During an Aug. 24, 2012, Senate Education Committee hearing on school choice issues, TCTA provided testimony that emphasized the need for careful consideration of quality and performance issues in any expansion of charter schools in Texas.

TCTA Director of Public Affairs Lindsay Gustafson expressed TCTA’s agreement with testimony calling for a “strong gatekeeper function for entering charters” and the need to close poorly performing charter schools.

Comparing charters with traditional public schools

Gustafson pointed out that, when comparing charter schools with traditional public schools, it’s important to remember that charter schools have more leeway on certain discipline-related issues than traditional public schools.

She reminded the committee that charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, can expel or deny admission to students with a documented history of discipline problems ranging from criminal offenses to code of conduct violations.

With regard to performance, Gustafson noted that available data on Texas charter schools doesn’t provide an accurate reflection of how those schools compare with traditional public schools.

“[In 2010-11], 32 percent of charter schools compared to 3 percent of traditional public schools were under the Alternative Accountability System,” Gustafson said. “It would be great to be able to see an apples-to-apples comparison so we can really find out how [charter schools are] comparing to their counterparts.”

She pointed to a 2011 Texas Tribune interview with Michael Marder, co-director of the UTeach program at the University of Texas at Austin, about his research on Texas public schools.

“He stated that out of 140 secondary charter schools, there are five charter operators that serve low-income students and perform well,” Gustafson said. “Thirty schools were comparable, but more than 100 were dramatically worse.”

Is further expansion of charters necessary?

In response to testimony on the large number of students on charter school waiting lists, Gustafson pointed out that state law already allows high-performing charter schools to automatically expand without approval from the Texas Education Agency, and an unlimited number of charters can be granted to institutions of higher education.

“My question is, ‘Do the high-performing charter schools make up the majority of the waiting lists?’” she asked. “Because those schools can already replicate.”

See video of Gustafson’s testimony (forward to the 6:47:15 mark)

Learn more about Texas’ charter schools performance and its potential to be a key issue in the 2013 session.