There was a longish piece in the New York Times yesterday about the quality of charter schools across the country. The crux of the article was that charters vary greatly in policy, and running a successful charter is harder than it looks. Matt Yglesias’ takeaway is this:

…educating poor children is a difficult task. What some people don’t get, however, is that while demographics matters a great deal so does school quality. You can see this in traditional public schools where poor kids in New York and Boston do much better than poor kids in Washington, DC. And you also see it in charter schools, where a minority are excellent but most are not excellent.

Dana Goldstein comments as well.

When people say that charters do worse nationally on average than regular schools they are talking about the CREDO study. My question is -and maybe someday I’ll have time to dig in answer it myself- what do the national results say when you exclude Texas and Ohio? I’ve written before about how you would expect Texas and Ohio to perform poorly, since the former’s original charter law encouraged the establishment of charters for disadvantaged children , and the latter has a large number of “Virtual Schools” that are essentially online schools. Thus I would argue it is unfair to pool these states in with traditional charters.

These states, along with Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, are two of six where charters perform worse than public schools. Given that they likely make up a decent chunk of the underperforming charters, I think it’s a good guess that the national numbers would improve greatly if they were left out.

Another thing worth noting is that while charter school critics are quick to cite the results of the CREDO study that reflect poorly on charters, they are not so quick to support the study’s findings that a cap on the number of charter schools appears to decrease student performance. If you believe their empirical model is good, then shouldn’t you be calling for states to remove this cap?

All this said, the article does an overall admirable job of attempting to grapple with the issues and is worth reading, but read Goldstein and Yglesias as well.