Young students
James V. Shuls, Ph.D.

In a recent letter to the editor of the Joplin Globe, Caroline Tubbs, a public high school teacher, makes a series of inaccurate claims about charter schools. As someone who has studied the issue of school choice closely for many years, I suspect the statements from Tubbs are the product of the misinformation she and many others have received. As is often the case with thorny public policy issues, the debate around school choice is often clouded with what we might now call “fake news.”

For instance, Tubbs suggests charter schools in Missouri do not have to administer state tests. This is simply not true. Charters administer the same exams to students as the traditional public schools do. You can view exam data on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website. They show that 70 percent of students at City Garden Montessori in Saint Louis scored proficient or advanced on the third grade English Language Arts Assessment in 2014, while just 64.9 percent did so at Joplin’s highest-scoring elementary school, Kelsey Norman. If you look at all the data, you’ll see charter schools in Saint Louis and Kansas City outperforming many Joplin schools.

Of course, not all charter schools are models of success; but neither are all district schools. Contrary to the claim of Tubbs, however, we do have reliable data and the effectiveness of charter schools has been measured. A 2013 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University showed that Missouri charter school students learned significantly more than their peers in nearby public schools in both reading and math.

Tubbs’s letter also misrepresents how school funding for charter schools works. She states that charter school students will take funds away from the district schools, and that part is true. Anytime a student leaves a district, the district will lose money. If a student moves from Joplin to Carthage, the Joplin School District would lose the same amount of money. Tubbs then goes on to say, “However, that public school district must continue to maintain facilities (pay the utility bills, fix the plumbing) and provide support services (bus transportation) for the remaining students.” But she does not mention that all of the funds used for facilities, maintenance, and debt service remain in the school district. Charters do not have access to these funds.

Tubbs also states that “non-public charter schools are not required to take all applicants.” First off, there is no such thing as a “non-public charter school.” Charter schools are public schools. They are free and open to anyone who lives within the attendance boundaries. They must take all students who apply, unless they are oversubscribed. Then they must hold a lottery.

Tubbs’s letter is filled with inaccuracies that are constantly repeated as if they were true. It’s time to put a stop to arguing with these “alternative facts.” We can have a debate as to whether charter schools are right for Joplin, Missouri, or the rest of the state, but we should do it with the truth in mind.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.