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Traditional or charter schools? Actually, they help each other, study says.

A new study suggests that best practices from charter schools can help student achievement at underperforming public schools. The issue is getting the two to cooperate.

By Contributor / September 27, 2012



Charter schools are not a silver bullet for education reform, a new report says, but applying the best practices from some charter schools to low-performing public schools may increase student achievement.

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Early data show that the strategy – applied in Houston and Denver pilot programs – yielded “promising” results, according to the report, titled "Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools" and released Thursday by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

The study could help improve cooperation between charter schools and traditional schools, which have often viewed each other as competitors. The debate about whether charter schools or traditional schools are more effective is a false one and misses the central point, said secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Hamilton Project’s education forum Thursday in Washington.

“The question isn’t: Do we need more charter schools, traditional schools, gifted schools, or magnet schools?” he said. “We need better public schools. Kids don’t know what kind of school they go to. All they ask is, ‘Do I have a good teacher?’ ”

The report focuses on the work that Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer did with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to develop a pilot program targeting nine of Houston’s lowest-performing middle and high schools in 2010-11 and 11 elementary schools in 2011-12.

Dr. Fryer, who is the faculty director of Harvard’s Education Innovations Laboratories (EdLabs), studied 35 charter schools in New York and discovered the top five practices that separate low- and high-achieving charter schools: (1) extended time at school, (2) strong administrators and teachers, (3) data-driven instruction, (4) small-group tutoring, and (5) creating a “culture of high expectations.”

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