Not All Charter Schools Work… But Some Do

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“Overall, charter schools perform no better than public schools.”

I hear this line over and over again. It has become the mantra of those who oppose any action that seems to erode the authority of the public schools.

In part, it is true. There are plenty of examples of charter schools that take public funding and crash and burn with it.

But some charter schools work very well. In fact, some charter schools in Minneapolis are giving students who would normally fall through the cracks of the system a chance to succeed.  

Unfortunately, many black students in Minneapolis are among those who fall through the cracks of the current system. So, in this blog post, let’s focus on how black students are doing in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) versus in some of the top-performing charters:


Black students account for 35.6% of the total student population of MPS. On the latest MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) test, only 41% achieved a score of “proficient” in reading, and only 19% in math.

Successful charter schools in Minneapolis, however, show a much different trend. At Best Academy, Friendship Academy of the Arts, and Harvest Prep, black students account for the overwhelming majority of the student population (Best = 98.7%; Friendship = 92.1%; Harvest = 98.7%). Yet, their students achieve impressive scores on the MCA.

(For the sake of full disclosure, the charter schools included do not serve high schools students, whereas MPS’ numbers do include high school MCA scores. That said, we did not find a significant difference between the overall proficiency numbers of MPS and sample sizes of their elementary students.)

As if these scores weren’t impressive enough, Best, Friendship, and Harvest are able to achieve them with much less money than the Minneapolis Public Schools district. Here is a comparison of 2012-13 per student spending in the district versus at these schools:

MPS = $23,020

Best = $11,987

Friendship = $13,677

Harvest = $10,958

One has to wonder: Would these schools have been able to achieve these results under the aegis of the large bureaucracy of the school district? Or, does their independence help generate and inspire creative solutions that often elude large systems?

Not all charters work. But the students at Best, Friendship, and Harvest would tell you that theirs do.

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