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EDUCATION REPORT - Charter Schools - 2004-08-25

Broadcast: August 26, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Education Report.

Many American children are preparing to return to school following summer vacation. Most American students go to traditional public schools. There are about eighty-eight thousand public schools. Some students attend about three thousand independent public schools called charter schools.

Charter schools are self-governing. Private companies operate some charter schools. They are similar in some ways to traditional public schools. They receive tax money just as other public schools do. Charter schools must prove to local or state governments that their students are learning. These governments provide the schools with the agreement called a charter that permits them to operate.

Charter schools are different because they do not have to obey most laws governing traditional public schools. Local, state or federal governments cannot tell them what to teach. Each school can choose its own goals and decide the ways it wants to reach them. Class size is usually smaller than in traditional public schools.

The Bush Administration strongly supports charter schools as a way to re-organize public schools that are failing to educate students.

But some state education agencies, local education committees and unions oppose charter schools. One teachers union has just made public the results of the first national study comparing the progress of students in traditional schools and charter schools.

The American Federation of Teachers criticized the government’s delay in releasing the results of the study from two thousand three. The study is called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Union education experts say the study shows that charter school students performed worse on math and reading tests than students in regular public schools. The students did so in grades four and eight. The study found that fourth graders at charter schools were about half a year behind public school students in both reading and mathematics.

Some experts say the study is not a fair look at charter schools because students in those schools have more problems than students in traditional schools. Other education experts say the study results should make charter school officials demand improved student progress.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. This is Gwen Outen.