Delaware Charter Schools: Weighing the Educational and Taxpayer Pros and Cons
The number of charter schools in the state has increased. So the debate about the effectiveness of traditional public schools versus charters continues.
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Many of Wilmington’s charter schools and those that serve special populations, like Positive Outcomes, struggle academically.
“The biggest challenge we have is just about every single student that comes to us is significantly below grade level,” explains Edward Emmett, Positive Outcomes’ director.
“Performance doesn’t always translate into a test score,” he adds. “My test score is that the kids are able to graduate and be successful.”
By that measure, Positive Outcomes has been effective. About 85 percent of the school’s students eventually graduate. (The state’s four-year graduation rate is 80 percent.)
Some of Delaware’s charters have been extremely successful. Last year, Charter School of Wilmington was ranked as the No. 5 STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) high school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Since 2000, the school has had the highest average SAT scores in Delaware, and is a top-scoring high school on the state’s math, reading, writing, science and social studies standardized tests.
Newark Charter School is another big achiever. In 2010, Newark Charter was named a Blue Ribbon School—the highest national recognition for schools—by the U.S. Department of Education. A year later, the school ranked No. 2 on the Global Report Card’s list of top-performing schools in reading.
But opponents say there’s a reason why some of the state’s charter schools perform well and others don’t. It comes down to demographics.
At Newark Charter, for example, only 13.5 percent of students during the 2012-13 school year were identified as low income. In comparison, 36 percent of students at Downes Elementary School—the nearest district elementary school—were low income.
“The larger problem is they draw very heavily from the area near them, which is more affluent,” Buckley says. “They are certainly getting fewer low-income kids.”