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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 06/06/2011

Democrats raise new concerns about charter schools

A House education subcommittee held a hearing on public charter schools — but Republicans and Democrats issued such different takes on the session that it doesn’t sound like they were in the same room during the proceedings.

The Democratic recounting of the hearing held last week on the Subcommittee On Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education speaks about serious concerns raised by witnesses about the accessibility of charter schools to all students and about the role for-profit companies play in the charter movement.

Meanwhile, the release issued by the Republicans who control the subcommittee, praised charters and made no mention of problems with some charter schools.

Here are the two different releases, complete with headlines:

This is the release issued by the Democrats on the subcommittee:

Democrats Remain Concerned About Accountability in Charter Schools

Witnesses Urge Need for Better Oversight of Private Operators of Public Schools

June 2, 2011 10:51 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. – While some charter schools have seen dramatic gains in student achievement, overall, the need for systemic school reform is a far greater concern to schools, teachers and students, witnesses told the Subcommittee On Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. The much-needed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act could help address the real education inequities that still exist today.

“Charter schools were originally intended to be a new form of public school that would develop and share innovative practices, and promote competition, leading to improvements among traditional public schools, as well,” said U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), the ranking member of the subcommittee. “While the original goals of charter schools hold promise, they must be held accountable for their performance and work collaboratively with other public schools to improve the high-quality educational options available to all students.”

Despite substantial growth, charter schools are not a realistic or high-quality option for most American families. Almost 90 percent of school districts do not have charter schools. Some populations, like students with disabilities and English Language Learners, may not be enrolled at proportional rates or may be stratified. Witnesses and lawmakers agreed that charter schools are not “a silver bullet” and raised concerns about accountability among charter school authorizers.

“High performing charter schools are a great option for some students; they are closing achievement gaps and shattering the low expectations that have stood in the way of student success,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee. “Unfortunately, serving a small population of students won’t help bring this country and our students to the future. Charter schools are an important piece of the school reform puzzle though only if the schools are transparent and accountable to all students, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities. The privatization of public schools under the guise of charter operators is very troubling to me and I intend to keep a close eye on this issue.”

“A growing body of research as well as state and federal evaluations conducted by independent researchers continue to find that charter schools are not achieving the goals that were once envisioned for them,” said Dr. Gary Miron, Professor of Evaluation, Measurement, and Research at Western Michigan University. “Involvement of local persons or groups in starting charter schools is shrinking, replaced instead by outsiders, particularly private education management organizations (EMOs), which steer these schools from distant corporate headquarters. Claims that EMOs can make charter schools more effective have not been substantiated by research.” EMOs are private entities that manage public schools under contract.

The charter school movement began in the early 1990s and, as of the 2009-2010 school year, more than 1.6 million students — approximately four percent of all public school students — attend nearly 5,000 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia. In the past 10 years, the share of charter schools operated by nonprofit or for-profit management organizations (CMOs and EMOs) has grown dramatically. Today, nearly one-third of charter schools are operated by private management organizations.

To view videos from the hearing, click here.

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Here’s the release on the website of the Republican-controlled committee.:

Subcommittee Finds Charter Schools Empower Parents, Inspire Students, Demand Results

WASHINGTON, D.C. | June 1, 2011 -

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), today held a hearing to examine the role of charter schools in the nation’s education system.

“Republicans on this committee have been strong proponents of charter schools for many years, as we recognize the opportunities they offer parents and students,” Rep. Hunter said. “Charter schools empower parents to play a more active role in their child’s education, and offer students a priceless opportunity to escape underperforming schools. These innovative institutions also open doors for teachers to experiment with fresh teaching methods and curricula that they believe will have the greatest positive impact on students in their individual community.”

Ms. DeAnna Rowe, Executive Director of the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, called charter schools “an integral part of a complex system,” adding, “Not only do the schools provide an alternative for families to find the environment that will allow each student to reach his or her full potential, but they have proven to be a tremendous source of innovation, providing all schools with new tools and methods of improving student achievements.”

In exchange for additional flexibility and autonomy over their operations, charter schools are held accountable for results. Ms. Debbie Beyer, Executive Director of Literacy First Charter Schools in California, explained, “If charter schools don’t perform, they cease to exist. Performance is the bottom line. It is a brilliant marriage between business and education. It forces competition and requires serious and deliberate attention to every daily detail to justify our existence. There is no entitlement.”

Ms. Elizabeth Delaney Purvis, Executive Director of the Chicago International Charter School, discussed the ways charter schools invest in local communities, calling them “a strong vehicle for neighborhood change.” Ms. Purvis explained, “Charter school operators often make significant investments in buildings in which they reside, create new job opportunities, and seek partnerships with local businesses in a way that is difficult for traditional public schools.”

“Charter schools are not the only answer to school reform,” Ms. Purvis said, “but represent one way that school districts and state agencies can efficiently and affordably improve and increase educational options for families.”

As part of its education reform efforts, the Committee on Education and the Workforce is currently reviewing proposals to expand access to high-quality charter schools. To read Chairman Hunter’s full remarks, witness testimony, or view an archived hearing webcast, visit http://www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

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