Inconsistent evaluation methods between public, private, and charter schools, as well as the ever-present problems with whether or not achievement is actually measured accurately by standardized test scores, are two issues that must be taken into account when evaluating the findings of this report.
Despite all of this negative press for charter schools, some studies do appear to show that these schools may be a positive learning atmosphere for students and that academic achievement may be comparable to public schools. Caroline M. Hoxby (2004), with Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, compares the reading and mathematics proficiency of charter students vs. public school students. An important aspect of Hoxby's study is that ninety-nine percent of charter students are included in this study. This is especially important because less than two percent of all students are enrolled in charter schools, which means that not including any measurable portion of the charter school students in the study will significantly skew the results of the study. Another recent charter school study only took three percent of Charter students into consideration when determining the results; that sample represents a total of four students in the fourth grade in Connecticut schools, only fourteen students in Washington, D.C. schools, and so on. A handful of students, or even a handful of classrooms, cannot be used to properly represent the entirety of charter schools, which is why Hoxby's study may be of particular importance. Hoxby's comparison of charter school students to public school students specifically used the public schools that charter school students would most likely be attending otherwise. The racial composition of schools and neighborhoods of the directly comparable schools are almost always close to the same. Hoxby's study found that charter students are four percent more likely to be proficient in reading, as well as two percent more likely to be proficient in math, based on state standardized tests. In states where the charter schools have had the opportunity to become well-established, the advantage appears to be even greater. Arizona charter schools have students that are seven percent more likely to be proficient in math and reading as the students in public schools. In California students are eight percent more likely to be proficient in reading and three percent more likely to be proficient in math, while in Washington, D.C., the advantage is a startling thirty-five percent or higher for charter students. Hoxby did find that North Carolina charter students had a four percent disadvantage in reading and math proficiency in comparison to public school students. In many states, charter schools have not been established for long enough to determine evaluative statistics, and many studies use statistics from schools that are not comparable or other biased sources for information, which may account for some of the disparage between study findings. See Appendices III through VIII to review some of the statistical findings of Hoxley's study in comparison with the statistics collected by other charter school studies.
There are many alternatives to the traditional public school system, and many parents are seeking a new kind of education in private schools. Far from there being only conservative, religious schools available among private schools, there are a wide range of experimental schools that are attempting to apply modern educational theory to the learning environment. Ann Bauer (2004) relates her story about taking her child to an alternative school when the public school system was failing him. Unlike many parents who chose to take their children out of the public school system, Bauer does not think poorly of the public school system. She supports the public schools and think that they have a lot to offer many children, including her other two children, but that certain children need individualized, unique education that cannot be expected from the public schools. The public school that her son Andrew attended was not a bad school, but Andrew was not able to learn in that environment, so they jumped at the chance to enroll him in a private, experimental, small school.
The tuition was $4,500 a year, and the school was called Classical Academy, and it was started by a small group of private school teachers. Classical Academy evolved out of a cooperative home-schooling group. They called their learning plan Integrated Learning Solutions, and it included nutritional guidelines, exercises called brain gym, self-improvement methods, and traditional academic subjects. Bauer's son Andrew responded very well to this environment, and he quickly became interested in school, and successful in his academic studies. The situation appeared to be perfect, but it was not long before administrative petty arguments started interfering with the goals of the school. The structure of the original school changed drastically, but the school did survive and it remained a great environment for the author's child. However, the crisis of this school nearly lost her son's faith and interest, and the author is not certain if Andrew will be returning for a second year at the alternative school; many parents withdrew their children from the program when it started showing signs of falling apart. This is one of the dangers of experimental programs that can be found in private schooling options (or the experimental charter schools); it can be a "gamble on placing him in a small private school with no track record, no written curriculum, no definite plan, and no guarantees." (Bauer 1997) Parents must weigh the possible benefits and possible harmful effects of using their children as guinea pigs.
Not all private school options are experimental like the Classical Academy example; some private school options have been around for a very long time. Boarding schools are a tried-and-true schooling option, and while they have been held in the highest esteem by many academics for ages, they have been met with growing resistance from the less conservative new generations of students. Boarding school is often equated in the minds of the public with such horror stories as Pink Floyd's "The Wall." However, recent studies show that boarding schools may actually be a positive option and prove that many of the negative stereotypes that surround the boarding school experience and culture are quite disputable. The Art and Science Group (2004) of Baltimore, MD, found that students who attend boarding schools are actually more successful in college and in life, based on the experiences of two thousand seven hundred subjects. See Appendices IX through XIII to review charts containing the results of this intensive comparative study. Boarding school students were compared to both private day school students and public school students, and they were shown to reach managerial positions in their career much earlier in life than their non-boarding school counterparts. Boarding school students are also destined to reach higher management positions in their careers. Boarding school students are also less likely to watch television or play video games, both during the school years and as adults, than their peers who attend normal private school or public school, so boarding school may be an effective cure for the couch potato epidemic.
Boarding school students also obtain a sense of giving to the community, and they are more likely to be philanthropic and to have learned about the importance of service while in school. There are many negative stereotypes about boarding schools which were addressed by this study, including those relating to boarding schools being cesspools of right, upper-class students, or of them being full of troubled children that get sent away from home because they are unmanageable. Boarding school students, by and large, are not sent away or banished to the school. Students are an active part of choosing to enroll in boarding schools, and most of them are drawn to the high academic standards of the school. Boarding schools are not segregated or divided by class status, race, or other superficial factors, they are integrated educational systems in most cases. Contrary to what the popular media might convey about drugs and alcohol on boarding school campuses, most boarding school students surveyed said that their social lives did not revolve around drugs and alcohol.
The director of the Association of Boarding Schools, a nonprofit association, said in regards to the study, "We undertook this detailed study to explore the differences of boarding school, private day, and public school education to better understand how the opportunities for interaction and learning beyond the classroom found at boarding school impact a student's life at school, and into adulthood, We were especially pleased to see that the leadership skills and community focus of our students continues to play an important and distinguishing role in their lives beyond the boarding school experience." (the Art and Science Group 2004) the data for the study was collected over sixteen months, and it deals not only with common stereotypes and myths about private boarding schools, but also many other aspects of the boarding school experience, attitudes of the students, and how the boarding school experience contributes to college and…