial issues in K-12 education today: charter schools. For some people, charter schools are saviors of students and parents looking for alternatives to failing public schools. For others, they're the devil, a threat to America’s public schools and to the very idea of public education.

But while advocates and critics battle over charter schools, many people stand somewhere in the middle. Perhaps we're not quite sure what we think about charter schools. Perhaps we suspect the issues may be more complex than the narratives we hear in the media or from advocates on either side of debates over charter schools. Perhaps we're confused about what charter schools even are (we're not alone – even some presidential candidates are confused!)

On this divided issue, it's hard to get a handle on what resources and information to trust. The polarization and intensity of the debate over charter schools can make it difficult for policymakers, educators and community members to understand and weigh practical solutions to improve schools for all children.

Public Agenda seeks to present nonpartisan, non-ideological information about charter schools with a project called Charter Schools In Perspective. Our goal is to help people learn more about the pros and cons of charters and have better, more civil conversations about them. We want to help communities, educators, policymakers and journalists understand different approaches to educational policies and practices and the impacts those have on all kids.

Charter Schools In Perspective consists of nonpartisan resources designed to support a more informed and civil dialogue about charter schools among policymakers, educators, journalists and community members. These resources include:

Charter Schools In Perspective: A Guide to Research: A thorough and accessibly-written analysis that brings together and synthesizes current research on charter schools. Topics include student achievement, finance, governance, innovation and public opinion.

Ten Questions for Policymakers: A set of questions to help local officials think through decisions about charter schools in their jurisdictions.

Ten Questions for Journalists: A set of questions that provides local and national journalists with questions and ideas for stories about charter schools in their regions and nationwide.

Are Charter Schools a Good Way to Improve Education in Our Community? A discussion guide designed to help community members grapple with the trade-offs and benefits of introducing, expanding, limiting or closing charter schools. By presenting different perspectives on charter schools, this guide is designed to help communities hold civil, productive dialogue on how to improve their schools.

Charter schools made up nearly 7 percent of all U.S. public schools in 2013-14 and are quickly growing. Between 2007-08 and 2013-14, the number of charter schools increased by nearly 50 percent, and the schools are permitted in 43 states and the District of Columbia.

Debates over charter schools will continue, and both sides will make their cases, some well-founded and others not. A lot is riding on the decisions about expansion and closure – too much to not have an informed, civil dialogue.

We urge you to use the In Perspective resources and encourage open, honest dialogue at your dinner table, on your Facebook page or at a local school board meeting. Our research guide and discussion starter can help keep things in perspective and the conversation on a non-ideological, pragmatic track.


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