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Importance of New Findings About Charter Schools Argued

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

A new school year is beginning in the United States -- and with it comes new debate about charter schools. These are publicly financed but privately operated schools. Charter schools can be found in most of the fifty states and Washington, D.C.

The Department of Education says more than one million students attend charter schools. That compares to almost fifty million in traditional public schools.

A charter school might be fully independent or connected to the local school system. It might be operated by a non-profit group or a profit-making company.

In any case, charter schools do not have to follow all of the same rules as traditional public schools. They have greater freedom to decide what to teach and how to teach.

Class sizes may be smaller in charter schools, but the teachers often have less power through unions than in traditional schools.

The Bush administration supports charter schools as a choice for parents whose local schools are bad. But some education officials, parent groups and unions argue that the money spent on charter schools could help traditional schools improve.

Critics say studies so far have not shown enough gains for charter schools to justify the possible loss of resources from traditional schools. They say a study released last week by the Education Department only strengthened their arguments. Supporters of charter schools, however, found much to criticize in the study.

The study used test scores from the two thousand three National Assessment of Educational Progress. The researchers compared the scores of fourth grade students in charter schools with those in traditional public schools.

The traditional schools had an average score five points higher in reading and almost six points higher in mathematics than the charter schools.

But the study showed that charter schools connected with a public school system performed about the same as traditional schools. Fully independent charter schools had lower scores by comparison.

Supporters of charter schools say the results show nothing about student progress over time or about individual schools. And they say charter school students may not do well on tests because they came from terrible traditional schools.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. You can read and listen to archives of our reports at I’m Steve Ember.