Kimberly Houk ReportingThe future of the nation's charter schools is looking shaky. The first national comparison of test scores is in and students going to charter schools are performing well below their counterparts who are going to traditional public schools.
Charter schools are being looked at by the Bush Administration as the fall back plan for students in under performing public schools. Under the federal education law, No Child Left Behind, charter schools were expected to grow exponentially as the government started shutting down failing traditional schools. But a wrench might have been thrown into that plan as test scores are now in and they're not good.
Carolyn Sharette, American Prep Academy: “It's not at all surprising to me that the data would show that the charter schools kids are lagging in some areas, because charter schools started about a decade ago as an option for parents who kids were struggling. So naturally they've attracted kids that are under performing."
And Carolyn Sharette, a director for a charter school in Riverton, says it's an uphill battle to catch the kids up in school.
Carolyn Sharette: “It's going to take more than one year to get those kids caught up. They came to me after six or seven years in a different school, and in one year I can do a lot of good, but I can't bring them up to grade level. It's going to take me more time than that."
The data is showing fourth graders at charter schools performing about half a year behind those attending public schools, in both reading and math. Only 25-percent of students in charter schools are proficient in those subjects, compared with public school students who test at about 32 percent proficiency. So why aren't they doing as well?
Carolyn Sharette: “We attract a lot of students who may be three or four years behind in reading."
But the low test scores don't seem to be bothering parents.
Denise Marshall, Parent: “I’m really not worried at all about the test scores and falling behind.”
Theresa Forsyth, Parent: “I’m very surprised because I know the caliber of teachers and I know the caliber of the education levels.”
Charter schools are still considered public schools; they receive state and federal money, but they aren't tied to a rigid curriculum. And that's what sets them apart from the traditional public schools. Charter schools came about as an alternative experiment to see if kids would learn better if schools were given more freedom with their curriculums.
Carolyn Sharette: “We're able to teach them the basic skills at their level."
Most charter schools have very long waiting lists to get into the schools. Students are selected by a random drawing. There are 28 charter schools here in Utah.