Of the 89 charter schools listed in SAGE testing data released Monday by the Utah Office of Education, 34 had proficiency rates higher than the state average in all three test subjects, 36 were below the state average in all subjects and 19 were both above and below the state average, depending on individual test subjects.I suppose that's better news than if charters had under-performed, but it's nothing to cheer about.
There are two aspects of the charter school movement that, in theory, should help charters as a whole outperform other schools. Those aspects are parental choice and taxpayer accountability.
In theory, letting parents choose their child's school should help better match the strengths of the school with the needs of individual students, which ought to lead to at least some improvement in overall academic performance (assuming that what parents want is for their children to score better). One reason we don't see large choice-driven differences between charters and district schools is that Utah's district public school system also has a lot of parental choice built-in. Parents can essentially choose any school in the state for their children, district or chartered, in or out of the district. That choice is important and good to have in Utah system-wide.
What's missing in both public and charter schools is taxpayer accountability. While parents can (and do) leave charter schools whose academic performance isn't up to snuff, charters, sadly, have been like their public school counterparts in avoiding real accountability by closing failing schools.
If the bottom ten percent of charter schools were closed, then academic performance statewide would increase. If students in those schools went back to average district schools or charters (assuming that those schools get better results by providing better education), those students would be better off. If failing charter schools were replaced by even average charter schools instead, the charter system would be vastly outperforming the public system.
But failing schools of all varieties stay with us, and that means mediocrity reigns.