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Charter School Updates: Success Indicators, and Challenges

Many generally positive indicators, as well as challenges, can be observed from the past two years of change for Utah’s charter schools, and the verdict is still not completely in. Often results are recorded before reform efforts have become effective.

We have learned that basing success solely on test scores does not give a true indication of the success of the schools. Test scores do not represent true cohorts or the same type of previous preparations. Each charter school is unique in its dynamic, goals, and challenges. For example, four of the eight schools have specific focus on at-risk or disadvantaged youth. Students at these schools were failing, and have now found a positive school environment where they can succeed.

In general, there have been many positive indicators over the past year of the success of Utah’s charter schools. The best evidence comes through feedback from both parents and students indicating satisfaction with the schools. Parents, teachers, and students have been vocal in their approval of the charter schools’ “classroom communities.” The schools have created a positive learning environment by including students, parents, family members, teachers, and community leaders to enhance the learning experience.

Smaller class sizes have had a positive impact on teacher/student relationships. Teachers have been able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each student and work with them on a one-on-one basis more frequently.

An additional positive indicator of charter school success is the low absenteeism recorded. Students who would normally skip school have been attending and demonstrating their academic abilities on a regular basis.

Parents, teachers, community groups, organizations, and individuals have participated in the creation of Utah’s charter schools, creating many educational options for students and their parents. Students choose to attend charter schools for many different reasons including, academic strengths and weaknesses, talents, interests, and so on. Teachers choose to teach at charter schools based on their interests, teaching styles, and many other reasons.

While there are increasing positive indicators of charter school successes, challenges still remain. The greatest challenge facing most schools is obtaining adequate funding and adequate facilities to support all of the school’s programs. Learning and applying state rules and regulations for testing, reporting, accounting, etc, also remains a challenge for these schools. School districts have had difficulty providing and staffing support programs within the schools (including, transportation, food services, and special education).

There has also been an initial lack of support from the community due to misinformation or lack of information and understanding about the choices charter schools offer parents and students. Many do not fully understand how the schools work and that these schools are public, and not private schools.