Charter school rise comes with concerns

Imagine 2014 is the School District of Philadelphia’s strategic plan to create great schools with quality teachers where all of its 154,000 students succee­­d. But could that mean the death of the traditional public school?

Since 2008, the number of charter schools in the district has grown from 59 to 74, while the number of traditional public schools has dropped by seven. Additionally, six more district schools could be turned over to charter operators this year as part of the Renaissance Schools Initiative. Still, teachers and parents remain worried about oversight of charters and their qualifications.

“It’s unfortunate that the solution seems to be to look outside of the district for other models when, in fact, we have other schools within the school district that are highly successful,” said Gerald Wright, a father of two children attending district schools.

In the past two decades, charters have exploded across the country, but a 2008 study analyzing Philadelphia’s charter-school growth revealed that charter students showed “indistinguishable” gains when compared to peers in district schools. District officials argue that the charter operators chosen for the Renaissance initiative are carefully selected.

“They have to demonstrate they have proven track records in making dramatic gains in student achievement in schools that are similar to Renaissance match schools,” said Thomas Darden, the district’s deputy chief for innovation and partnership schools. “We’re not experimenting here.”

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