Charter school stories here, there and everywhere

Maybe it’s pack journalism, or maybe the charter-school phenomenon has broken through to the mainstream media. Whatever the case, you could hardly open a newspaper this week without seeing a story about charters –- even though they enroll less than 3 percent of the nation’s students.

Both the Associated Press and the New York Times gave big play to stories about charter schools run by Chicago’s Renaissance Schools Fund, a business-backed philanthropy.

The AP story, a compelling feature that ran in the Washington Post and many other papers, focuses on Urban Prep, a high school on Chicago’s tough South Side that boasts a 100 percent college-acceptance rate for its 2010 graduates. It portrays the school as a miracle worker that turned around the lives of dead-end kids and sent them off to some of America’s best colleges.

The Times takes the same subject and paints a slightly different picture. It celebrates the success of Urban Prep and other Renaissance schools, but includes a skeptical comment from a Chicago school district official and notes that 1) not everyone who enrolled in the schools is graduating and 2) not everyone who is accepted at a college will end up going, or succeeding.

How did the AP and the Times happen to feature the same schools in the same week? Blogger Alex Russo shares the Renaissance Schools Fund news release that did the trick.

Closer to home, Andy Gammill writes in the Indianapolis Star about the mixed record of charter schools in Indianapolis, where some charters are struggling and others – including Indy Met High School, which last week received a $2.2 million school turnaround grant from the state – are credited with impressive success. “In short, charter schools are neither inherently better nor worse — and they are susceptible to the same factors that determine the quality of a traditional public school,” Gammill writes.

Finally, Education Week reports on a federally commissioned study that finds “students who won lotteries to attend charter middle schools performed, on average, no better in mathematics and reading than their peers who lost out in the random admissions process and enrolled in nearby regular public schools.” The study’s lead author says that, generally, the charters were more effective for low-income, low-achieving students and less effective for higher-income, higher-achieving students.

The story concludes with a brief history of the research wars between supporters and critics of charter schools.

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